Best video games, online games and gaming apps for children and teenagers
The best video games for children have 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:
- focus on creativity and problem-solving – for example, Minecraft
- help your child learn about rules and strategy – for example, Fifa
- have a setting or storyline that’s appropriate for young children – for example, Toca Life World
- encourage your child to take turns, collaborate and work as part of a team – for example, Super Mario Maker 2
- boost your child’s confidence by giving them the chance to progress through levels – for example, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
- are easy to play in short bursts – for example, Animal Crossing: New Horizons
- promote respectful and inclusive behaviour and attitudes – for example, Dragon Age: Inquisition
- don’t have in-app purchases and pop-up advertisements.
At younger ages, it’s best to choose games with a G rating and avoid games that have adult themes or involve playing with strangers 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 are a good choice. You and your child can also look for games that have positive messages about gender and race and promote respectful behaviour and attitudes.
Avoid games that have an R18+ rating. These games are designed for adults and often have a lot of violence, sexual content and drug use.
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 gives video games a rating of G, PG, M, MA15+ or R18+. A game’s rating is determined by the game’s themes, violent content, nudity, sexual activity, language and drug use. The rating also takes into account how often this content appears, 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
- Children & Media Australia’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 talking with your child about how games are designed, how they’re played, what messages they send about violence, sex and drug use, 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 race are represented
- why your child is playing games
- whether playing video games is interfering with other parts of your child’s life
- whether your child is playing alone, with others they know, or with unknown players online.
Video games can improve your child’s:
- problem-solving, decision-making and thinking skills
- ability to set and achieve goals
- imagination and creativity
- physical coordination
- spatial awareness.
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 leadership skills
- feel closer to family if you all play games together.
Video games can have educational benefits too. These include helping your child get better at:
- recognising and understanding visual information
- understanding school subjects, like maths
- thinking critically.
Problems of playing video games, online games and apps
Playing video games in moderation and balancing 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
- reduced time with family and friends
- 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.
For older children it’s more complicated. Violence in video games seems to affect children in many ways, and experts have differing opinions.
For example, some experts think 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.
Other experts say that violent video games are OK for older children, because children:
- can tell the difference between the games and reality
- usually play in a spirit of good-natured competition
- get the chance to let off steam, which can reduce feelings of tension or aggression.
Experts do agree that it’s a good idea for children to have a balance between games that focus on violent game play and other types of games.
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 people of different genders and people from diverse backgrounds portrayed in these games? Are some people always victims? How often are they the main characters?
If you’re concerned about your child’s gaming, it might be a good idea to get some professional advice. For example, you might be concerned if your child is moody, starts withdrawing from friendships, or isn’t doing well at school. Try talking with your GP or school counsellor. Keep in mind that gaming might not be the cause of the changes in your child’s behaviour. Your child might be using gaming to deal with another issue.