The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

If you’re into games yourself, playing video games with kids can be one of the great joys of parenthood (or aunt/unclehood, or godparenthood). It can also be a total pain in the arse.

Trying to play a co-op game with a small child is often an excruciating exercise. You might imagine cherishable hours spent playing New Super Mario Bros together, but what you actually get is a four-year-old crying whenever someone else rides Yoshi. And that’s if they can actually use a controller competently.

This piece originally appeared 2/21/18.

Inconveniently, kids also develop tastes of their own as they go through school, meaning they won’t just sit down happily with you to play whatever family-appropriate wholesome game you’ve carefully selected.

I, for instance, have a child in my life who has been inexplicably resistant to Nintendo since the age of about five, thereby ruling out about 80% of the things I would enjoy playing together. A friend’s seven-year-old categorically will not play anything that doesn’t feature Spider-Man, which also rather limits their options.

Nonetheless, it is absolutely worth making the effort to find something that you can play together, alongside whatever kids want to play by themselves.

You only have until your child is 11 or 12 before they want nothing to do with you any more and start endlessly pestering to play Call of Duty with their friends instead, so why not take advantage?

Every parent/carer makes their own decisions when it comes to the age-appropriateness of different games. I’ve kept these recommendations to T and below and organised them broadly by age and category.

Not all are multiplayer – some are single-player games suited to pad-passing. I’ve prioritised games that don’t require buying expensive toys and add-ons.

A note on screen time: although the AAP’s recommendation is still to limit screen time (to an hour a day for two- to five-year-olds), many studies have shown that it’s not the amount of screen time that matters as much as the nature of it: when parents engage with digital media alongside their kids, there are many positive outcomes.

Little kids (3+)

Children this age often aren’t able to play all that well themselves. You’re looking for games that they will enjoy watching at first and which will allow for them to gain confidence playing themselves as they grow. 

Grow Home

The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

A lovely game about little red robots trying to grow space-plants. Climbing and growing are both fascinating to small children, for some reason. There’s no peril in Grow Home, so if kids do pick up the controller for themselves, nothing scary will happen. (PC, PS4)

More recommendations: A Boy and his Blob, Tearaway Unfolded, Grow Up, Super Lucky’s Tale

Super Mario Odyssey

The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

I never thought I’d miss the early ’00s glut of cartoony 3D platformers until I had children. There are surprisingly few good ones around now. Mario Odyssey, however, is abundantly good.

Very small kids will enjoy just running around in circles and watching you collect the moons. As they grow and get more comfortable with a controller, they will get more and more out of playing themselves, and the assist mode makes it easier for them to do so. (Nintendo Switch)

More recommendations: Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Yoshi’s Woolly World

Farm, Train and Transport Sims

The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

Bear with me here: who doesn’t know a tiny child who’s obsessed with trains, tractors or buses? Sim games are a great thing to play with these children. Steam has train and farm sim games of varying levels of realism and complexity; you might find your kid prefers the super-realistic looking options (Trainz) to the more toy-like ones (Tracks: The Train Set Game).

Try to go for one that doesn’t restrict your play or customisation too much with money/progression systems. (Depends on the game, but most sims are on PC)

More recommendations: Farming Simulator, Train Valley, Euro Truck Simulator, Stardew Valley

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

Kids can pick up racing games at any age really, but Mario Kart is the daddy of them all. It’s colourful, super fun, easy to play on the lower difficulties, and fun in multiplayer once children can handle competitive play. Also an excellent way to subtly encourage your kids into a love of Nintendo. (Nintendo Switch)

More recommendations: You need nothing more than Mario Kart.

Medium kids (7+)

Co-operative and competitive games become more practical at this age, and this is often when a love of video games can really blossom.

Depending on how much your child plays games and how good they are at them, you’ll want things they can play together with you and by themselves.


The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

The ultimate game for kids and adults to play together, Minecraft grows alongside the people who play it. With a five-year-old, you might make things together or play with TNT in creative mode; with a seven-year-old you might be fighting zombies and delving into mines together in survival.

Minecraft has grown hugely in complexity over the years, but you can play it on whatever level you want. Once they get to about eight, your kid will definitely know much more about it than you. (PC, Xbox, PS4, mobile, Nintendo Switch)

More recommendations: Mario Maker, Dragon Quest Builders, Terraria, Steamworld Dig

Rocket League

The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

Football with rocket-powered cars would appeal to anyone. Rocket League is a great game for kids to play with their friends and parents – or against them. Easy to pick up but hard to master, it’s fun no matter what your skill level. Kids who don’t handle losing well might struggle with it. (PC, PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch)

More recommendations: Towerfall Ascension, Gang Beasts


The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

If your child happens to enjoy the same kinds of game as you at this age, playing big adventures like Pokémon is some of the best fun you can have together. If you’re not into Pokémon yourself, pick a single-player adventure game that you can drop in and out of as a parent, playing together when you can. (Various Nintendo platforms, most recently on 2DS and 3DS)

More recommendations: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Ni no Kuni

The LEGO games

The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

Whatever you’re into – Ninjago, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Marvel – there is probably a LEGO game about it. The LEGO adventures have good co-op modes, though it can be sometimes be challenging trying to get a kid to concentrate on what you’re supposed to be doing to progress instead of just smashing stuff up.

