Move over, Mario, and farewell, Fortnite: Here are a dozen games that can help your kids plug-in to social issues—and set them on a lifelong path of doing good.
By Tamar Satov
Video gaming often gets a bad rap, particularly when children are the ones in front of the screens. But it turns out there are some valid reasons to feel good about your kid’s interest in gaming. For starters, a number of studies, including one by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., found that video games actually help kids to become more social: gaming is a common interest that helps them strike up conversations and build relationships. What’s more, there are so many great and age-appropriate video games that go way beyond the shoot-’em-up games we’d like our children to avoid, and into vast worlds of social activism and understanding. We’ve rounded up 9 games suitable for kindergartners all the way up to teens. (Keep in mind that the age ratings below are a guide only; parents should consider previewing all games to ensure they are appropriate for their child.)
Issue: the environment
Kids build virtual biodomes and learn about ecosystems, food webs and how humans shape the environment. The object of the game is to create the best habitat for plants and animals to thrive in either a wetland or ocean setting. (The games’ creator, Springbay Studio, offers other educational games about nature, including one called Balance, intended for little kids to play online.)
Available for iOS
Habitat the Game (Age 4+)
Issue: climate change; sustainability
Players adopt a polar bear, and must complete virtual tasks (washing, grooming and feeding the bear) and real-world missions (such as turning off lights, conserving water, recycling and taking public transit) to keep the endangered animal alive and healthy.
Available for iOS, Android, online
Ayiti: The Cost of Life (Age 8+)
Issues: human rights; poverty
First released in 2006, this online game focuses on the importance of education in breaking the cycle of poverty. Players step into the shoes of child in Haiti, following five years in the life of a rural family.
Available to play free online
Rain World (Age 10+)
Issues: resource scarcity; biodiversity
Imagine that a massive flood has left you—a nomadic slugcat—alone to hunt for food and seek shelter, while evading ferocious predators. A lack of resources and the constant threat of impending rain are among the challenges players work to overcome in this survival game.
Available for PlayStation 4, Steam
After Days (Age 12+)
Issues: disaster relief; humanitarian aid
Based on the 2015 Nepal earthquake that killed 8,891 people and injured 22,000, this game puts players in the aftermath of the disaster that left hundreds of thousands of families homeless. The game’s missions include transporting injured victims and coordinating with rescue teams to restore critical infrastructure. A percentage of game sales goes toward rebuilding efforts.
Available for iOS, Android
Life Is Strange (Age 17+)
Issues: bullying; teen suicide
In this character-driven adventure game, players take the role of Max Caulfield, an 18-year-old photography student who can turn back time. She tries to use this power to save her town from being destroyed in a storm, but she can also revisit and change everyday decisions, such as choosing to comfort instead of taunt a frenemy.
Available for Windows/PC, Xbox One, PS4
Parable of the Polygons (all ages)
Issues: diversity; bias
Part interactive blog post, part game, Parable of the Polygons focuses on a society of “slightly shapist” blue squares and yellow triangles to show how unconscious bias can lead to segregation and a lack of diversity. The experience ends with the valuable message: “If you’re all triangles, you’re missing out on some amazing squares in your life—that’s unfair to everyone. Reach out, beyond your immediate neighbors.”
Available to play free online
Farming Simulator (Age 17+)
Issues: food security
Currently in its 18th version, this popular simulator lets players breed livestock, upgrade equipment and grow, harvest and sell crops. It’s a good way for kids to understand all that goes into getting food on the table.
Available for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, PS3, PS4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One/360, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch