A large portion of my friends and acquaintances have children that are getting into the world of video games. Once or twice a month I receive a call or text that goes something like this: “Should I buy a PS4 or an Xbox? What games are good for kids? What games can I play with them?” Their kids are hitting that age where they know they want something more than a tablet. They want a bigger, more immersive experience. Unsurprisingly, the conversation almost always evolves into what the parent might find enjoyable as well. Fortunately, they know where to turn for help.
What system should I buy for my kids if they are young (ages 6-12) and just getting into gaming?
This question that comes up more often than any other question in regards to video games. Most friends/parents that come to me for advice are unfamiliar with the current choices on the market. A few of them owned the original Wii, but after the gimmick faded, it was sold or put into storage. Modern system choices include the Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. What follows is an abbreviated version of my recommendation:
- Playstation 4 / PS4 Pro (Recommended)
- The PS4 is currently most popular system between the three major console competitors. It has the biggest library of games (of the current consoles) including popular kid friendly titles and exclusives that, unfortunately, can’t be purchased for other systems. I also strongly recommend the PS4 controller for small hands over other options (when discussing traditional controls). If the kids are just getting into console gaming (somewhere between the ages of five and eight) this is almost always my recommendation. The PS4 also just got a big update with remote play, allowing games to played on almost any device.
- Xbox One / Xbox One Scorpio (Dependent Recommendation)
- The Xbox One doesn’t have a lot of attributes that would make it a recommendation over the PS4 when it comes to gaming for young children. Most of the prominent kid friendly game series run on both Xbox One and PS4 but as mentioned above, there are some that are exclusive to Playstation. That said, Xbox has a couple things going for it: 1) The arcade/legacy store on Xbox is the best in the business. 2) The backwards compatibility (ability to run Xbox 360 games) factor can be a selling point for some people. Similar to remote play, the Xbox One can stream to a Windows 10 computer. [I personally believe the Xbox makes more sense for teenage and adult gamers but I am sure someone will debate me on that point.]
- Nintendo Switch (Wait and See)
- Nintendo is back in the console game with the Nintendo Switch. As with most things Nintendo, one can expect excellent family friendly, first party games (Mario, Yoshi, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, etc). Additionally, due to the strong sales of the Switch (so far), third party developers are showing a lot of support. With motion controls and portability, the Switch is shaping up to be the best family & kid friendly console since the original Wii. So why this isn’t my “main” recommendation for a family or child oriented console? It comes down to time. The Nintendo Switch has only been on the market for a few months (at the time of writing) and the library of available games is very small. Give Nintendo and other developers time to release games for the system and it very well may be the best choice in the group. [At the time of writing this, Nintendo is working on their new online ecosystem. When operational, it will sell many of the classic titles you probably remember from your own childhood. Yes, they are still difficult as $#&%. ]
- PC (Dependent Recommendation)
- The computer is a tough recommendation as a starter gaming system for families not already familiar with PC gaming. Yes, I am aware I have just angered every PC gamer in the galaxy. The truth is the PC is my main gaming platform but I still don’t recommend it as a general purpose, first time, gaming device. While computers have made leaps and bounds over the past ten years in terms of simplicity and ease of gaming, the complexities of the ecosystem make it better as a teenage and adult gaming device (PC is the optimal platform for an adult gamer). That said, the PC can still be an acceptable gaming platform for family gaming granted someone in the household understands setting it up and buying/installing games. The Steam store has thousands of family friendly titles (as does GoG). PC truly is the most flexible gaming ecosystem but it needs the right expertise in the household to set it up.
What games should I buy for my kids?
While being the logical follow-up to the first question, it can be harder to answer because there are more factors and variables to consider. Instead of trying to list dozens upon dozens of options, I will highlight a few that I recommend.
Ratchet and Clank
Available On: PS4 Exclusive Game Type: Action / Platformer Number of Players: One (single player only) Recommended Age Group: 8+ ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ Approximate Price ($30)
Ratchet and Clank is a popular platformer/action game exclusive to the PS4 (not available on Xbox or Switch). It looks and plays like a Saturday morning cartoon with most of the “violence” reserved for cartoon-ish monsters and robots. It does take some dexterity to control the player character so it probably won’t accommodate the youngest of children. It is a well rounded game and will suit the teenage or adult gamer as well.
Available On: All current and previous generation consoles / 3DS / Vita / PC (Steam) / Limited Mobile Game Type: Action / Platformer Number of Players: Offline - One or Two / Online - Many Recommended Age Group: 8+ ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ Approximate Price ($10-$60)
There are more Lego games available now than I care to count. With themes like Star Wars and Marvel Super heroes, there is something for everyone. The assembly line production of these games hasn’t hurt their quality. Most of them are enjoyable experiences, packed with fun moments and a lot of replay-ability. Every modern Lego game (circa 2007+) is built for ease of pickup and play. Most games in the Lego series include cooperative play, allowing parents and kids to play at the same time.
Available On: Practically everything under the sun Game Type: Sandbox / Building Number of Players: Offline - One or Two / Online - Many Recommended Age Group: 6+ ESRB Rating: Everyone Approximate Price ($7-$30)
I’m not sure what else can be said about Minecraft that hasn’t been said before. It is the quintessential building block exploration game. It’s been downloaded millions upon millions of times and still has millions upon millions of active players across multiple platforms. Part of Minecraft’s success is tied to its flexibility. The game can be tweaked or changed in numerous ways to allow players of all ages to participate. It can be a free form building block game (think of Mega Blocks or Lego). It can be an adventure game with monsters. It can be a massive online multiplayer game with hundreds of people building or adventuring together. People have built simple computers and complex counting machines inside the game itself. It does everything except your laundry. The simple graphics and intuitive user interface make it so kids and adults can both jump in and play almost immediately. If buying Minecraft for the first time take care to buy the version you actually want (or your child wants). All versions are separate and are not compatible with each other (e.g. the PC version is a different client than the mobile version). Please read and familiarize yourself with the different versions before you buy.
This only scratches the surface of family gaming. There are hundreds more family friendly games out there. Amazon and other online retailers have searchable categories that help limit the results to family and kid friendly titles. Before purchasing a game, remember: Do a little bit of research so you know exactly what you are getting. Make sure it fits your definition of acceptable for your child’s age as well. Once you get into gaming, it’s not nearly as confusing as it might look at first.