In co-op you can generally guide a less skilled player through, and the later LEGO games are as fun to play as they are funny. Be aware that LEGO Dimensions, though amazing, can get really expensive. (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)

More recommendations: Ratchet and Clank, Rayman Legends, Super Mario 3D World, Portal/Portal 2

Big kids (10+)

For tween and young teen kids, often the main challenge is finding slightly less age-inappropriate versions of the 18+ games they ask to play.

They’re also far more bothered about what their friends are playing than what you think is appropriate or fun, so it’s harder to play together – but not impossible.


The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

More strategic and less violent than PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite is a good choice for tween players. It helps that it’s so popular, as their friends will likely be playing too. (PC, PS4, Xbox)

More recommendations: Destiny/Destiny 2, the Halo games (all rated Teen, but you’re shooting robots and aliens rather than people)


The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

Sports are one of the few passions that parents and tweens/teens often share. Any good sports game will allow you to join in with the fun, even if you’re getting continually flattened at FIFA by your 11-year-old. (PC, PS4, Xbox; FIFA 18 is on Nintendo Switch)

More recommendations: NBA 2K, Madden, or whatever other sport they’re into


The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

Roblox is a slightly more grown-up version of Minecraft, though it’s not as polished. Roblox allows kids to create and play their own games with friends or play other peoples’ inventions.

However, parents should be aware that inappropriate content very often slips through the moderation net. Playing together is one way to supervise what (and whom) your child is engaging with. (PC, Xbox, mobile)


The Best Video Games To Play With Kids

For a long time there was an enormous gap in the market when it came to shooters suitable for older kids and young teens. Many 12-year-olds, depressingly, just end up playing Call of Duty anyway.

Now, though, there are competitive games that are just as good and considerably less violent, for parents who are uncomfortable with allowing older kids to play military shooters. (PC, PS4, Xbox)

More recommendations: Star Wars Battlefront II (beware the microtransactions), Warframe

What do you enjoy playing with the tiny people in your life?


  • overwatch for 10 year olds.
    have you ever frequented the game?
    there are some toxic douchebags that say shit that make me blush and ashamed of the human race as a 33 year old. not sure kids below 15 should be in online gaming communities with salty, toxic and often abusive players. but hey, thats just my moral standard, am i alone in this, or am i overreacting?

    • IMO when they’re old enough to aquire, install and log into those kinds of communities thats when thekkYou y’re old enough.

      No adult should be guiding a kid onto one of those servers. They work it out fast

    • it’s a good point, but not limited to Overwatch. you’ll find toxic people in Roblox and Minecraft too. Online multiplayer in genersl is risky for kids, although at least with Minecraft it’s easy enough to have a private server for just your kids and friends

    • Chat (both voice and text) can be disabled. Blizzard actually have some fairly decent parental controls that can be used

  • I can’t stand competitive games, and titles like Mario Kart suck when you’ve a 2 year age gap between the kids, and the younger one can’t beat her sister, and even less fun if I join in – do I win, or let them?

    Co-operative games are where its at. The Lego games are good, but recently Ive been playing Dragon’s Crown on the PS3. Such a great game, the younger daughter picked the Amazon, fairly simple to control and she can tank like nothing else. Elder daughter is the Elf, a little more management required, and she does a great job. Me on the Sorceress supporting both of them, keeping them alive to dish out the damage. Splits up the loot nicely too with each having our own roles and everyone has a great time. Except maybe when it comes time to cook and everyone wants the same food. We’re up to our Infernal run now and still loving it.

    • The beauty of Mario Kart 8 is the steering assist and auto accelerate. Power ups also favour anyone at the back of the pack. These things combined tend to close the gap in skill for a lot of kids.

    • Pick a tough character and configure a kart that’s got great speed but awful handling and weight, give the kid the best combo for handling and acceleration and switch on that new driving assist for them.

  • For my 8yo son we play NHL18 and SW Battlefront together. He plays Mario Odyssey, Minecraft, Rocket League, and the Lego games. We used to enjoy playing Skylanders and the Infinity games together.

    I’ve been playing the NHL games for years but he beats me pretty regularly now. I used it as a gateway to get him interested in the sport and now he loves it (Go Leafs!) and was really excited to go to a few games when we were in Toronto for Christmas. Mission accomplished.

