Suitable games for children of different ages
This article was originally published in the Game Educator’s Handbook.
The PEGI age ratings of games do not guarantee that a certain game is suitable for children of a certain age; rather, they serve as warnings about harmful content. Even though a game is rated for a certain age group, some children in that age group may find the game too exciting, too scary or requiring motor skills that the child has not yet developed.
There are a number of things for family members of different ages to consider when discussing gaming at home and choosing what games to play.
Children of a year old or any younger
It is a good idea to think carefully whether children of a year old or any younger should play digital games at all. Small children do not really need digital media and have plenty of time to enjoy gaming when they are older. Traditional jigsaw puzzles and memory games, for example, are suitable for them.
For toddlers, suitable games include cheerful, colourful and slow-paced games with friendly characters, which are easy to control for example using a touchscreen. When small children experience digital media, it should happen in the presence of an adult, who can help them to understand what they see and experience.
Preschoolers are usually already able to use a mouse or game controller. The stories of the games they play can be more diverse and include some exciting elements. At this age, children start to develop their taste of media and may already find favorite games for themselves.
School-aged children play many kinds of games, and there is a wide variety of games available to them. At this age, gaming also becomes more sociable, and children often play together with their friends. In some games, they may be in contact with other players online, and these players may include people they have never met. Children need guidance about what they can and should not tell strangers about themselves.
Learning foreign languages may also increase the variety of games available as well as the number of gaming companions. Many children learn English when they play games and may also play online with persons living in other countries. With the help of games and their stories and characters, children can also test various roles.
Usually, school-aged children already understand that the stories, the interestingness of the characters and the time pressure of the games, for example, are features created by game developers, and they may become interested in game development. They also want to share their gaming experiences with other players of their favorite game. Many school-aged children follow gaming-related content on the internet and some also produce it.
In games played by adolescents, action and stories play a more prominent role and come closer to those of games intended for adults. A young person’s gaming community may include both friends from school and other hobbies, and other friends. For young people, gaming is often more than ‘just gaming’; it is an important part of their identity and about belonging to a group of friends. It is important for parents to understand this when for example thinking about restricting gaming time.
The age rating
It is a good idea for adults to get to know the games their children would like to play in advance. In digital computer and console games, the age rating indicates that the game includes harmful content, such as violence. As for mobile games, it is good for parents to browse the games and their descriptions available on applications shops in advance. On the current platforms, free games usually come with advertisements, which are not classified according to the PEGI rating system, and thus it is possible that advertisements not suitable for young children are displayed in advertising-supported free games suitable for small children. One way to get an idea about the world and atmosphere of a game is to watch game trailers or game videos on YouTube. An even surer way to determine whether a game is suitable for one’s child is to try the game out in advance.
Adults tend to favour children’s games that they think their children will enjoy or that will be useful to them. It also worthwhile to have a look at different kinds of educational games and offer them to children to try out. Educational games can be used as a support, for example, when practising certain skills, such as numeracy or letters. Playing games can offer children many kinds of experiences of discovery, exciting informative content and problem solving independently or together with other players.