A Note from the Editors: Hardly a day goes by without an editorial or video being published by a concerned parent lamenting their children’s obsession with Fortnite. Depending on who you talk to, Fortnite is either a colorful game that promotes creative problem solving and team building or a something more akin to crack or heroin. For many parents it can feel impossible to discern between unwarranted moral panic and reasonable loving concern.… we are a little bummed that Fortnite is causing so many parents to hate video games, so we’d like to highlight a few of those “hundreds of thousands of video games that don’t cause problems in the home.”
While Fortnite, in moderation, can be loads of fun for teenagers and adults, we have concerns about younger kids playing (the ESRB rates the game Teen). These reasons, however, aren’t rooted where you might think, namely virtual violence (Fortnite‘s violence isn’t particularly graphic). What troubles us about young kids playing is its reward structures. Fortnite essentially trains players to maintain a steady diet of the game in order to keep earning V-bucks to spend on dances, skins, and emotes. Dozens of other games operate similarly, Fortnite is simply the most popular game to employ these compulsion-driven reward systems. Fortnite, however, appeals to a slightly younger demographic than the average shooter due to its colorful aesthetic and less visually graphic violence. So younger kids in larger numbers are playing Fortnite and being introduced to these reward systems—there is a good chance your preteen won’t shut up about it. Game critic Peter Farquhar recently wrote an editorial for Business Insider on this subject and concluded:
There are literally hundreds of thousands of video games for your kids to play that don’t cause problems in households. Fortnite isn’t one of them.
We’ve addressed how the game’s virtual marketplace causes problems in the home. And we’ve asked parents to stop shaming their kids for playing. But we are a little bummed that Fortnite is causing so many parents to hate video games, so we’d like to highlight a few of those “hundreds of thousands of video games that don’t cause problems in the home.” These are games that provide healthier, less compulsive, reward loops. In fact, these games provide kids and parents with intrinsic rewards that are far more valuable than external rewards like Fortnite skins or emotes. These are games to play with your kids that can help them build healthier relationships—both with technology and with you.
Overcooked – Drew Dixon
Initially you are cooking in simple kitchens. Before long you are in a kitchen made up of two food trucks speeding down a highway. The two trucks periodically separate from one another, dividing tools, supplies, and even players. Success requires careful planning—awareness in those moments when they are together.
My daughter hates this level.
For my daughter, videogames are about the experience, not skill. This was the case with Overcooked, at least until she started noticing stars. Awards come in the form of stars—granted based on the number of orders completed within each round’s allotted time. These small rewards motivated her to move more quickly and listen to my requests more intently.
Before long, my wife and I were formulating a plan that would allow us to handle the most complex tasks while still giving our daughter a less intensive (but equally important) role. The result was still chaotic thanks to the many curve balls Overcooked throws at players (and my daughter’s tendency to go off script). However, the three of us managed to get the maximum three stars on a handful of levels.
Overcooked is an effective team-building exercise.
Joust Mania – Andy Robertson
Joust Mania is a motion game that invites up to 16 players to get up out of their seats and interact with one another using PlayStation Move controllers without looking at a screen. The premise is simple. Each player stands in a designated physical arena and must hold their controller still in order to stay in the game. Of course, at the same time the other players are trying to nudge and joggle them to put them out. The slightest jostle of the controller results in defeat such that the game punishes aggressive movements. What soon develops is a highly strategic game of cat and mouse that can be played in all sorts of places:
Younger players love it because, like Fortnite, it’s hard for parents to understand quite what all the fuss is about. Parents love it, because it does away with the screen entirely and can be played outside in parks or large church halls.
Because of the large number of players all in the real world, it has the same Battle Royale feel to it. But there are many more interesting modes on offer that make really clever use of the PlayStation move controller.
You can play all against all, or in a number of teams. You can assign a leader in your team who you must protect—and if they are out the whole team is out. You can play a traitor mode where one player is designated a traitor by the controller vibrating at the start of the round. You can play a Zombie mode where you must stay alive or join the Zombie team. There’s a Werewolf vs Villagers mode where players must stay alert to identify who the attacking beasts are. There’s even a Fight Club mode where players take it in turns to face-off against each other.
It’s a free to play community recreation of the original Johann Sebastian Joust game that first appeared in the SportsFriends game. You can play Joust Mania on a Raspbery Pi, as explained here. You can also play the original JS Joust on PS3, PS4 and Steam.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe- Casey Flynt
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Nintendo Switch is awesome for kids and parents. Four-player multiplayer in TV mode allows for large groups to play together. And unlike Fortnite, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe allows even beginner players who are still learning the controls to stay in the race to the finish, allowing for a sense of accomplishment even for the person in last place.
