What your children are looking for in a snack may be different from what you are looking for as a parent. While they focus on the taste, you focus on nutrition. Same thing for games. Glitzy and famous games can be attractive, just like junk food. Some are showy and addictive, but do not feed children's curiosity or help them develop.
But really great video games can help your kids grow up in ways you never thought possible – just like healthy and delicious food. So, how can you avoid sugar-grain equivalents in the gaming world? Look for these secret ingredients:
A convincing hook. Games that appeal to children require concentration or imagination and present challenges a little beyond their comfort zone. Yes, you may need to set limits for games that take time at the expense of other activities. But it's a good sign when games put children in a flow situation. Plus, they are fun.
Choice. Having options can give children a sense of power. Children who decide which way to borrow or how to spend their virtual money often feel responsible for their fate in a game. In turn, they feel motivated. Games with lots of choice and exploration opportunities can help children feel ownership of the experience.
Age and appropriate interests. Some games are so easy to beat that children quickly lose interest. Others are so difficult that children are frustrated. Use your child's interests and hobbies as a starting point for selecting games.
Experimentation. The beauty of most games is that you can try again. And even. And even. Running in time or in life is not so bad when you know you have another chance. The willingness to try several options, or even sometimes fail, is a skill that will serve children well in the future.
Creativity. Imagine children designing new levels for existing games. Imagine communities of creators in which children comment constructively and comment. Many games offer media creation as a key part of the experience. The possibilities of creating something new in a game signal to the children that their work of origin has a value.
A social element. There is nothing wrong with a solitaire game. But as children grow older, games in which characters (or even real people) meet and work together can help children flourish. Skills such as teamwork and communication are the cornerstone of the current workforce. And having social outings online can help prepare kids for the future.
Relatability. Some children consider video games as a school escape. They may have trouble sitting in class but can focus on a video game. Or maybe the material and format of a game seem more relevant to their lives. Whatever the reason, video games can help teach the work and skills of life.
"Tell" instead of "show". Playing good games is like being sucked into a book that you can not crush. A prince in distress needs help. The world is coming to an end. Try to avoid games that feed children with spoon answers by asking or memorizing questions, and look for those with a strong story.
Cool design. Not everything, of course. But games with a strong, unified look are really appealing. It's not just that these games are beautiful, it's that their style is focused on attracting players to a unique world.
Variety. Games in which children only repeat the same actions are acceptable in moderation. But the variety is more beautiful. Think of games that mix elements of strategy, action, adventure, role-playing, building, and so on.
This piece appeared at Common Sense Media.
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