Best video games, online games and gaming apps for children and teenagers
The best video games for children have some learning value and positive messages. They also let children feel like they can do something well.
Children: 3-11 years
If your child is younger, the best games:
- reward creativity and planning – for example, Minecraft
- help your child learn about rules and strategy – for example, Fifa
- encourage your child to take turns and play with others as part of a team in the same room, rather than online – for example, Wii Sports
- have different levels of difficulty, so your child can progress through stages – for example, Fruit Ninja
- make it easy to play in short bursts, take breaks and save progress – for example, multi-level games like Angry Birds let you do this
- have simple controls – younger children can get frustrated if they can’t work the controls
- have positive messages about gender and diversity – for example, Playworld Superheroes.
At younger ages, it’s a good idea to choose games with a G rating and avoid games that involve playing with others online.
Teenagers: 12-18 years
For this age group, it’s best to encourage healthy gaming habits, rather than look for specific games or game features.
Games that give your child a way to work with other people in a team can be a good choice. You and your child can also look for games that have positive messages about gender diversity.
It’s best to avoid games that have an R18+ rating, because these games have content that isn’t suitable for teenagers.
Choosing video games, online games and gaming apps for children and teenagers
When you and your child are choosing video games, a good place to start is Australian Classification.
Australian Classification can give you a good sense of whether a game is appropriate for your child. It looks at a game’s themes, violent content, nudity, sexual activity, language and drug use. It also considers how often these things happen, how much detail is shown and how real it looks.
Note that Australian Classification doesn’t currently cover games for phones and tablets. But these games do have age recommendations, and you can set parental or family controls to limit downloadable content to an appropriate age level.
To work out whether a game is high quality, has recognised educational benefits, and is appropriate for your child, you can also check:
- Common Sense Media’s game reviews and Common Sense Media’s app reviews
- Australian Council on Children and the Media’s app reviews.
Video game literacy helps children make good choices about the games they play. To help your child develop video game literacy, you could start by asking your child what they do and don’t like about the games they play. You could also talk with your child about how games are designed, how they’re played, how they represent gender and race, and how game developers make money.
Benefits of playing video games, online games and gaming apps
Your child can get benefits from playing video games, online games and gaming apps. The benefits depend on things like:
- what stories or activities are featured in the games your child plays
- how gender and diversity are represented
- why your child is playing games
- whether playing video games is interfering with other parts of your child’s life
- how many players the games are designed for
- whether your child is playing alone or with friends and family.
Video games can improve your child’s:
- hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills
- problem-solving, strategy and planning, decision-making and logic skills
- ability to set and achieve goals
- ability to do several things at once.
Playing video games can have social benefits. For example, video games can help your child:
- strengthen existing friendships and make new ones
- learn to play in teams
- learn to play fairly and take turns
- learn to behave in ways that help other people
- feel closer to family, when you all play games together.
Video games can have some educational benefits too. These include helping your child get better at:
- remembering things
- thinking about things
- recognising and understanding visual information
- understanding concepts they’re learning at school, like maths
- thinking critically
- learning new words.
Children can get the same benefits from playing offline in the real world. So if you choose to limit your child’s video gaming time, they won’t miss out on benefits. But if your child enjoys playing quality games and they game in a healthy way, that’s fine too.
Problems of playing video games, online games and apps
Playing video games in moderation and balancing video games with other activities are the keys to avoiding most problems that can come with gaming.
When children play video games so much that they’re not spending enough time studying, interacting face to face with friends and family, or being physically active, there can be problems.
Playing video games too much can lead to:
- poor performance at school
- poor sleep or not enough sleep
- physical problems from repetitive movements and postures
- mental health problems.
There can also be problems if children play video games in an obsessive way – that is, children feel like they have to play and are missing out on other activities and aspects of life.
As in any social situation, bullying can happen. For example, if groups of children are involved in multiplayer games like Minecraft, they might deliberately harass other players or try to exclude them from games.
About violence in video games
Violent video games aren’t appropriate for younger children.
Younger children struggle to tell the difference between fantasy and reality in games. They’re more likely to copy what they see in violent video games and use it on other children outside the game. Violent content can also upset younger children, who might not understand mature themes or understand the reasons for the violence in the game.
For older children it’s more complicated. Experts don’t agree on whether violent video games lead to aggression in real life.
Experts who think there’s a link between violent video games and real-life violence say that violent video games:
- make children less likely to be shocked or distressed by violence and less likely to recognise other people’s feelings
- lead children to use the violence they’ve seen in games in real life
- teach children violence through watching and copying.
Experts who think there isn’t a link say that:
- violent video games are mostly played in a spirit of competition and children generally behave in good-natured ways
- older children can tell the difference between a game and reality, and this stops video game violence leading to real-life violence
- violent video games allow children to let off steam and reduce feelings of tension or aggression.
Experts do agree that it’s a good idea to limit the violent video games you or your older children play when younger children are around.
Talking with your child about violent games
It’s best to deal with the issue of violence in video games by talking with your child about it and sharing your own family values.
Here are some questions you could talk about with your child:
- Why do video games sometimes have violence, and how is real life different?
- In real life, how do we cope with anger or people who upset us?
- How are men, women and people from different ethnic backgrounds portrayed in these games? Are women always victims? How often are they the main characters?