National Video Games Day, September 12, is one unofficial holiday parents might be tempted to ignore, until they see our list of console games and game apps that are engaging, fun, and smart.
While video games can drive parents to distraction when kids become too absorbed in game worlds, there are many good games out there that build skills from teamwork to computer coding.
Teamwork is one of the upsides to online games that allow for multiple players, as these games require lots of teamwork and communication skills among players.
Many parents may already know about the wonders of Minecraft and its build-it-yourself platform that allows players to place and break blocks to create intricate structures, machines, and worlds of their own.
However, Minecraft is just one of an ever-growing list of good games for kids and families, available for PC and games consoles. Here's our list for five games for online play on PC and console platforms, plus a list of five new apps for tablets and smart phones parents might want to explore with their kids to celebrate National Video Games Day.
Some of the games listed have been out for a while, and others are recommended based on previews available during the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) held in June. Through the E3 website I was either able to view previews of the games and their storylines online or play-test them with my own kids.
Console and PC-based
Child of Light – For ages 10+ due to “Fantasy Violence, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco” none of which are shown in any of the previews we saw. For use on PC.
This is actually a beautiful game to watch because the hero, a young princess, is drawn in a painterly style. She battles monsters with her sword of light. Child of Light is a role-playing game, inspired by fairy tales, that takes players on a journey through the vast world of Lemuria to explore its mythical environments, interact with its inhabitants, and discover its secrets.
Project Spark – For ages 12+. Can be played on Windows 8 and Xbox consoles.
Microsoft's game editor allows players to create any kind of game they can imagine and provides fan-favorite characters and sci-fi settings. Kids fight goblins and zombies using swords and axes “imbued with the elemental powers of Fire, Earth, Ice, and Wind!”
Never Alone – For ages 5+. Can be played on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC (To be released in November)
Part illustrated story, part platform game, “Never Alone” tells the story of Nuna, a young member of Alaska’s Inupiat tribe, and her arctic fox companion as they traverse a frozen landscape to uncover the source of a never-ending blizzard. You can control either Nuna or the fox and toggle quickly between them, or enter two-player mode and control both. Narrated in the native Inupiat tongue with English subtitles, the story is taken from an old tribal folk tale.
LittleBigPlanet 3 – Rated E for everyone, but contains some comic cartoon violence. Can be played on PlayStation consoles. (Available for pre-order now for a November release)
If your child loves Sockmonkey plush toys, this game will be a hit. In the game, a little knitted knight explores the handcrafted “Imagisphere” and meets the inhabitants of the mysterious planet Bunkum with occasional skirmishes with a sack-person bad guy called “the nefarious Newton.”
Splatoon – For ages 10+. Can be played on the Nintendo Wii U (Available for pre-order now for a November release)
While this game is technically labelled as a third-person shooter game, the catch is that there are no bullets or injuries involved, because what gamers “shoot” is streams of paint. The goal is to cover every surface of your territory with your designated color, while an opposing team of four tries to mark the territory with its color. Players can also dive into a nearby pool of ink to transform your character into a squid, enabling it to swim underwater much faster than it can walk.
Game Apps for phone or device
These first two games actually teach kids how to do computer coding by playing the game. These games don’t teach technical terms, but the processes and tools of coding.
Daisy the Dinosaur – For all ages. Available for iPad for free through iTunes.
This game teaches the youngest kids how to program a computer. This app has an easy drag and drop interface that kids of all ages can use to animate Daisy to dance across the screen. According to the website, “Kids will intuitively grasp the basics of objects, sequencing, loops, and events by solving this app's challenges. After playing Daisy, kids can choose to download a kit to program their own computer game.” There is only a dinosaur to move and only basic functions to use, but for your younger students, this is an excellent introduction to programming."
Tynker Premium – For ages 10+. Available for $4.99 for Android devices through the Google Play Store
Tynker is a fun and inventive game for older kids and teens. Its aim is to help children take their first steps in programming. It’s a collection of exercises – or “coding puzzles” – that teach kids about functions, subroutines, and conditional logic before letting them loose to make their own games.
LEGO® Juniors Create & Cruise – For ages 4-7. Available for free for Apple devices through iTunes.
In this game, children can create their very own Lego people and take them on new adventures. I have seen children as young as age two successfully use this app and remain totally engaged.
Hue Brix – For ages 5+. Available for free (plus a 99-cent version) for Android devices through the Google Play Store.
Players solve levels by dragging paths from blocks to fill out the puzzle grid. However, the blocks only give you paths of a specified length. Special blocks determine the orientation of paths, acting as clues and challenges at the same time.
Dragons World – For all ages. Available for free for Android and Apple devices.
This one’s for all the kids who loved the film “How to Train Your Dragon.” Players can raise dragons and watch them grow from little babies into huge, beautiful creatures. They can also breed unique dragon species using the ones they already have, and build and develop a dragon sanctuary on the Flying Islands. Kids explore a rich 3D environment, many unique dragons, build their world, and can play against others. The game can be played solo on or offline.
Monument Valley – For all ages. Available for $3.99 for Android and Apple devices.
This game lets kids navigate a series of M.C. Escher-like structures in a very high-concept world that’s soft on the eyes with uniquely soothing music soundtrack.
As a bonus round, here’s a suggestion for a free app for Android and Apple devices to help parents power-up kids to do chores.
ChoreMonster is free and helps you challenge your children to help out with household chores. It’s an app that lets you set rewards for children helping around the house, then tick off the tasks.
Perhaps in this case the family that plays video games together stays together on the same path to learning and imagination.