In this day and age, if you don’t let your kids play video games, you’re robbing them of a great way to learn (maybe “robbing” is too strong a word, but let’s face it, hyperbole is fun)! I don’t mean games like Candy Crush or Angry Birds that people play on their phones or tablets. Your children need to see the real world. If you haven’t given them any real video games to play yet or just haven’t found the right ones, here’s a list that I think you and your kids will like as a starting point. As someone who grew up with video games and found them to be very good for my development, I can tell you that the following games can make a huge difference.
1. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
This famous role-playing game came out for the Xbox in 2003. You can now buy it for a low price and download it to most PCs (or even your phone or tablet, though I don’t recommend that). I played it all the way through when I was 10 years old, and I’ll never forget how amazing it was to explore the game’s first alien cities and talk to random NPCs (non-player characters) using the game’s easy and often funny dialogue options. Not only did my mind grow by leaps and bounds because I got to hear such a great story firsthand (at the time, it felt like I was in a Star Wars movie), but my young brain also ate up all the hard words and ideas faster than a hungry dog would eat a raw steak. The most important thing this game did for me was help me build my verbal and mental dictionaries. Even though I was only 10, I didn’t understand everything about this game. That’s okay, though, because I can play it again now and pick up on all the details I missed as a child.
It’s also likely that this game is what got me interested in science fiction, which is a good thing because people who like that genre tend to have better imaginations and work harder to make the world a better place.
2. Pokémon X
I grew up with the Blue version of this game, but kids who have grown up with iPhones and other similar devices aren’t likely to want to use a Gameboy Color. The X and Y versions will have to do. When you’re young, playing Pokémon games gives you a sense of adventure that you can’t really get from other games (like around 5 or 6). They do this so well that even grown-ups like me still play them to feel like we did when we were kids. They’re great for kids because the dialogue is all text, so you have to read to play. This makes kids work on important skills even when they’d rather be catching Pokémon and exploring the game’s world. In the classroom, they might tune out a teacher’s reading lessons because they’re too busy playing the game.
3. Mass Effect
Mass Effect is a great science fiction game. It came out in 2007 and was made by the same people who made the first game on this list. Not only that, but it has one of the most exciting stories of any video game. Most people who have played it would say it’s better than the average Hollywood summer blockbuster, which I guess isn’t too hard to do these days. Is it a game for adults? Yes, but that doesn’t mean you should keep it from your kids. They’ll see worse on the average TV show these days, so a little bit of leniency might be worth it to expose them to the kinds of stories that will make them want to learn more about things they never would have been interested in before. For example, after playing Mass Effect, I became so interested in the story that I went out and bought the books about it. After reading those books, I wanted to read more like them, so I picked up more science fiction novels. You never know what will get your child interested in reading and learning on his or her own. Once they find something that interests them, they’ll be able to teach themselves many of the skills you’d expect them to learn in school, especially when it comes to improving their reading and vocabulary. This is what Mass Effect did for me and many other people. Why not try it for the sake of your child?
4. Sim City 4
This city simulator is so good that no one has been able to beat it in the last ten years. Go do yourself a favour and buy or download a copy for less than $20 and let your kid have a blast with it. There is no better way to have fun and learn something useful than to play a game in which the goal is to plan, build, and take care of a city that can run on its own. Believe me, it’s just as hard to do in this game as it is in real life. Once your kid gets it done, though, they’ll know more than the average politician about how to run water and power lines, deal with unions, and handle crime and pollution. Here’s the best part for kids: in Sim City 4, you can destroy everything you build in super creative and endlessly fun ways! Done with your city? Send it a robot dinosaur to step on it. Or spawn a volcano. Or attack it with aliens. In this game, your child can play anywhere.
5. World of Warcraft
What? A game with a lot of players for a child? Why not, sure. When I was 12, I played it and had a great time. I was a bit shy at the time, and playing the game helped me connect with other kids at my school who also liked it (abbreviated as WoW). Aside from the social aspects, this game is a lot like Pokémon in that it has text-based quests and a lot of interesting history that any creative kid will devour faster than you can say “apple pie with ice cream.” Again, your boy or girl might hate reading about the seasons or why it’s good to recycle in school, but they’ll probably love reading about a powerful wizard or an oddball gnome who designs robots, even if they don’t understand all the subtext. In Basket Random, put on your basketball uniform and get ready for a crazy basketball experience that doesn’t even require you to leave the house.
As a parent, you’ll need to keep an eye on how involved your child is in the game’s social aspects. Most people who play World of Warcraft are adults, so you might decide to turn off the chat feature all together. Still, I think it was very helpful for me to be immersed in the world of adults at such a young age. Not because they talked about really adult stuff (they didn’t), but because I learned a lot by trying to type and think like them (because I wanted to fit in). I got so good at it that most of the people I played with thought I was also an adult based on how I typed and carried myself. I was only 13 years old and didn’t know much about almost anything, but they didn’t have to know that. After a while, I stopped putting on an act and just started typing that way on purpose. So, I think this gave me a head start in developing not only my writing skills but also my thinking skills. It’s up to you, the parent, to decide if your child can play a game like World of Warcraft or not. Just know that they’ll see much worse things at the mall with their friends than in the colourful world of Azeroth. I think it’s worth the risk, especially if you decide to play with them. I knew a lot of parents and children who both played World of Warcraft, which is more common than you might think.
To wrap up, all of these games have one thing in common: they will open your kids’ minds and force them to use their brains. The cool thing is that it won’t feel like work to them. They’ll have fun and might learn more in a video game than in a whole year of elementary school.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you as a parent to decide whether or not to let your kids have access to this treasure trove of information and ideas. I did it, so why wouldn’t your kid?