Level up! Selecting the best video games for your children

(BPT) – Kids love video games – they’re exciting, fun and engrossing. While games can promote learning and growth, too much video gaming – or playing inappropriate games – can lead to negative consequences. What should parents know to make good game choices for their children?

“The video game rating system works well and is pretty accurate,” says Richard Fiore, an instructor in game art and design/visual effects and motion graphics at The Illinois Institute of Art – Schaumburg. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides ratings from “Early Childhood” to “Adult Only.” Fiore says that while these ratings are accurate, it is up to the parent to pay attention to them.

For young children, Fiore says tablets are the way to go, because they are very tactile. He adds that it is important to get your child acclimated to technology, and tablets are great for children’s hand-eye coordination. “Leapfrog makes tablets that are tough enough for kids to play with,” he says. These tablets make age-appropriate games and provide children with technology that resembles what their parents have.

Ken Kavanagh, visual and game programming instructor at The Art Institute of Vancouver, says education software and software that makes a child think is better than twitch games, where children are simply moving a character around. “You can start a child on software earlier as long as you are adamant on it being educational,” he says.

As children grow, you can continue this with games that encourage creativity and imagination. He says a lot of online education games and storybook software are prominent for young children, where they have some interaction with the story.

Fiore recommends Disney online gaming for young children. All safety features are turned on so there is no chatting with strangers. He likes Club Penguin, because it is somewhat educational and fun. It allows children to play with other children around the world, with preloaded things they can say to each other. “It’s enough for kids to feel like they are playing real video games and being part of a community,” says Fiore. For online games, Kavanagh likes Hooda Math, which offers fun flash games that have an educational spin on them.

Children 6 and older can start to appreciate sandbox-type games such as Minecraft. Games such as this, with very few limits, “really fosters the kids’ imaginations,” says Fiore. “There’s a whole process that kids need to learn to build and create. I think those games are way better, because you aren’t simply racing a car or collecting coins or fighting.” He warns that the most important thing to remember is to turn off the chat function because it is the most dangerous part for children.

While educational games are great for children, Fiore says playing a game for fun every now and then is totally fine. Limiting a child’s screen time is also a way to ensure your child is experiencing other things outside the gaming world. Fiore allows his son to have one hour of screen time a day, but he can earn another hour by reading for an hour.

When looking at consoles, Fiore recommends Nintendo. “It seems like Nintendo has more appropriate games for kids,” he says. For instance, the violence in a game like the Mario games isn’t real violence, but cartoon violence. He also says a lot of children enjoy the Nintendo 3DS. It’s tough and doesn’t scratch. Fiore says if a group of children are sitting together with 3DSs, they are all probably playing the same game. This way children aren’t playing alone.

Fiore sees virtual reality as the future of gaming, but not necessarily a good idea for children. “I see that being a problem for kids, and I say keep them out of it.” He says children’s eyes are still growing and the virtual reality glasses can cause a lot of eye strain.

Once children start buying their own software, it is important for them to have been taught what they should buy, Kavanagh says. “You have to care what your children are interacting with.”

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