So, you want to buy a video game for that awesome kid in your life? Excellent choice. Video games are always popular with the young crowd, and for good reason: many of them tell compelling stories, they all get the brain working in some capacity, and, (this is vital) they’re fun to play.
It’s hard to mess up while buying a video game as a gift. Whatever you get – especially if you’re a parent – is almost guaranteed to garner a happy response. However, that doesn’t mean you should pluck a game off the shelf and call it a day. Here are a few tips that will help you buy the right game for the right kid.
Mind the game’s ESRB rating — The Entertainment Software Rating Board–better known as the “ESRB”–is a not-for-profit organization that evaluates video games and assigns a rating to each one according to potentially offensive content. By making note of the letter that’s placed on a title’s box or disc (or precedes the title screen in downloadable games), you can be forewarned of in-game content that may not be appropriate for kids.
The ESRB’s website has an archive of detailed write-ups for most games that are available at retail, and it even has an app that you can consult for quick information.
Remember: video games are not exclusively the domain of kids. Like movies, it’s a varied medium, and as a result, there are games that are not appropriate for players under the age of 18.
Don’t automatically opt for licensed games based on movies, etc — At first glance, it’s an easy association: if a kid likes Batman cartoons and comics, he or she will love Batman video games, right? But what seems like a safe bet often turns out to be a mediocre title that was rushed out the door to land in buyers’ hands while hype for that property had temporarily spiked.
That’s not necessarily the case for Batman, mind, as the Dark Knight has been the basis for games that were a hit amongst kids and adults alike–Lego Batman,for instance–but the buyer should beware of titles that were hastily assembled around the release of a big movie. Mediocrity isn’t always the only problem, as a rushed game can prove hard to play thanks to sloppy controls. Research game scores and gather opinions via word-of-mouth before deciding on a title.
Gather opinions and reviews via websites and magazines — Researching game scores is a snap, thanks to the ample availability of game review websites and sites that specifically collect scores, like Metacritic. Review scores aren’t the end-all, be-all of a video game, though. Make sure you read through the review in order to identify a game’s strengths and weaknesses.
Need recommendations or in-depth info? Try these sites — If you’re a parent or family friend who feels a bit lost navigating the games industry in your search for family friendly games, or if you just need a few good recommendations, check out:
The Media Awareness Network: Lots of advice on how to identify kid-appropriate games.
Family Friendly Video Games: Issues “Report Cards” to indicate whether or not a game is fun, and makes detailed notes of any potentially offensive content.
Common Sense Media: Neatly-archived game reviews that rate games according to quality, and makes note of any violent content within.
GamerDad: Andrew Bub and his kids are on call to point out the best in family-friendly fun. Bub has been contributing thoughtful reviews and editorials on the alleged links between video games and youth violence for over five years.
Family Friendly Gaming: Family Friendly Gaming is a long-running Christian video game website/magazine that evaluates games according to potentially violent and immoral content.
Video game purchases don’t end at retail — Games that are bought at retail make great gifts (since you can actually giftwrap ’em), but the game-buying adventure doesn’t end at Wal-Mart. Many games for various consoles and the PC can be bought on digital marketplaces, including Xbox Live Arcade, the Wii Shop Channel, the PlayStation Network, the App Store, Steam, and many more. If you need a quick and easy game-related purchase, pre-paid cards for online stores are available at game stores, pharmacies, and supermarkets.
There are also hundreds of games available to play in everyday web browsers like FireFox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer. Many of these games are free, but offer special in-game items that must be purchased with “real” money via a credit card. Buying a rare, coveted item makes a great reward for a good report card.