Updated: Apr 1, 2022
(up to being a tween…after that …. still trying to figure it out!)
As parents we have many choices – too many choices. Some of them are not so critical (choice of clothing, dental floss, salt…) and some matter more (education, morals and value system…) Every choice matters on different levels. In my family we sometimes take on a divide and conquer approach to parenting (splitting responsibilities.) I have taken over my son’s video game education. My partner has taken on other areas.
As a gamer (video, board, tabletop role playing) and parent, my son’s video game education was no small matter. I thought my goal was simple: achieve some sort of parent/child equilibrium where my son would learn to play strong – with kindness and empathy and … would actually want to play with me. (I know….) Outside factors were many, but I had control of what and when to introduce specific video games. I am NOT talking about any early educational video games that teach basic math and reading skills. Just games for gaming.
My plan was to introduce each unique video game genre at just the right developmental time, while tandemly moving through the standard card and board game progression. From Candyland into Trouble and then quickly into the Parker Brothers path of Sorry, then Clue, and unavoidably Monopoly – the most cutthroat game of them all! Cautionary Note: card gaming can potentially lead to the wide deep expensive hole of Pokémon card play/collecting & trading – which gets even more expensive once you arrive at Magic the Gathering gaming. Uber fun, but not a one-time purchase and play situation.
For simplicity, let’s break up video games into 5 types. Yes, there are many more categories.
Real-time strategy (Civilization, SIMS – real sit on the lap & play together games)
Shooters (FPS ) (hold off as long as possible - then cautiously intro)
Role-playing games (RPG) (amazing to play together)
Sports (NOT my cup of chai; tough for some kids as there is a clear winner /loser)
Platform Gaming (Crash Bandicoot, Sly Cooper, any of the many Lego games)
So, what is an optimal progression for introducing a child to video games? My 1st stop, of course, would be platform gaming. Games like Mario Brothers, Crash Bandicoot, Sly Cooper. Huge worlds to explore with vibrant colors, music and interesting stories. Platform gaming should last through the early education years.
At some point during the platform gaming period, the next genre to introduce is the real-time strategy games. Games like Civilization, any of the SIMS games or my favorite - Rise of Nations. These are too difficult for children on their own, but by playing together you can show your children that their decisions matter. You also get to introduce a huge fear of the time clock as “time” is a factor in these games. If you have never played Rise of Nations … do it! So simple and uncomplicated and yet it is such an elegant war game.
Once your child has developed a decent attention span, your next and BEST game type is the RPG genre. (my peanut butter and jelly!) These games allow you to experience an immersive world with much more interactivity than the simpler straightforward platform gaming. RPG video games were my first video game love. Real open world experiences, not just left, right, up, down, jump, duck. Zork, Wizardry, Might & Magic, Fallout, Mass Effect, Diablo – each a worthy experience.
Sports games are not my thing. I see people loving them. I get it. If my son was more into soccer or football, I am sure I would have explored that genre gladly and would probably be extolling the virtues of sports games. I am too consumed with saving the world to worry about beating another sports team.
Obviously, stay as far away from the extreme violence of shooting games, a genre I thoroughly enjoy, where death is so casual, common and graphic. Once your child is in school, they will learn about these games and will ask to play. You should Nancy Reagan (“Just Say No”) them as much as possible. Give your child a target of 12 years old, which still feels a bit too early and unfortunately unrealistic given everyone's exposure to social media.
In conclusion, and in order of introduction: platform games, then real time strategy games, into RPGs. After RPGs, sports games then shooters last.
Note 1: If you must introduce some sort of shooter game, I know the perfect 1st game. “Helldivers” (hours of my research and hundreds of my dollars went into this claim). Super fun yo! Helldivers is perfect as there is no graphic violence, the enemies are not human, and you only fight as a team. When you do not work as a team and have a player vs player (PvP) gaming situation, nastiness occurs. When you have a PvP game, you often see children so out of control using profanity spouted so freely with rage. This nastiness happens suddenly and will make you question walking away from your child for the 1st time on YouTube. If this is a concern you really need to go the Nancy R. route.
Note 2: Buyer beware! Many new games have in-game purchase opportunities - situations that let you use money to buy a cool weapon or vehicle or simply a new outfit. DANGER. Every year or so you hear the story about parents surprised to see an extra several hundred of dollars on their credit card bill from a game! In-game purchases – Nancy R. route!
Note 3: Tabletop Role Playing Games, like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) are better than videos. (Shhhhhhh.....) They are, really. Check out my blog "Why You and Your Kids Should Play Dungeons & Dragons." Separately, games like D&D are potentially a super interesting educational tool. Check out my blog "Dungeons and Dragons in School?!?"
Paul Lazrow (he / him)
Founder and Storyteller
player art from Dungeons & Dragons (NOT from a video game)