Video games were an indelible part of my childhood. Much in the same way escapism works for hardcore novel enthusiasts, video games were a portal to other worlds where I could control the outcome. That same magic seems to have been captured in my own son’s eyes as he marvels at the colorful, living worlds in games like Super Mario Odyssey.
As a gamer myself, my best memories with my dad were not the vacations, outdoorsy boy scouts trips, or even our trips to the local barber shops that ended in a sugar-laden hostess fruit pie and Gatorade from the Huck’s gas station across the street. I surely loved those memories. But it was the simpler one-on-one moments of sitting side by side on the living room floor as we were running and gunning our way through Contra or alternating turns on Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts. We’d banter back and forth about the dumb mistakes we each made, or clench our teeth and subsequently whoop and holler as one of us pulled off a near-miss feat with a big-baddy or end-game boss.
Video Games & Parenting in the Present
In the modern age, I understand the concern amongst my parenting peers regarding the issue of screen time. I know I’m stating the obvious, but screens are everywhere. Even I need to break away from screens as they take up a large part of my work day. But, I also want to rebuke the idea that video games are the enemy to all productivity. At the start of this posting, I declared that games boosted my sense of imagination and wonder. I’ve also established with this blog alone that games are an artform continually being perfected by the best designers (artists) in the business. I talked at length about art and video games in my spoilerific posting of God of War.
Video games are like anything, a subject that can be viewed with completely opposing perspectives depending on the generation of an individual or experience. From my perspective, I could argue the positives of video gaming all day long. But, at the end of the day, everything boils down to moderation. Too much of a good thing prevents one from experiencing other good things. My parents, I believed, moderated my video game engagement very well.
So, parents, my belief is that the best way for your young kids to experience gaming is not in a solo venture planted in front of the TV all day, but for a couple hours here and there with you! As a parent of a four-and-a-half-year-old, I am experiencing this very thing right now as a gaming fan myself. My son started venturing into games a year ago. That might partially be due to the fact that his daddy loves games. But whatever the case may be for you, video gaming is a much larger industry now that it was when we were kids. It’s only a matter of time before your child takes notice.
I’m here to help you share in the experience as you introduce video games to your child. Here are a few of my top choices for games appropriate for younger ages and that are typically accessible to children 4 and up with parental assistance where needed. These games contain cartoon violence, such as generic hitting as an actionable attack, but otherwise, contain no real death or inappropriate content. Furthermore, they are all rated by the ESRB as E for Everyone.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
This game is a family favorite. My family has a long legacy of Mario Kart competitions from the day the first entry made its debut on the Super Nintendo in the early 90’s. My sisters and I would have fun besting each other in kart races with our favorite Nintendo characters. At times, the competition would devolve into heated exchanges. Mario Kart was never simply about racing as much as it was about using the craziest tool at your disposal to gain an edge. There’d be countless times that an opponent-seeking red turtle shell would pummel me right before a finish line as my sister whizzed by claiming victory.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch is a perfect evolution of the series. The accessibility range of this game is incredible. Assists can be added to any player. The guided steering assist keeps players from going off the track. The forward motion assist always keeps the player moving full speed ahead even if the gas button (or “go” button as my son puts it) isn’t being pushed. With those two options alone, a baby could play the game and be guaranteed to finish a race.
Last year, before we purchased a Switch for Christmas, my son and I would play the game at Target and Best Buy. I discovered these assist features that I could activate for him in the store. Even when he’d finish the races in one of the last spots, he still finished quickly and was ecstatic. Since last Christmas, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has seen a lot of mileage (no pun intended) in our home.
Super Mario Odyssey
Mario’s latest adventure is one of the most wondrous and whimsical affairs the Italian plumber has ever been on. The game takes the player to all kinds of worlds with cartoonishly outlandish inhabitants. Mario even journeys with a companion in the form of a sentient cap named appropriately, Cappy. Cappy can hurl himself at enemies or place himself on the head of many types of enemies to enable Mario to take control. With Cappy’s assistance, Mario can become a Goomba, a Koopa Troopa, Bullet Bill, or any number of other enemies from Mario’s legacy.
Furthermore, a second player can play cooperatively as Cappy. Controlling Cappy is manageable with only a few simple buttons. My son and I played through the entire adventure in this fashion. I controlled Mario (who required a little more coordination) and he controlled Cappy. It’s the perfect adventure for a parent and a young child to embark on together.
Kirby Triple Deluxe
When we acquired a 3DS, Kirby Triple Deluxe was on sale and was the first game we picked up. I’ve always loved the little pink ball of fluff who could eat just about anything. Even during it’s earliest days on the NES and SNES, it always amazed me that he could acquire so many cool powers just from inhaling different cutesy enemies. Kirby’s difficulty is rather low and is a perfect side-scrolling platformer for a new gamer to practice his/her coordination capabilities. Both my son and I have played through this game. Being new to side-scrolling titles, it was rough for him at first. But to my surprise, he quickly learned and even started solving the games simple puzzles on his own.
Kirby Star Allies
Kirby Triple Deluxe prepared my son for Kirby Star Allies when it launched on the Switch. You can actually read my full review of this game here. However, this is the perfect parent-child gaming experience. As the name implies, Kirby is meant to have allies. In fact, up to four players can play this game together. I always played Kirby and my son would take control of any one of the allies.
To my delight, the game only ends when Kirby runs down the life bar. My son’s character could be knocked out, and I could either revive him or obtain a new ally for him to play as. There was never a moment when he wasn’t able to play. Furthermore, the screen follows Kirby so if the allies fall off the screen, they are zipped right back to Kirby. So there’s never any frustration that results from your younger companion going in the wrong direction.
Nintendo Switch/Wii U/PS3/PS4/PS Vita/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC
Rayman Legends is a side-scrolling platformer that my son and I actually played together in full on the PlayStation 4. He didn’t only want to be relegated to the Nintendo Switch and 3DS so we bought him one of the Sony licensed mini controllers. It’s essentially a PS4 controller that is built for smaller hands. You can find it here. Like many other games on this list, this is, yet, another game that is easily accessible for young kids if someone older is playing along with them.
In Rayman’s humorously cartoony world, the game only ends when both players meet their doom. If one player is still alive, the downed player can easily be revived. Downed players are puffed up like balloons and float around until the other player can simply touch them to bring them back into the game. At times, there were some difficult platforming feats to accomplish. I’d just have my son try the best he could, and if he inevitably was hit, I would just complete the challenge and then revive him.
The Lego Games
Lego games all contain the same formula. Current games in the Lego series include Lego The Incredibles, Lego Jurassic World, Lego Batman 3, Lego Harry Potter, Lego Star Wars The Force Awakens, and more on various (most) platforms. Essentially, one or two players traverse a linear level overcoming obstacles through solving puzzles and building Lego constructs to unlock further paths. There are usually enemies along the way and the characters can use any of their special abilities to fight. Punching is the basic fighting ability. But, Batman also has batarangs, or Rey can use the force as an example of extra abilities based on the character. My son and I already love legos, so these kinds of games were naturally going to be apart of our catalog. We always know what to expect with a Lego game. The fun is just experiencing Lego-ized worlds of the many different franchises.
I hope that helps or informs any non-gamer parents or gamer parents who are unsure of where to start with introducing video games to their young kids. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter and reach out if you have more questions about my experiences with my son and video games.