As Nerd Mom, a professor, and a parent, I often hear other parents and colleagues discussing the evils of video games, “screen time”, and this “difficult” millennial generation. Occasionally I let it slip to someone new that I actually PLAY VIDEO GAMES with my kids. Sometimes, everyone in our family play video games together.
Sometimes, the kids even play games by themselves.
Or (brace yourself) the six-year-old and the three-year-old play a video game together.
Except maybe not.
Facing facts- our kids are growing up in a world with digital technology and virtual reality (or even AR you Pokémon Go fans) is part of life. Kids are using iPads in Kindergarten for reading, math, music, and standardized testing. Teachers are now inviting students to bring their electronic devices to class to create collaborative learning environments. And finally students are learning how to navigate the digital environment with or without the support of parents and teachers.
So yeah, I like BPA-free-all-wood-organic-handmade-toys too (OK taking it a little too far I know geez) but I also encourage my kids to play video games.
This post isn’t dedicated to why video games are good for your kids (here’s somebody who has something to say about that) but instead about what games you and your kids might light to play. Games you might like to share with your kids, and games you might feel comfortable letting them play on their own. So here’s a few suggestions:
- “Educational” video games systems, while they may seem appealing, usually don’t have a lot of play hours- i.e. not a lot of bang for your buck. I think kids can learn awesome skills from playing some Mario and Zelda.
- Ratings. You might assume that games that are rated E for everyone would be the ONLY games you should get for your kids. Well… ratings for video games have been more fluid over the years than ratings for TV and movies. So instead, if a game looks interesting to you and you think your kids might like it, watch some YouTube, stream it, rent it from a Redbox-ian type service and check it out. We love to rent games from our local library (no joke this is a great service).
- Consider complexity- does this game require many hours of dedication by a parent to assist kids? The more recent (and complex with greater play hours) Zelda games are in this category in my house- so if we set down to play some Twilight Princess we’d better make sure we cut out some quality time first or everybody will be frustrated.
- Consider simplicity- some of those “retro” games from my childhood which while challenging had simple goals and objectives are popular favorites with my kids.
- Share your favorites with your kids. My favorite series hands-down is Zelda, but I also REALLY enjoy a lot of other series too. Anything Mario (except the party games), Megaman, Sonic (classic ones ONLY), Star Fox, and some of the Star Wars based games are now popular with my kids since myself and Mr. Nerd Mom actively encouraged our kids to play them with us.
- Be open to what your kids want to play- I never thought I’d love a LEGO game but in truth, they are awesome. Mr. Nerd Mom is a big fan of a Wii U game called “Tank Tank Tank“. Its exactly what it sounds like.
Now for some consoles and titles
- Retro Nintendo. The predominant fan favorite from my childhood is also a favorite with my kids. The Young Jedi enjoys playing on our N64, our SNES, and our NES with equal delight. I think hes actually better at Star Fox 64 than I am! He is currently trying to teach his sister how to play Super Smash Bros 64. She loves to be Jigglypuff.
- Wii U. We are huge fans of this under appreciate platform. My family is the target audience: a mom with a couple kids who like to play games together. There are many great titles. One that stands out for my kids is Super Mario Maker. Kids take turns playing, its fun for mom and dad, and both kids (even the three year old) can show off their creativity in creation of new Mario levels.
Retro game favorites
- Star Fox 64 and the original SNES Star Fox. Encourages repetition, and its just fun blowing stuff up. Younger Jedi likes to pretend they’re Falco and helping out Team Star Fox.
- Street Fighter. Young Jedi is probably better than me. Its fun to take on Mr. Nerd Mom, and simple enough for Younger Jedi to play with her older Jedi sibling (which encourages the older one to be patient and supportive, which makes the younger one more inclined to play… its all good here).
- Super Smash Bros 64. See above. Classic for a reason. And if you didn’t like the simulated violence of Street Fighter, here’s an nice friendly version with Mario.
- Anything classic Mario. Kart, original, any platform, its all fun for us together. Skills: trial and error, overcoming obstacles, taking turns, need I say more? Plus, its Mario people. All good.
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Not only my favorite game, but a great game to teach Young Jedi about navigation, maps, directions, and to help with reading skills. Can’t play Zelda until you can read what those towns people are trying to tell you to do! It also encourages problem solving skills, trial and error, and is a great game to “coach” kids through. “You’re doing great! What should we do next?”
New game favorites: (Wii, Wii U, PlayStation, Handhelds like a DS or a 3DS)
- Super Mario Maker. See above
- Anything else Mario- especially the Super Mario World and 3D world– encouraging four players chaotically playing at the same time? Why not. Even Younger Jedi has fun. Plus they have Cat suits.
- Kirby. Especially on the DS, but also for the Wii and Wii U. He’s cute, he’s funny, he eats things. Same skills as Mario, and with the Nintendo control schema for the Wii and Wii u, the control setup for these games is simple enough for young kids.
- Lego: My only caution- stay clear of the spin-offs or quickly tossed together ones in this series. The best two hands-down are Lego Marvel Superheroes (for all current gen consoles) and Lego Batman 3. Many variations on these Lego games are glitchy and frustrating for committed players. Great games for young players to play with a parent and then graduate to playing by themselves. Another caution: the handheld versions are not as enjoyable per Young Jedi.
- Zelda. Amazing beautifully rendered games for the Wii and Wii U. But be ready to cut out some serious time and “share” the playing with your kid. Among the newer games, Young Jedi prefers Skyward Sword while my favorite is Twilight Princess.
- Star Wars Battlefront for PS2. Young Jedi loves playing this with Mr. Nerd Mom. Its their special time. and if you are worried about kids in the online environment, this Battlefront is played offline. We love it, but its more complicated to control and may be frustrating for young kids who are not as advanced with games.
Start them out with the retro ones first, and encourage them to play some mini-game based titles like Nintendoland to learn how to navigate controls and gain confidence. Nintendoland is my preferred starter game from the newer generation simply because parents can play co-op, games are short, and its easy to take turns.
And finally- non-console games:
- PBS Kids. Its free, it has Curious George and Daniel Tiger. What else do you need? I think its even recommended in some grade schools for math and alphabet learning. Younger Jedi loves it.
- Pokemon Go. I know. Its all the rage right now. But its super fun with your kids- go on great walking adventures, take your bikes, and practice your compass and reading skills. We practiced some safety skills first- like how to NOT WALK OUT INTO TRAFFIC and to “pay attention to your surroundings at all times”. Good skills for all six-year-old’s. Young Jedi practices his reading skills using one of the Pokemon companies many books- the Pokedex, early readers, etc. We recently found a good series of Pokemon books to read at bedtime (where Dr. Nerd Mom gets to learn all about Charizard and how hes a little punk… at least at first).
There are so many great games to play with your kids for all reasons, but hopefully, its because its fun to play together! Young Jedi has often said when I’ve offered to put on some TV for him, “But Muh-OOOM! I would rather be ‘doing’ than just sitting here watching! Its way more fun!”.
True story kid,
Dr. Nerd Mom,
I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was