As players race through the game, they will unlock new customizations for cars and characters, which gives a goal system that can be especially valuable for younger players. These rewards are unlocked randomly rather than constantly dangled out in front of children to keep them coming back. I am remarkably bad at Mario Kart 8. A year ago, I went on a mission trip to a gaming conference, and for the first day I was tasked with playing random passers-by in Mario Kart 8 Ultimate, because new players could play me competitively, and within a few races could usually beat me. This can be a humbling experience for the hyper-competitive personality, but it gives a great learning and teaching opportunity on how to lose with grace.
There is also a skill learning element with Mario Kart that becomes more apparent as players start gaining experience with the game. There are many techniques such as correct drift turning that at first seem to make little difference; however, as children progress those minute adjustments can mean the difference between winning and losing. In this way, it encourages strategic thinking and encourages kids to play close attention to detail.
Mario Kart 8 fosters community with clean family fun that can also allow for some great teaching moments.
Runbow – Kevin Schut
You want action? Try jumping over pits of lava. You want multiplayer madness? Try cramming up to 9 hooting and hollering players in the same room in a race for the win. You want quick, high-paced hits of excitement? Try 10 rounds in less than 10 minutes. This miraculous concoction of sugary video game goodness is Runbow: the competitive platformer/combat/race game.
Run across an obstacle course to be the last one standing! Or the first to reach the trophy.
Everything about this game is light and fun and fluffy—designed to give that high you only get when you’re in a good-natured competition with friends. Although there’s combat and character deaths, the cartoony aesthetic means it’s a clean game. My three daughters (aged 15, 12 and 9) love it, and always run our house guests through the paces.
Stardew Valley – Jonathan Campoverde
Stardew Valley, while not obvious, gives children a chance to develop skills that I believe transfer into a child’s spiritual life.
Like many farming simulators, those who enjoy the game find solace in the rhythmic pattern of life on a farm. A day in SDV takes about 20 min. In that time, players learn to prioritize certain tasks like watering plants and clearing debris. As they push their character, they level-up: learning to do more in the game world, diving deeper into the game’s depths.
Dedication and discipline at the beginning of the game develop into long-lasting rewards as players unlock different farm buildings or even help from the Junimos, the game’s mystical farmhands.
Parents could even reward different milestones in the game with rewards in the real world as a way to incentivize the dedication and discipline required to reach those milestones. As I reflect on my time spent in Stardew Valley, I find that the rhythm of farm life found in game helps me order my own spiritual rhythms as well.
Celeste – Ryan Eighmey
Celeste is about climbing a mountain. It has an uplifting message of overcoming obstacles — not giving up when things get tough in your life, but I loved the immense challenge each level represents.
The great thing is the way that my 6-year old son can play the game with assist mode. There are a number of options that you can turn on or off, and some of which make your character basically invincible. My son really enjoys playing this way because of how difficult the game can be (why the developers put it in the game).
Pokémon – Tieranie Albright
Pokemon will always be a classic (for adults and children alike) because it gets people together in the real world. Releasing November 16, Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee are revamps of the original releases of the first Pokemon games, Red and Blue — with a twist: you start the game with a famous Pikachu or incredibly cute Eevee, and they follow you on your journey. With new 3D graphics and simplified gameplay for even the youngest audiences.
For more of a social aspect, Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee connects to your Pokemon Go accounts from your phone! Parents play Pokemon Go with their children because it encourages meeting up with others in real life, making friends, and working together to take down even the toughest Pokemon opponents. By including the ability to add the Pokemon that you catch in the “real” world of Pokemon Go with friends to the Switch world of the Let’s Go games, Nintendo provides a well rounded experience.
The series is known for WiFi enabled battles and trades, too, so being able to take your kids outside to play then meet up with other Switch owners to battle the Pokemon you just caught on your walk is really a great way to bond with them and make new friends. That alone is more rewarding than winning any Pokemon battle.
The Unimaginable Wonder of Mario – Lasse Lund
I introduced my daughter to Super Mario World before she was even one year old. Over the years, we brought my son into the loop with Galaxy 1&2, got my wife in the mix with New Super Mario Bros Wii, and made it a 4-player family affair with Mario Kart Wii.
Seeing the sheer wonder on my kids’ faces as we collect coins, unlock new levels, and stomp Bowser for umpteenth time takes me back to my early days with the Italian duo. They eagerly chatter and ask nonstop questions as we uncover secrets, meet quirky characters, and replay levels ad nauseam. Nearly every day, they beg to jump back into that world, if even for only a few minutes. And I almost always oblige.
Mario invites us to embrace a childlike sense of amazement, and that’s a journey worth taking as a family.
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