  • Diablo has been a constant shared experience with my son along with Everybody’s Golf and recently Zen FX3 Pinball.

  • Diablo has been a constant shared experience with my son along with Everybody’s Golf and recently Zen FX3 Pinball.

  • Got my 5yr old son started on games when he was around 3.5-4yrs old. He can happily run around in WoW and kill things with his hunter and he can play Minecraft with keyboard/mouse and Lego Worlds with a controller quite well. Farming Simulator though….he can’t plough a straight line if his life depended on it!

    Nice to see the list covers more or less the games I’m playing with my son already. I wouldn’t put too much stock in the recommended ages above though…a 5yr old handles Minecraft quite well and I wouldn’t recommend a 10yr old going anywhere near a game with a toxic chatbar/community.

  • As a father of 7 and 5 year old kids I’ll give my 2 cents as there are some good games missed in this list.

    – Breath of the Wild…….my son got this for his 7th birthday and has put over 200hrs into it. This game will no doubt be his first gaming memory…….awesome!!
    – Stardew Valley……..after BOTW, my son and I have been addicted to playing this. He is smashing through the seasons.
    – Rayman Legends……this is good for the younger kids too
    – Super Luckys Tale
    – Gear Club unlimited
    – My 7 ear old loves to play Battlefront 2……no blood and guts in Star Wars games
    – Trials Fusion
    – Just Dance (my 5 year old daughter loves it)

    • Ditto Zelda.
      My three kids (4, 9, 12) have all clocked countless hours in Hyrule. Having said that, I do occasionally play on the 4 year old’s profile while he’s asleep, to get him better gear. 🙂

  • Should recommend a few indies, and maybe something that helps young minds think. I’d recommend Pinball FX 3 – works at every age. Same company also makes Castlestorm – which is surprisingly engaging. Danger Zone is just a lot of fun, and it’s made by the guys who did the original Burnout games. Trials games will last you forever – Fusion is the best one. The last few Rayman games, and basically any 2D platformer like Yoshi, Mario and the like. Theres a new Kirby game on the way thats really designed for multiple players. And of course – Super Smash Bros. I also really like Everybody’s Golf and Knack 2.

  • It’s a shame the Wii U died, because Nintendoland had some fantastic family-friendly mini games.

    Mario Chase and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion were especiallygreat fun, and only possible with the Wii U’s second screen.

    Currently, as a family we play Snipperclips, Mario Kart, and basically any and all Lego games.

  • “This piece originally appeared 2/21/18.”

    bahaha 6 weeks for recycled content. is this the new standard now?

    • It’s been updated, although it doesn’t say that in the note. It makes perfect sense to go back and update large articles like this, as new games come out and things change all the time. We’re also posting between 25-30 fresh stories every day, and have done over the last few years.

  • Definitely MK8D. I’d say that it, along with Minecraft, are the best games for young kids. I think the only thing that is an issue when it comes to kids playing almost any game is mature content and themes. Young children have a surprising capacity for mental challenges at an early age. I finished a lot of somewhat challenging games before I was 10 and I have young cousins who are very competent with games like BotW and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The only reason they haven’t finished them is because of the time commitment required.

  • My almost 2 year old son and I recently enjoyed a little Nioh…until my wife reminded me about a myriad of things relating to it not being suitable for..ahem..a 2 year old.So, yeah. Going by this article it’s not until he’s around 3 that I should really bother. Okay, back to just watching Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures…..

  • There are a LOT of video games I’d love to play with my kids but I’m not about to desensitize them at a young age, because I’ve got a good few hundred + games in my PC library and less than a quarter of them I’d let my kids even watch me play.

    On the light side of things though, all three of my under 8’s have a window of about 2-3 hours on the weekend I let them play Burnout paradise. I’d rather them have fun with a little car carnage than anything too complex or violent. Would love to try to get my oldest one into Stardew valley or Go home but I think it might be a little beyond them right now.

    One more thing, as gamer parents, perhaps we’re a little more conscious of what we let them play rather than what we let them “watch”. I had an experience a number of years back when Batman the dark knight came out. The amount of parents, I saw taking young children which looked between 5-12 years old dressed up as batman or joker to see that movie….sure as hell didn’t look like a kids movie when I watched it. How the heck do the ticket sellers manage to not notice that kid is like 7 years old?

  • I dig the old Atari 800 out and the kids love playing pac-man, dig-dug, Galaxian, Star Raiders, Necromancer, Miner 2049’er, Donkey Kong, BallBlazer, Zaxxon, Rainbow Walker, The Eidolon and many other old games. The rules are easy to understand, as are the controls and the kids really love them.

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