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A Parent's Quick Guide to Video Games

A quick overview of some mainstream video games that provide educational value and that we would recommend.

__________ is a harm to the mind of its audience

What is a likely way to fill the above blank? Thirty years ago almost certainly the word would have been ‘television’, today it is more likely to be ‘videogames’. The actual words are adapted from Plato’s The Republic. The harm that Plato spoke of… tragic poetry. Plato felt that poetry was too far divorced from reality, that its influence on youth was a corrupting one. Oddly though, I am rarely approached by parents enquiring as to the dangers of poetry. The villain du jour is video games.


Poetry in great quantities is dangerous. Reading poetry for 5 hours after school each day is not healthy. The same is true of video games, television or almost anything. Defending the particular medium of video games is not my objective here though, I want to deal with individual games. Parents can easily tell if a movie is appropriate for their child; they are more familiar with movies and the rating system is heeded more carefully. I want to provide a quick guide to some current video games that I think are great for kids and teenagers.


I feel compelled to begin by mentioning Minecraft, Minecraft is far and away the most popular game of the last few years for young kids. Minecraft is not present on this list. This is because most parents will be familiar with the game already and may even be looking for games to bring their kids away from excessive Minecraft. I recently stumbled upon a defense of the educational value of Minecraft, which readers can find here. The following are a few games that I would wholeheartedly recommend, each of which is no more harmful in moderation than a tragic Greek poem.



The Gist: An intricate story about frustration, forgiveness and morality. Told through a series of increasingly difficult puzzles where the player must manipulate time. Challenges players to think outside the box and read between the lines of the intentionally disjointed narrative.

Format: PC, Mac, PlayStation 3, X-Box 360

Age: 14+ (mild swearing)



Portal / Portal 2

The Gist: Using a gun that fires portals players are challenged to solve a series of increasingly devious puzzles. The game’s puzzles encourage abstract thinking and reward innovative solutions.

Format: PC or Mac

Age: 12+


Civilization 5

The Gist: You select a historical leader from Augustus Caesar to Wu Zetian and through diplomacy, culture and military attempt to conquer the world. Along the way kids will learn a ton about history, anthropology and strategy.

Format: PC or Mac

Age: 12+



Kerbal Space Program

The Gist: A physics based game in which players construct spaceships through trial and error trying to run a successful space program.  The game provides ample opportunity for learning about physics and engineering. It also rewards careful thought and perseverance.

Format: PC or Mac

Age:  14+


These recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg for main stream games with educational value. Let us know if you have any other games that you’ve enjoyed with your kids.