Recent research has linked childhood video gaming to increased intelligence. While parents and caregivers may be pleasantly surprised by these findings, they are less unexpected for many researchers of children’s digital play.
Studies have already shown that playing digital games is associated with a wide range of benefits for children, even those who are very young. Certain types of digital games can enhance learning and help develop digital skills. Digital games can also improve “executive function,” such as working memory and impulse control, in both preschoolers and teens.
But some broader benefits of digital gaming, while no less important, are much less often celebrated as reasons to play digital games. Digital play fosters meaningful connections between children and their peers and families. There is also growing evidence that children and their families find comfort and joy in digital play, especially during difficult times.
Parents, grandparents and other adults can help children build skills and support their social and emotional development by spending time playing with them or telling them about the digital games they enjoy. Digital games whose design encourages parental involvement have also been shown to particularly support the play and creativity of young children.
Various design features of digital games have been shown to support different types of play and different positive outcomes for children. With that in mind, here are five digital games to have some shameless fun with your kids.
1. Just Dance Series (Ubisoft)
Good for: physical movement; shared pleasure
Age: 10+ (or less in child mode)
Available on multiple platforms, Just Dance is a game where players learn and perform dance moves and routines by following on-screen demonstrations.
Games like Just Dance have been acclaimed for getting kids moving, but they can also be a source of shared joy for kids, their friends and family. Exercise games have also been shown to improve executive functions associated with attention in children.
2. Little Red Coding Club (Twinkl)
Good for: computational thinking skills; exploratory play; Critical mind
In Little Red Coding Club, which children can play on Apple and Android devices, children guide characters from the well-known fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood, through an immersive 3D forest to the safety of grandma, gradually learning, then using , basic coding skills and knowledge.
I recently conducted a study which found that Little Red Coding Club’s use of augmented reality technology allowed young children to quickly understand how to define and debug simple algorithms.
3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo)
Good for: Relaxation; social game
There is growing recognition that digital games can support social development. In pandemic-era favorite Animal Crossing: New Horizons, kids can gradually shape their own fantasy island paradise, complete with a fully customizable avatar and a host of quirky neighbors.
Nintendo’s safety features allow kids to socialize safely online while visiting other Kid’s Islands. Children’s passion for digital games also encourages social interaction through online and offline fan communities.
4. Minecraft (Mojang Studios)/LEGO Worlds (Warner Bros.)
Good for: Creativity; open game; social game
Building games like Minecraft and LEGO Worlds have an open format, where there are multiple ways to play and few or no set goals. This open game has been linked to creativity.
5. Dora and Friends (Nickelodeon)
Good for: Representation; creation of multimodal stories
In Dora and Friends, players can design characters, choose music, images and backgrounds, then add recordings of their own voice, before combining multiple scenes to tell a story. This combination of elements is known as multimodal storytelling, which supports the development of children’s literacy skills.
Character options in Dora and Friends let kids play with characters that look like them. Digital play has the power to help children develop their identity, so it’s important to have characters that look like them. While the kids’ media industry no doubt still has work to do, games that simply let kids create or play with characters that look like them are a place to start.
For slightly older kids (ages 7 and up), Grumpyface Studios’ Steven Universe: Save the Light games incorporate LGBTQ themes. Meanwhile, Brikym Game Studio’s Kingdom of Kuru was developed by two black game designers with a mission to improve representation.
While the design features of the five games listed above provide a range of benefits for children, digital games are used differently and have different meanings in different families. A digital game doesn’t have to be beautifully designed or obviously educational to support joyful and meaningful play experiences for children and their families.
Fiona Scott, Lecturer in Digital Literacy, University of Sheffield
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.