Contrary to today’s mythos, video games are educational, social, and far from “geekdom”-there is something in the vast landscape of video games for everyone. Everyone from very small children, to the younger kid set, to pre-teens can not only find great games to enjoy, they can enjoy them with each other, or all together as a family!
Males between the ages of 14 and 21 seem to be the stereotype of the kings of video game hierarchy, but that is far from the truth. Men and women tend to be much more balanced than “common knowledge” would have us believe. One article says that, “The Entertainment Software Association reports that 40 percent of all gamers are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 account for 33 percent of gamers, while boys under 17 only account for 18 percent.” Wikipedia concurs, “According to the ESRB almost 41% of PC gamers are women.”
So, it isn’t a far stretch to see the diversity in the younger set as well. I know many 2 year olds who can handle a console controller or a handheld game. Our youngest started playing somewhere around 18 months old-not usually in a way that we were used to seeing, but often in a random, let’s-see-what-happens-when-I-do-this kind of way – rather like scientists come up with ideas. It wasn’t long before he was playing in more of a “traditional” way, but still wasn’t aware of many of the different aspects of some bigger games. It was very easy to help him feel part of the family action by giving him a controller that wasn’t connected and cheer him on along with everyone else.
Playing along *with* the kids is a great way to have family time and the kids love to have parents who are interested in “their” stuff! Whether we take turns playing a single or two player game or have something in that we can all play at once, it is fun to cheer each other on, talk strategy and laugh at goofs all together.
The educational aspects of video games are often very subtle-unless you’re talking about a game geared *specifically* to the “educational” market. Some games help foster an interest in reading, math, etc., some further an interest and all of them make it fun!
Here, then, are our top 10 games for kids and families:
This game is last because it isn’t best for the not-reading set. Though, if the rest of the players (or a non-player) don’t mind reading for the non-reader and explaining things and helping a bit with the math, it can be done with younger kids. This is an old-school 8 bit game for the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) that is a strategy/simulator game. It is a “farm”-based economy game where you need to predict what product/crop will best suit the piece(s) of land you own and then selling your crop/product for the best price. It is very simple and yet highly replayable. The graphics and gameplay are very basic and simple, but not much fancy stuff is needed for this kind of game.
There is language arts, math and problem-solving in this game. You may be able to find this game at used game stores, in online stores used, or even online for PC or downloadable for some of the newer systems that have that capability.
9. Wii Sports
This game has choices: tennis, bowling, baseball & boxing. Not only is it active, it is fun *and* it is easy for any age to participate! One warning: move things out of the way and secure those wristbands-there will be flailing limbs and jumping galore! The only complaint I have about this game is that you can’t keep your own score in bowling – of course, you can’t do that at so many actual bowling alleys these days, either. Just a minor flaw. It is great fun to play together, and laughter always ensues when we play. Simple learning curve and yet very replayable.
The graphics and game control is good; control is even better with the “motion plus” add on or built in. There is math, language arts, team play/cooperation as well as the physical workout. This is fairly easy to find at used game stores or online stores: new and used.
8. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
This game is up to 4 players, either on the Game Cube or Wii. You can play 1 player with the traditional controllers, but you get enhanced game play *and* multiple players when you connect GBA (Game Boy Advance) into the system. This is an RPG (Role Playing Game) that has fighting and spell-casting as well as individual skills.
This is definitely a cooperative game and has lots of sharing of items, combat and points. The unique aspect of the game has each person access individual menus through the GBA, separate from other players and/or the combined game play on the main (t.v.) screen. It *may* be something that isn’t for the littlest ones, but if they’re willing to follow directions and have an easy character where they can perform the same skill over and over, it could be done.
Still, probably better for kids 4 and up who have good dexterity and an ability to understand the basic concepts and be able to choose which attack will best defeat which enemy. With different abilities on different “races”, we’ve found this game extremely replayable, though there is a bit of a learning curve to using the skills and the GBA screen.
The graphics are beautiful and the story is deep and takes unexpected twists and turns. Gameplay can be a bit awkward, especially at the beginning, when you’re learning to adventure with other people in your party. Once you get used to it, though, it is smooth sailing-so to speak.
There is math, language arts, geography, problem-solving, cooperation/team play, science in this game. This game may be able to be found at local used game stores, is also available at online stores. There is word of a downloadable Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (WiiWare), but a quick search only produced “My Life as a King”, which is one of the sequels for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. I’m not sure if the original game is still being worked on or if they’re just using later games for the WiiWare downloads.
Depending on the system, this game is either a one player or two player game (though Wikipedia says “The multiplayer aspect of Lemmings has been incorporated into the variant Clones which can support up to 16 networked players at once.”), but it is fun to play with multiple players, no matter what your version is. We often take turns, seeing who can come up with the most clever ways to get those Lemmings home, who can use the least amount of “worker Lemmings” or who can get them home in the least amount of time. This is a game for all ages, though very little ones might need a little help.
The graphics really vary widely for whichever version you have-there are PC games, Atari versions, Super NES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), Playstation 3, PSP (PlayStation Portable), Genesis, Game Gear, NES, Game Boy, as well as downloadable versions, and then there are the later versions as well, such as Lemmings Tribes, Lemmings 2, More Lemmings, etc. The earlier versions (such as NES and Super NES) do tend to take a lot of squinting at first to figure out which Lemmings do which job, but after you’ve memorized which ones are in each position, it is much easier. The game control is kind of clunky on the early versions as well, though it certainly hasn’t stopped us from replaying them over and over. The later versions have better game control (such as being able to give a Lemming a job *while* paused) and better graphics, but I haven’t found a Lemming I don’t like.
There is lots of math, algebra and geometry in this game, as well as language arts, problem-solving and a bit of cooperation/team play. These may be available at local used game stores, and are widely available through online game retailers, as well as having some downloadable versions.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hour Glass
The main game for the Game Boy DS *is* a one-player game (though we’ve had hours of heads-together playing/watching fun with it), but there is a Download Play or WiFi Connection mode that 2 people can play head-to-head: each takes turns trying to gather up triforce pieces while the other player tries to use guards to catch the Link collector.
It is pretty easy for any age, and as our two children are 5 1/2 years apart, we definitely look for games they can play together without the older having a big advantage. Though it *is* only a 2 player game, it is fun to switch around and let the winner play a new player – especially fun on long car trips. The graphics are very nice (though anything on the DS is going to be mighty small) and the game control is very smooth with the stylus on the touch-screen.
There is math, problem-solving, and creative thinking in this (the two-player) game. This game should be available in most local used game stores as well as online stores.
5. Mario Party 4
Well, really *any* Mario Party game is good, but we like Mario Party 4 (Game Cube) best of all the ones we’ve tried. Basically, it is a board game, but instead of getting to the “end”, you need to collect stars, coins and specialty items, and each round ends with a mini-game where you can get more coins or lose coins or cause another player to lose coins! There can be a lot of strategy involved, but sometimes it is all luck.
The best part about this game is that you can handicap older or better players and give advantages to younger or less skilled players, (though the newer version also has play-control handicaps as well, which is nice) to make the game more balanced. You can also choose how many rounds you play – which can make the game reasonably short or very long (with 4 players, sometimes we play for 2 1/2 hours on the long play). When our oldest played a lot alone and got very good at the mini games, we further handicapped by setting a time he would wait (5 seconds basically-sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the game) before starting to play. Mario is always a good bet for any age, and you can pick which character you’d like to play as, including Yoshi and Princess Peach.
The graphics are very nice and the game play is pretty good – though there can be a learning curve with some of the mini games (especially with the newer Wii versions of Mario Party), though there is a game or two where small parts of the game control is very bad. Not anywhere near enough to detract from the enjoyment of the game and we find it *extremely* replayable! We’ve been known to play 2 games back-to-back.
There is math, problem-solving, language arts, strategy and cooperation/team play in this game. Mario Party 4 is an older game, and might take a little looking in local used game stores or online retailers, but there are plenty of newer versions (up to Mario Party 8 at the time of publishing) that would be easier to find. The older games will be cheaper, the newer ones easier to find at more stores.
4. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
This is a new experience in the Super Mario Bros. series in that you can play 4 players at once! It is a challenge for those of us who are used to the one player aspect or alternating 2 player game, because previously, anything else that was on the screen but “you” was an enemy, but now there are up to 3 other players to keep an eye out for! Especially difficult, since you can push other players off ledges or into enemies, bop them down in mid-jump and knock Koopa shells into them! The cool thing is that you can push “A” and instantly form a “safety” bubble around your character – which saves him from falling completely off screen or from an enemy fireball or from being crushed by a wall. When you’re in a safe spot, a team member can pop your bubble and you continue playing. Unfortunately, if everyone is in a bubble at the same time, you’re done for. Sometimes we have yelling, “Hey! Quit pushing me!” and “That was MY flower!” but mostly, there is loads of laughter because this game is so fun and unexpected things happen that are so funny!!
The graphics are wonderful, the game control is wonderful, too. I especially like the “old school” style of holding the Wiimote like an NES game controller, though Dave and I both found it awkward at first to hit the “A” button with our left hand, and still occasionally go too far and pause the game. We’ve had far too many years of reaching our right thumb over to hit a “select” or “start” button for that “other” option, that it was a really, really big learning curve for us. The kids didn’t seem to have any problem. Overall, though, it has only added to the hilarity of the experience!
There is cooperation/teamwork, language arts, math and problem solving in this game. This game is fairly tough to find in our area because it is very popular. Even though it is 5 months old, finding it used is rare, and the price difference isn’t all that great for this particular game if you do manage to find it used, so your best bet might be new, and depending on your area, an online retailer might be better than local stores.
3. New Super Mario Bros. DS
Even though they have similar names, there is one big difference: the DS version has Download Play for up to 4 players! There is a 2 player game, “Mario vs. Luigi”, in which each character tries to collect 5 star coins from them appearing in the game *or* stealing them from the other guy. This one is fun, but age and skill make a difference and there really isn’t any way to handicap anyone, so little ones playing with older ones might get frustrated. The other Download Play option is minigames: some are skill, some are luck and some are a combination. There are lots of games and lots of variety in them, from card games to competitive games to “helicopter” games that use the microphone. There is much less advantage for older or more skilled players in this section *and* the person who is in last place gets to choose the upcoming game. Very smart. It is fairly easy for an adult to unobtrusively help a weaker player in many of the games, as well. Warning: if one player shuts their DS, turns it off or the battery dies, it ends the games for all folks connected and you must start over to continue playing. Loads of replay value, here. Graphics are great and game control is pretty good-there is a lot of stylus use in this game. The only difficulty I’ve had is with the microphone game, but no one else seems to have any trouble with it, here, so it is likely either just me or my DS’s microphone.
Language arts, math, geometry, algebra, problem-solving and cooperation/team play. This is an older game, but may be difficult to find used, as it is a very popular game. If you want to go local, I’d call around to your local stores first, to see availability and price – you may need to go with online purchasing for this one, but as ours was gotten fairly new and we haven’t looked since, I really can’t give good advice on purchasing information for this one.
2. Rock n’ Roll Racing
This older game on the SNES (also for Game Boy and Genesis) has been a staple here for many years. We love the racing – just challenging enough to keep it interesting, but getting 2 players to the end planet is a big challenge, but good music and good fun. This one was definitely a callous-builder. The only beef we have with this game is the limit on the songs; they could have put so many more on the game. It would be great if they would release this as a download or new game on the Wii with the ability to download new songs of our own choosing into the game. The graphics aren’t the greatest, and the control is average, but there’s something about the game that keeps us coming back even after all these years. It *is* only a two player game, but it is fun to watch as well as play. It is pretty easy to just switch players in races or enter someone’s save code so they can play with their own guy.
Math, language arts, cooperation/team play and some map-interpretation in this game. As it is such an old game, this one would probably be best found online. I’ve not seen it in our local game stores (of which we have many and are in frequently), but I do see listings on Amazon for a few of them on different platforms.
1. Rock Band
This is our favorite family game (any version, but we only own Rock Band on PlayStation2 right now). We have it pretty easy because we have 3 guitar players and 2 drummers who are all pretty easy about switching if someone else wants to play. The Beatle’s version has the ability to have 4 simultaneous singers for harmonizing, and I’m looking forward to trying that one out as well. This original version does not have a “super easy” or “practice” mode for one player in the multiplayer mode, so when we first got it, we gave our youngest a guitar that wasn’t plugged in and he was happy to “play” along. As he got older and realized how the game played, we’ve learned to play on “practice” mode when he’s awake or wanting to play. It would be easier if we had a version with “super easy” or “practice” for him to tour on, but this works for now. The graphics are fine and as the singer, I find game control very good. However, when it comes to “cowbell/tambourine” percussion or an instrument, I find myself out of synch. I have good rhythm and no one else seems to have trouble with it, so it may just be how I hear/play. I could use a “super easy” mode for my drumming, though! We are also looking forward to getting a Wii version that we can download songs onto.
This game has math, language arts, cooperation/team play and music reading. If you need to buy the instruments, I would suggest seeing if you can find multi-system compatible ones if you do have more than one system. The instruments, drums especially, take up a lot of space and we’re finding that the original ones we got for our PlayStation 2 do not work in our Wii-except for the microphone. Hopefully, we can find a set for the Wii that will also work on the PlayStation 2 so that we do not have 2 sets of instruments to try to store. Once you have instruments, you can then just buy the disk/game versions of other Rock Band (and Guitar Hero – though we recently tried Guitar Hero World Tour and I did *not* like it very much. I’ll stick with my Rock Band.) games, which are cheaper than the whole set with the instruments. Local used game stores as well as online retailers are good places to look for this game.
If you’re unsure if a game will fit your family, see if you can find it at your local library, if a friend has one you can borrow to try or renting one for a few days. Be aware: there are movie/game rental places that charge a monthly fee for which you can get a limited number of games, but there are also places where you can just go in and rent one without the membership/monthly fee.
Have fun playing with your kids! If you find that you really don’t like a certain game or the games you do like aren’t conductive to group play, just sit with your kids while they play and enjoy their game-they’ll love having you there sharing something they enjoy and you get some good family time together as well.