I grew up on video games from my earliest childhood. Many of these I watched my dad play — in fact, we have a photo of my brother, not yet old enough to walk, sitting on Dad’s lap watching Warcraft III.
But I myself played my share of video games. You may scoff, but some of my fondest memories, the most enduring stories, breathtaking characters, and immersive experiences have come from games.
If you have kids, you want them to be encouraged, educated, and edified by the media they consume. This includes watching the books they read and the friends they play with.
Dare you let video games play a role in their development? If so, let me share with you the best and brightest games from my youth…the ones that taught me most, or touched me the deepest.
DISCLAIMER: CHECK YOUR OPERATING SYSTEM AND THE GAME’S SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS BEFORE BUYING ANY GAMES. After all, I’m not exactly a spring chicken…
Admit it. We parents are duplicitous, and want to sneak little nuggets of knowledge into the things our kids think are just fun.
Sure, there are lots of games like this, some more recent or successful than others. But from my own vast childhood experience, these are my top picks:
Do you know your alphabet? This game has a colorful scene for each letter, filled with colorful characters and hidden “H”, “L”, “Q”, or the like.
This “game” is simple, but entertaining. Clean and cheery, it’s also perfect for little kids.
The Blaster Games
There are many more in the series, as I learned from the walkthroughs on YouTube. (A walkthrough for a kids’ educational game? That’s like taking a Dr. Seuss book, designed to get kids to read, and making it into a movie! Ya dig?)
Meet Spot, G.C., and Blasternaut – my first self images. Spot is also my first game crush; he’s the cute little blue robot. I even have a notebook featuring a pictogram story about them.
These bright characters introduced basic science facts, easy math, and reading puzzles to us youngsters on their spaceship full of mini-games. Not so arduously academic as my exposure to Reader Rabbit, and not so story-driven as the Humongous games, the Blaster games hit a sweet spot of fun and function.
Be careful playing the Big Kid game, though: Math Blaster Ages 6-9. It features Gellator – the Brain-Drainer…an evil yellow ooze-being who kidnaps Spot and terrified my five-year-old self. To the point that I would never play the actual story-line, only test mode.
Ah, kid fears.
There’s more to mental development than school facts. If your kids are ready for a challenge, and want more story to their games, these are worth a try:
Freddie Fish, Pajama Sam, and Spy Fox
Humongous Entertainment introduced me to the marvelous, magical world of point-and-click puzzle adventures.
You might not learn how to multiply and divide, but you’ll definitely stretch your critical thinking skills. Mostly inventory-related, the puzzles are perfectly suited to give children and adults alike a challenge – and then a feeling of accomplishment when they succeed. The clues, barriers, and objectives are also randomized at the beginning of every new game, leading to fresh challenges within the confines of the current story.
For small fry:
Humongous has a series for young children starring Freddi Fish, a plucky young’un who, with her small, green friend Luther, solve mysteries and foil villains, including some big, mean (but not too bright) sharks. (Actually, they’re just working for THE SQUID FATHER!)
Work your brain with SAM!
The plotting, puzzles, and characters all move a level up in the Pajama Sam series. The titular Sam may be young and rambunctious…but he’s also polite, kind, helpful, and enthusiastic. He always says, “Excuse me,” when he burps. He always offers to help those in need. And when his mom asks him to pick up his scattered socks, he obeys without a single complaint.
He also visits such wild and wacky places as The Land of Darkness, the factory in the sky where weather is made, and a land inhabited by food. While making new friends and solving problems, he encounters subtle economic commentary and self-labeled “gratuitous educational content”. Another reason for kids to return to the series once they’re older and go, “Aha!”
If your kids are even older, though, you can experience…Fox. Spy Fox.
With a classy white tux and television spy watch, this agent for Spy Corps. will stop at nothing to save the world from a global milk shortage or a dastardly attack on the ozone layer. With his clever gadgets and his suave patter, he’ll meet Billy the Kid (er, William the Kid – literally) and a parody of Sidney Greenstreet, while working with Monkey Penny and Professor Quack.
This is a game to play with your kids. Not because there’s something you’ll want to censor, but because there’s something that might go over their heads…and you’ll be cracking up behind them.
In fact, play it yourself! We can all use the brain exercises, and these games are filled with such innocent humor and charm you’ll come away refreshed!
When I was young, we had the demo for this game. I decided to buy it for Dad for his birthday, and contracted Mom to help me out. One afternoon, the family went down to a computer store, and Mom helped me surreptitiously buy the CD.
I was so excited, I remember slipping it out of its case from time to time to gaze at the disk…and I couldn’t wait until Dad’s birthday, so it was a Father’s Day present instead.
A sophisticated, three-dimensional platformer, the game centers on Ferazel – a habnabit who must defend his underground home from evil invaders. Highly advanced for its time – with dynamic lighting, destructible terrain, different abilities and power-ups, it was a challenging yet rewarding play.
I never quite defeated the whole game. (Dad did, though, of course.)
Year later, my parents admitted the truth. Mom had told Dad about my ambitions, and Dad ordered the game himself – arranging with the store for me to pay for it.
The lies our parents tell us. Like Santa, except in reverse.
(In searching for places to buy this, I discovered this beautiful game has just about dropped off the map! You can still get it from the developer, looks like, but you can’t run it on Mac OS X machines! Looks like some experimentation with virtual machines is in order…)
I hesitated to include this classic in this list, since it contains some dark elements — but nothing scary actually happens, so if your kids can handle PG content, they can probably handle this.
And the game. Is. Gorgeous.
Unique for its time, Myst drops you onto a mysterious island full of puzzles. Uncover “passwords” to unlock new worlds or “Ages” with their own mysteries…all with a rich, immersive atmosphere that still sparks memories in me today.
While Myst inspired several sequels – and other first-person-perspective point-and-clicks – it is the first. The classic. And, for the right kids, a perfect brain-stretching game.
Play With Your Kids
Don’t be afraid to let them touch video games! There are plenty of games out there that will teach, build up, and stretch their brains!
And, when looking for games for kids, it’s never a bad idea to get them something you wouldn’t mind playing yourself 😉
She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.
Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier, plus periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures!