I’m Still Not Ready To Introduce My Three-Year-Old To Video Games Yet

I’m Still Not Ready To Introduce My Three-Year-Old To Video Games Yet

Broken Age almost made me violate one of my golden rules about kids and video games. I almost let my daughter watch me play it.

Friends and family have asked my opinion on when to let little Jenny or Johnny start controlling virtual figures on a screen ever since I started writing about video games. There are a lot of variables about what both a parent and kid can handle but the one thing I’ve always been adamant about is that a kid should be a confident reader before they start diving into video games. If they start before they’re able to read those on-screen hints and instructions, they’ll be tugging on an adult’s arm at an annoying rate, turning the experience into a chore.

Cheeks can’t read yet. But my daughter’s at the point where she’s making up little stories about the pictures, items and people she sees. Some of it is a parroting of the patterns she moves through during the day, only with the players transposed. “You’re not sharing, Ballerina, so you have to leave our group and, when you come back, you say ‘I’m sorry’,” delivered in a squeaky-gruff ‘adult voice.’ The better material is in the nonsensical imaginings, the stuff she knows doesn’t make sense. She laughs when she’s telling me that her teddy bear was waiting for me, laughs at expecting me to believe it and breaks down into a fit of giggles when I express my doubt or play along. Cheeks is starting to understand that the telling of a story — and the reactions of the audience — can be its own form of entertainment.

Adventure games are full of Stuff That You Know Doesn’t Make Sense and that was why I was tempted to sit her on my lap during my playthrough of Broken Age. She’d have a question about everything on the screen, I imagine, and would want to be the one to move and click the mouse around. Those hassles aside, I wondered at how her little brain would be mutating under the cosmic rays coming from her first deep video game experience.

I’m Still Not Ready To Introduce My Three-Year-Old To Video Games Yet

Like a lot of parents, I let her mess around on my iPad or iPhone sometimes. I’ve got a few apps on there that are specifically for her but it’s always a bit of an experiment to see what icons are attractive enough for her to want to launch. Big faces are a draw for her so The Kid’s big, sad eyes has prompted her to open up Bastion a few times. Same for the cartoony characters of Rolando. But she’s really gravitated to Cut the Rope, probably something to do with the candy or the scissors in the icon art. (Most likely it’s the scissors. She really likes to cut things.) Without any help from Daddy, she’s cleared the first few levels of either the main game or the Christmas variant. (I can’t remember which.) She calls Om Nom ‘Froggy” and it’s fascinating to watch her do trial and error and brute-force her way through the momentum-based gameplay.

Broken Age would’ve been different, though. Right now, she likes to tell me the things she remembers from separate contexts and how they relate. “Daddy, you know what? Peter in [The Snowy Day] climbs a mountain just like [the mother rabbit in] The Runaway Bunny!” What would her brain have done with the ‘take this thing from one place and give it to this person in another place’ gameplay loop in Broken Age? Overall, most of the core actions of the game would be recognisable to her — walking, picking up stuff, talking to people — and aren’t so bizarre that I would have needed to explain a lot to her. The possible combinations of actions and objects would probably excite her pattern-loving brain a lot.

But, eager as I was, I know in my heart that my daughter isn’t quite ready for the heady mix of stimuli that video games can provide. I need to follow my own advice and wait until she’s reading on her own. Nevertheless, Broken Age is going on the list of games that I’m making in the back of my head that I want her to play eventually, because of its funny, poignant take on family dynamics and the way it dramatizes what it’s like to go out into the world. It’s probably going to be a harder wait for me than it will be for her.


  • That game looks incredibly beautiful.

    Old school Sierra games like Colonel’s Bequest and the like with text parsers taught me how to type and spell. Contributed to my brother learning how to read even. I think if kids want to understand they’ll find a way to… maybe… uh… *moseys off*

    Should also say I was a few years older and I know that can make all the difference.

    Holy damn, Evan’s got an awesome house! 😀

    • I wasn’t that young when I started on those types of games but it certainly helped me refine the related skills. Adventure games done right are great for kids. They’re almost infinitely patient while requiring thought and creativity to play. They’re pretty much what a lot of kids shows like Blue’s Clues or whatever aim to be.
      They’re also the sorts of games that you don’t simply watch someone play. Your brother would watch you playing Mario, or you’d watch him, but with an adventure game you both naturally play it together. You can sit your son or daughter on your knee and play Putt Putt goes to the Moon with them rather than in front of them.
      You can adjust how much you help them based on how stuck they are and when you do need to give them the solution it doesn’t need to happen quickly so you can sit back and lead them to the right response rather than just grabbing the controller and doing it. ‘Well, we’ve got a hammer, what could we do with that? Could we use it on the table? Could we give it to the person? We could use it on the nail?’.
      They’re engaging in a way that educational games almost never are.

  • Ahh, it’s too bad an interesting topic isn’t explored a little more. There’s a bunch of examination on how she’s enjoyed games, yet not much to back up why she might be too young, specifically for Broken Age. Sure she might not be able to solve puzzles, but why not let her watch?

  • While I totally respect your decision, it’s also the opposite of the way I’m going with my children. I do genuinely respect what you’re doing though, it speaks of very responsible and conscientious parenting. It’s just not how I’m personally doing it.

    I consider playing games (age appropriate children’s games) to be more akin to playing with toys – they’re an interactive way a child can learn and enjoy themselves, not something which competes with learning to read if they’re played in moderation. Basically it comes down to: I’d prefer my kids to play games than to watch movies or TV, because games are interactive, and interaction is where the learning happens. It’s up to me as a parent to decide what games/lessons are appropriate though.

    My (just turned 4 year old) daughter LOVES Mario, both the 2d and 3d versions, and she’s just getting started on Zelda: A Link to the Past. When we get to text, we read it together, and she’s super motivated to read it because she’s so invested in the game. Just like when we read a book together, I play together with her and ask her questions as we go, and we make up stories about the game world and characters.

    Super Mario 3d World is perfect for this, because each level is more of a playground than a challenge (especially in the first two worlds) – with lots of interesting things to interact with.

    I’d have to play through Broken Age first to see if she’s ready for it, because I’m more concerned about the story being appropriate than the medium itself.

    I cannot wait until I can get her into Minecraft and she can take her Lego building skills to the next level.

    • I second this. My 4 year old (was 3 at the time) finished New Super Mario on NDS, had trouble with the boss fights in Super Princess Peach. My 6 year old (was 5 at the time) finished Plants vs Zombies on PC. Both build Lego sets intended for kids 8+. They both play supervised and not for extended periods of time, but I believe interactive entertainment to be far better than just TV or a book.

      Dora the Explorer – Why Spanish in Australia. Why.
      In The Night Garden – what the fuck is this shit.

      Puzzle solving, resource management and hand-eye coordination are valuable skills to learn. I had friends over to play Torchlight 2 the other week, my 6-year old came over, picked up the mouse, had a great time choosing her character and pet and proceeded to make it through the first few quests in half an hour. She took her time and read every conversation and tip (had no sound) and did pretty well considering. Didn’t die in any case.

  • I don’t have any kids so I can hardly judge any decision like this, personally though I remember playing games like Putt-Putt (Fatty Bear? lol I’m sure it was something like that) when I was around that age. My parents never had much money back then so I didn’t have any console until I was 5 (uncle’s old SNES, still have it) but I remember playing games on DOS looooong before that.

  • Scribblenauts was a HELP in getting my kids to spell. If they wanted an item in the game they had to spell it. Show me another 5 year old that can spell electricity! More so, Pokemon has greatly improved by sons reading abilities. At first they did annoy, but after a while they learned and got better and don’t ask me.

  • Jesus.. You almost let them WATCH you play it? I’m not a parent, but you are an obvious control freak. Sweet holy Jesus.

  • “I know in my heart that my daughter isn’t quite ready for the heady mix of stimuli that video games can provide.”
    Wrong. Kids are massive sponges. You, as a parent, will never be able to keep up with a childs ability to absorb and learn. And youre holding her back?

    Both my kids, (boy 5, girl 7) play games. Always have.
    They play together in Minecraft and my son is an absolute gun at it. In fact, he used Minecraft to teach himself ALL his times tables. He hadnt even started school (starts this year). He came out one day and started firing off the times tables. We never taught him.
    His kindergarten teacher was gobsmacked.

    You want to hold your child back from computer games? You want to only allow them one dimension childrens television shows?

    My daughter spent last year teaching the other kids in her class, and her teacher, how to use computers, Word and all its options and formatting. She was the go to person.
    I just put the tools in front of them and let them play and explore.

    Right at this moment my son is playing ‘Wheres my Water’.
    My daughter is playing in some paint program she got from the Windows Store.
    Theyre in the same room as me and Im supervising everything their doing on their PC’s.

  • As much as I love videogames, and played them as a child, I remember being more engaged with the books I read than the games I played. I don’t know the world my children will grow up in, and undoubtedly gaming will be a part of that (and their) world – but I look forward to reading them books like Redwall way more than helping them through puzzles in games like the equivalent of King’s Quest.
    Words are more powerful than pixels, because they require more independent creative input. Games like Minecraft encourage you to create your own stories, and that’s great – but being deeply absorbed in the contexts crafted by mere words is, in my opinion, a far superior way to encourage fledgling imaginations than gaming.

  • All of the studies that I have read support the idea that interactive media, including games, are actually quite good for kids. It is never too early to introduce them to problem solving tasks and there are plenty of games that are designed for children that can’t read.

  • There has been a lot of study about how TV (and I’m throwing video games into this bucket too) are detrimental to a child’s brain development before the age of 2.

    My son’s about to turn 18 months and he’s never played a video game, played on my phone or watched TV. I’m hoping to last out till he’s 3 or 5! it makes it hard for me to game. I have to play after he goes to bed.

    I read a book (brain rules for baby) about how imagination and attention is harmed by TV as it over stimulates the kids. I’d say the same for games although the book didn’t specify.

    also as someone who now wears glasses I’m hoping his eyesight is better as he develops because looking at a screen doesn’t help your eyes at all.

    Will my son be the computer wiz at preschool? probably not but knowing how to turn on a computer and being happy or creative are not tied together.

    I think this topic is the modern day equivalent breast feeding vs milk or to circumsise or not. and the arguments always end in ‘what ever the parent thinks is best for their kid’ and both sides will agree to disagree.

    My son has a truckload of hotwheels cars and a sweet balance bike so don’t feel bad for him 🙂

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