Ok, hold on, we know what you’re going to say.
“Video games? My kid plays enough video games, pretty soon their eyes are going to turn into TV screens!”
It’s true, with the development of well-stocked app stores for smartphones and tablets kids today are playing video games more than ever. And with summer upon us, they’ll probably spend time playing video games to relax.
But that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
Certainly, some games out there involve little more than running and gunning, but if you’re careful you can help your child get into games that can help them not only relax but help improve executive functioning.
To help you make a more informed decision about what your kids are, will or should be playing, we examined a number of popular games and found five that we think will not only be fun but can help your student exercise their working memory, organization skills and planning.
Available on PC, Mac, Apple and Android mobile devices (as Pocket Edition)
Minecraft is a game that’s been around for a few years yet still enjoys immense popularity. The game is essentially a giant virtual world that allows gamers to explore, gather resources and build whatever they want. In fact, people have built some incredible things with it, including a replica Game of Thrones city, a space shuttle and (believe it or not) a fully functioning computer.
The game forces users to plan ahead and think strategically. They must figure out and gather the resources they need ahead of time, set realistic goals, as well as plan their structure in advance. Oh, and they’ll have to work out how much they can accomplish before the virtual sun sets because little monsters will come out to try and attack the user if they haven’t remembered to build a shelter.
This is a ultimately a game that encourages planning, time management and goal setting, areas that are important for kids with ADHD, ADD and Autism to work on. It is also a game with a strong online community and can be a great way for you and your child to work together to figure out how to build impressive landmarks.
Scribblenauts Series – Unlimited/Scribblenauts Remix
Available on Nintendo WiiU, PC (as Unlimited), and Apple/Android mobile devices (as Remix)
Scribblenauts is a fun little series that has become extremely popular. A side-scrolling puzzle game, you help the hero by typing or scribbling the name of an object that can help them reach the goal (usually a star).
Need to get on top of that tree? Type “ladder” and climb it. Or “axe” to chop it down. Or “rocket” and fly over. Or “beaver” and watch the little guy gnaw down the tree.
The beauty of the game lies in its reward of creativity. It has an enormous database of nouns and encourages outside the box thinking. It helps develop problem solving skills, reading, spelling and planning, making it great for students with reading and writing difficulties.
Available for Apple Devices
Ok, not exactly a game but more a gamification, Epic Win is a fun way to make organizing and completing assigned tasks and chores more fun.
The app is basically a to-do list that works like a video game. You choose an avatar (dwarf, warrior princess, skeleton come free) and then set up a to- do list, which can link to your phone or tablet’s built-in calendar. Essentially the app breaks down lists of chores into simple tasks and creates simple rewards (experience points, amusingly named collectible items for your avatar, etc.) for completing them.
Take out the trash? Get 100 points. Get enough experience and your avatar levels up, becoming stronger, smarter, etc. You can then easily share your leveling on Twitter.
The app combines a great sense of humor with fun animations that teens really enjoy. We feel its a great app for helping kids with organizational and planning difficulties start using planning tools.
Sorcery Series (1+2)
Available for Apple and Android devices
It’s rare that you come across a video game series based on a book. It’s even rarer when that video game series is based on a choose your own adventure.
This fantasy game is a little different, being very much linked to the book series. In fact, it involves a decent amount of reading and thinking. Users follow a path through the game, when they get to an event they are presented with choices of what to say or do in the form of excerpts from the book series. For example, you meet a person on the street, do you ask them a question relating to your quest or do you throw an apple at them? How you react in one scene determines how the game progresses from there.
Luckily for our tester, the game lets you rewind when you make a “wrong” choice.
Not as graphically (or action) intensive as the previous games, Sorcery rewards careful reading and planning and is a great way to practice these skills over the summer. It should be noted that the game can be quite reading-heavy, although it tries to break passages up into more manageable bits, and might be daunting for those with severe reading difficulties.
Sid Meier’s Civilization V
Available on PC and Mac
The Civilization series has been captivating audiences for over 20 years. A turn based game, Civilization has always been about one thing: building your civilization and culture from the ground up. Players are encouraged to explore the map, plan and execute the research of new technologies, decide between what units to produce and, of course, decide how to handle their neighbors.
The newest release in the series, Civilization 5, has received widespread critical acclaim for good reason. Users start out on a small patch somewhere on a large, expansive and beautifully rendered world map. They must make decisions of how they will feed their community, how to manage resources, what technologies they will pursue (choosing between competing options leads to different outcomes), where they will explore, how to build their armies and fleets and where to deploy them. The game is an excellent way to help work on planning and strategic thinking.
One of the more amusing things about the game are its historical elements, including the real-life figures leading neighboring civilizations. Depending on how one interacts with him, for example, the historically pacifistic Mahatma Gandhi may declare nuclear war on the user.
Civilization 5 is a bit easier to get into than previous versions and has removed a significant amount of the petty choices users would usually have to make, letting users accomplish goals more easily and therefor making it a better choice for those with learning difficulties. Due to its connection to history, technology and diplomacy, the Civilization series has long been used as a classroom tool to engage students, and we feel number five could be an excellent addition to a child’s video game collection.
Important tips for parents!
1) Beware of in-game purchases
Many games, especially on mobile devices, offer in-game upgrades, items or special experiences for what seem like a small amount of money. Essentially these are designed to encourage kids to buy them as the amounts charged for them are small. If you are concerned, you can generally disable in-game purchases through your devices settings.
2) Remember to limit video game time
Video games can sometimes draw children in for hours at a time. Often, they can become a sort of coping mechanism, especially for kids with ADHD, ADD and Autism Spectrum. While there are a lot of positive things about video games, the amount of time kids spend on them should be monitored and carefully controlled.
3) Small Goals, Short Steps, Medium Difficulty
If you want to choose a video game for your child, especially if they have a learning disability, we advise that you look for games that let users achieve small, concrete goals (to limit frustration), that involve a series of short steps (to limit any strain on working memory), and to make sure the game doesn’t have a reputation for being too easy or too hard (so they don’t lose interest).