A Guide to Kids’ Games
What Makes a Game Specifically for Children?
The primary goal of a game is to provide the player with a fun and entertaining experience. Children know more about fun than any other group of people, so what makes a kids game different from games for everyone else?
Games for children differ from games created for adults in a few separate areas. One notable difference is in the difficulty level of games made specifically for kids. Children typically enjoy all of the same genres as adults do but their motor skill levels will be considerably lower depending on their age. Games made specifically for preschoolers and elementary school children will be a lot easier to play than games marketed towards preteens, teens and adults. There are some exceptionally skilled preschoolers who play adult level games such as Tetris or Bejeweled with more skill and finesse than most adults do, but these gaming prodigies are in the minority.
The second area where games for children vary from games for adults is in the thematic elements such as storyline, artwork and game mechanics. A game created specifically for children typically has a storyline that kids can relate to, characters that appeal to a younger mindset and features actions that kids will find engaging such as returning a lost kitten to its mother or finding the portal into the magical otherworld. Games for kids are essentially childish in the best of ways, and this paired with the diminished difficultly level makes games for children typically less than appealing for adults.
The History of Children’s Games
The state of children’s gaming was pretty abysmal up until the 1970’s and consisted primarily of computer assisted rote drill memorization of school curriculum topics. The success of the educational television program Sesame Street is likely responsible for ushering in the era of ‘edutainment’ by proving that children could learn while having fun and that educational material could be understood and retained passively by kids outside of a classroom setting.
One of the earliest educational learning games was Oregon Trail, an engaging and immersive game that had players take on the role of leading a band of pioneers out to face the hazards of the frontier. Players faced starvation and death and this served to make the perils of frontier life more understandable for elementary school children. Educational games snowballed from there to include iconic titles such as Reader Rabbit, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? KidPix and the Math Blaster series. Many of these titles have iterations even today.
Edutainment gave kids an excuse to enjoy games but children’s gaming for the sake of fun and fun alone took a little longer to take hold. Children who grew up in households with one or more gaming parents were some of the first to play games with little or no implicit educational value. These children were especially analytical or particularly driven in order to work their way through titles that were not optimized for younger players. As these children began playing with their parents, the concept of children’s leisure gaming became more and more acceptable.
When the internet became a household staple in homes all over the world, children’s gaming received another vital boost from the websites of children’s television networks such as Nickelodeon and Disney. The networks created fun, enjoyable games for children based on their television and movie characters. The focus of these games was to promote the show, not necessarily to educate the children about anything in particular.
Recent studies have shown that video games impact the developing brains of children in a positive and beneficial manner, boosting not just hand eye coordination but also vision, cognition, attention to detail and the ability to successfully multitask.
Who Would Like Children’s Games?
This genre of games is broad and diverse, truly offering something for everyone. A game for kids can be of any genre, though some genres are more popular with the younger crowd than others. The personality of the individual child will be the deciding factor in regards to a game’s appeal. Most children shy away from overly complicated cerebral games in favor of more approachable ones such as platformers or hidden object games. Hidden object games as a genre actually owe their creation to children; hidden object puzzles such as Where’s Waldo? or I Spy were first marketed to children who enthusiastically responded.
Thoughtful and creative children will be drawn to games that incorporate opportunities for creative expression such as artwork or character customization. Children who love a good storyline and have a keen eye for details would thoroughly enjoy a hidden object type game. Goal oriented and driven children will find adventure games an appealing challenge for them to conquer and will likely enjoy sim games as well.
Unexpected genres such as strategy and war games also have the potential to be very gripping and enjoyable for children provided that they involve interesting characters, an appealing storyline and visually pleasing graphics.
Word games such as Scrabble and Boggle will likely not appeal much to children until they develop a large vocabulary to work with. Puzzle games such as Sudoku and Kenken are also examples of games that children will fail to enjoy until their mathematical and reasoning skills reach a certain level.
The gender of the child will also have some bearing on the type of game they want to play; little girls tend to favor sim games that involve a nurturing factor while little boys are typically delighted by dinosaurs, slime and flatulence. No matter the gender, children expect their games to be colorful, engaging and fun.
The age appropriateness of a game is another deciding factor when it comes to games for kids. Some games are made for the youngest of players and use only the most basic of mouse skills while others require a fair amount of problem solving and motor skill in order to successfully play through. When selecting a game for children, the age and skill level of the child should always be kept in mind.
Above all else, children’s games need to run well and have visual appeal; children are more critical of graphics and glitches than adults who have the patience to work through such things.