Parents Guide to Video Games

Adventure for the Atari 2600: Memories of a simpler time.
Adventure for the Atari 2600: Memories of a simpler time.

Video games, your kids want them. You may not understand them.

This guide was designed for adults that are feeling a little out of their element. If you are a parent, relative or friend who wants to make good choices about what games to buy and how to help them make the most out of the experience, this may help.

Note: This is an updated version of an older article originally published on Play as Life. You can find our follow up guide to portable video game systems here.

Find good games

One of the greatest sorrows of being a video game fan is that for every one good game that sells a million copies, there are many excellent games that sell very poorly. Please help stop this tragedy buy buying good quality games for your child. Metacritic (  allows you to quickly see a compilation of reviews from several gaming publications at once. It assigns them an aggregate score so you can get a quick sense of how critics feel about a particular game.  A mediocre score doesn’t necessarily mean a bad game, it could possibly mean that the game is mixed or polarizing to critics so it is worth diving down deeper in the reviews past the highlighted score.  Similarly, just because something sells well doesn’t mean it is good or even fun to play. (See E.T. for a classic example.)

Another note on this topic: For the love of all that is sacred in media consumption, please do not purchase video games based on popular movies. Do not waste your money or your child’s time. Ninety-five percent of the time these games are more suitable for drink coasters or for steadying an unstable chair. They tend to be boring, shoddily made and pay little attention to enjoyment. (A notable exception here are the LEGO series of games, especially the Star Wars ones. These are intelligent, creative and very fun to play)

Find out what type of gamer your child is

Does your child like puzzles (mental or physical)? Do they like to play memory games? Do they pretend to be superheroes? I guarantee that there are games that will fit your child’s interests on every video gaming platform. These games will push your child mentally and expand their horizons.

Become a frugal consumer

I mentioned before that new games can cost around fifty to sixty dollars a pop, and that it is a pretty big hit on the wallet. With a few minutes of research though, you can find some fantastic deals on excellent games.

The easiest way to do this for you will probably be the most difficult for your child, waiting. Video games go down in price faster than driving a new car off a lot and if you can wait a year after a games release then the price may go down to fifty percent or less than the original retail. I will generally buy a couple of games at the premium price for my children a year and then the rest of the ones I buy will buy at a steep discount. It takes them the year to finish the ones purchased at full price, and eliminates impulse buys. The price for the games will drop naturally in the store, or you can pick the game up used at a reduced price. I generally purchase games between the ten and twenty dollar price ranges, although it is not unusual for us to pick up games for older consoles that are priced under five dollars.

Some great websites you can use as a resource are the very family unfriendly named Cheap Ass Gamer ( and Slick Deals (

Go retro!

Video games have been around for almost my whole life which means there are thousands of video games that have been produced over the years and hundreds of games that are absolutely worth playing. Just because something is new doesn’t mean that it is any more fun to play then something from 25 years ago. Did you have a favorite video game when you were younger? Chances are that there is still a way to play it either via services on the video game consoles themseves (Wii Virtual Console, XBox Live Arcade, Playstation Network) or other means such as Steam on the PC ( and Good Old Games ( Retro games are hot right now and there are new games being produced that have the look and feel of older games (Mega Man 9, Gravitron, Geometry Wars) There are tons of shiny, new games that are sitting around in discount bins of big box stores precisely because they forgot that being fun is just as important as being pretty.

Encourage them to finish a game

Especially when your child is younger it will be very tempting for them to get tired of a video game within an hour. Something might be too hard, or the beginning of the video game might be boring. They will be tempted to drop the game and move on to something else. One reason to discourage this is that a new game can cost fifty dollars or more and they will probably immediately ask you to buy a new game (that will be equally challenging or boring which they will probably wasnt to quit and ask for another new game). That’s a nasty pattern costing a lot of moolah in the long run. More substantially, there are lessons to be taught when this happens – lessons about patience, and persistence, and learning new skills. Your child can practice these skills when faced with a difficult puzzle or a complex set of patterns required to complete a task, or by persevering through a slow-to-start beginning sequence. They may require your help or at least to be pointed to resources that will help them solve their problem (i.e. books, websites, friends).

Completing a game is a rewarding experience. It will give them a sense of self confidence and accomplishment akin to completing a long book or a complicated model. (Which they should also do, but that is a different article) It is something that not every child does and she can be proud of it.

Be careful of ‘educational’ games

Kids know that the term educational is a code word for boring. This is not because your kids hate to learn. This is because most educational games fail miserably at being games and put the educational experience before the fun. If something isn’t fun to play then it isn’t really a game and your child won’t learn a darn thing. Once again there are many exceptions here, but you need to search around and read some reviews to make sure. There are many educational opportunities within regular games and our family tries to focus on games that encourage qualities that we would like to see in our child. If you can try playing some of these games with your child and point out where they can learn, you might find yourself becoming as big of a fan of video games as they are.

Supplement the gaming

Is your child fascinated with a particular game? Support those interests with books and movies that have similar subject matter. Games can be a stepping stone to new vocabulary (Characters often speak in a lofty and mature manner) or literary references that they might not be exposed to in the home. The ancient text adventure Zork (WP) introduced me to J.R.R. Tolkien and Greek mythological concepts as a kid. Some of the language used in the Zelda, Metroid and Sly Cooper series of games has directly influenced my children’s vocabulary and have spurred them to ask questions about the different cultures and references that the game has exposed them too.

Do not purchase M rated (Mature 17+) games for your child

I’m serious. Do not under any circumstances take the word of your child when buying a game. Check it out yourself, look at the rating, read some reviews from reliable sources. I don’t care how much they beg, how many of their friends have it, or how many tears they shed. Mature rated games are not for them. There is plenty of fun to be had with other games, they are not really missing out on much besides blood, sex and cursing.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board is the organization that assigns ratings to video games like the above mentioned ‘M’. Their website has some valuable info to help you make informed decisions about game ratings. (

Even if video gaming is not a very important part of your life chances are it is for your child. If this is a preferred activity then it can’t hurt to educate yourself and speak a little bit of the language that your child is speaking. This may be a bit of a controversial statement, but I actually prefer my children play video games over most television. I find that good quality games are engaging, thoughtful and create stepping stones to different ideas and concepts. The same can be said for books, video, audio any type of media of decent quality. For me and my family its about giving my children exposure to diverse types of media. Hopefully this guide is helpful. If you have question about this or specific games feel free to email me at


  1. Geoff Smith 7 years ago

    Good advice! Funny to think I started out playing Adventure on my 2600 and now I’m playing Skyrim on my PS3. Basically the same thing but with fancier graphics and dialogue.

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