Video games aren’t all murder, mayhem, and mindlessness. A number of them teach important life skills and provide immersive gaming experiences — without being explicitly educational or boring. Here are five good ones.
This PlayStation 3 title harkens back to old-school games like Myst, where the journey truly is the point. Your goal is both incredibly simple and extremely difficult: to make your way on foot through a burning, sprawling desert to the mountains in the distance. “It’s an incredibly evocative world, a sense of mystery you want to unravel,” says Tanner Higgin, senior education manager for Common Sense Media, which rates and advocates for kid-friendly media. “You end up thinking a lot about life and death, but without the trappings of games like life points, quests, or items.”
Based on the incredibly popular series of Sims games, this award-winning title makes your child the mayor of a small city, trying to protect the environment while balancing the needs of its citizens. Can you create new jobs yet still reduce pollution? What are the most efficient routes for public transportation? Aimed at middle schoolers (and often used in classrooms), SimCityEDU gives your child the chance to deal with complex data sets and make difficult decisions. The $20 game is available in a free single-user trial version for Mac or PC.
This ongoing multimedia project conveys key periods of U.S. history through the eyes of a child. In Mission 1, you play Nat Wheeler, a 14-year-old printer’s apprentice in pre-revolutionary Boston. Mission 2 casts you as Lucy King, a teenage runaway slave in 1848 Kentucky. In Mission 3, you are 12-year-old Little Fox, a Cheyenne boy watching his world crumble as the railroad comes to Montana in 1866. Each mission is filled with simple animation, narration, evocative music, and opportunities to empathize with the characters and the difficult decisions they must face. The game is available free via the Web or as a downloadable file for PC or Mac. More missions are planned for later this year.
Project Spark isn’t a game so much as the gateway to an infinite number of games. This coding platform lets wannabe developers build their own Xbox and PC games, choosing everything from characters, props, and terrain to worlds, missions, and game logic — which they can then share with the world to let others play. Want to create a better version of Super Mario or recreate the Death Star from Star Wars? Better get coding. Project Spark is now in open beta, which means anyone with an Xbox One or a Windows 8 machine can download the free tools and create the next Call of Duty or Angry Birds.
In this minimalist game, you play a lonely rectangle whose job is to guide other geometric shapes, each with their own distinctive personalities, through a series of shifting 2D landscapes. Narrated by an actor with a plummy British accent and accompanied by a Philip Glass-esque soundtrack, Thomas feels less like playing a game and more like being inside a piece of digital performance art. “It’s a great example of how a single-player experience can still build social and emotional intelligence,” Higgin says. The $10 game is available for PC, Mac, or iPad.
Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.