An Educational Video Games Guide for Savvy Parents & Kids

video games with educational benefits

Being at home all the time, inevitably means that screen time and time spent playing video games has increased – or at least has been more of a stressor for parents than before. These are understandable worries for all parents. We don’t want our children to spend too much time (or all their time) playing video games or watching YouTube videos. We want them to continue to learn and develop even while at home. 

While so far we’ve focused on sharing as many Learn At Home activities as possible – you can check them out here (new project sheets coming weekly) – today we want to highlight another valuable resource that is always fun and unexpectedly educational: video games

Video games are an incredible creative learning tool if used appropriately and with parental guidance and supervision. For children especially, parent-approved games that are played in moderation can help develop essential cognitive and social skills. For a deeper dive into the benefits of video games for children check out our blog on the subject.

Since we’ve all been at home for the past several weeks we thought now was about time to revisit the subject with a guide to video games that have educational benefits. 

Before we dive in, we’d like to point out that video games also have great benefits for our mental health. Researchers have found that video games can be very therapeutically useful, alleviating affections such as anxiety and depression, due to the fact that playing video games can develop positive structural brain changes. If you’d like to learn more about video games’ benefits on mental health we recommend checking out this podcast with game researcher, Jane McGonigal.

In the current climate, allowing kids to play more video games than they would normally can actually be more beneficial – both from a purely educational standpoint and for their mental health. That is not to say they should do so all the time! Moderation is key.

Violence in Video Games

For this resource, we’re not going to include any overtly violent video games. While some may contain some fantasy/cartoon violence, we will be linking to parents guides (from Common Sense Media) for each of the games so you have the tools to make the decision of whether the game is right for your kids. 

We will also not be including games which contain heavy use of microtransactions, so most of these will require some upfront cost. While some free to play games can offer brilliant challenges and educational benefits, we find that many of them are designed to encourage purchasing in-game rather than overcoming challenges, making them lose the intensity of their educational benefits. If you’d like us to do a list for those too, let us know!

OH-kay… let’s dive into the part we’re all here for – the games! 

Play Together

Video games can be a powerful tool to bring families together. While being a fun activity to do together, we think that some video games help families communicate better and encourage collaboration. Here are a few of our favourite tried and tested ones. These should be good for anyone regardless of gaming experience. 

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime – Ages 8+

Parents’ guide

Communication and collaborative decision making is essential to survive this colourful sci-fi adventure, save the space bunnies and rid the universe of anti-love! A great game to help kids develop their teamwork skills, working best with 3-4 players but great with only 2 too. 

Figuring out how to work together in the most effective way can be tricky, but that’s all part of the fun. We found that saying which station you were moving to is really helpful. Oh, and we recommend playing on easy mode and moving through levels of difficulty as you get accustomed to the game-play!

Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, macOS

Overcooked 2 – Ages 7+

Parents’ Guide

While this game starts out simple, before you know it you’ll be screaming for chopped tomatoes on an air balloon that’s just caught on fire and falling out the sky. We admit, this probably sounds like a lot so let us explain. 

Overcooked 2 is a collaborative game where each player takes on the part of a Chef in increasingly busy kitchens, having to work together to make the food and serve the customers in time. The Chefs also have to save the great Onion Kingdom from the Un-Bread! 

This is another great game for helping kids improve their teamwork skills as the only way to get better in the game is by learning to communicate and collaborate effectively. Working together and managing multiple tasks is not easy so our advice is to lead the way in being okay with failing. After every game talk through what you did well, what you didn’t do so well, then make a game plan together to try again. Before long you’ll have all the customers happy and the Un-Bread banished!

Available on: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, macOS, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes – Ages 9+

Parents’ Guide

A brilliant take on a communication game. One player (or team) can see the screen with a ticking bomb on it, the other players have a printed bomb diffusion manual and neither can see both. The goal is for the player (or team) seeing the ticking bomb to defuse it using instructions from the player or team with the manual.

This game is all about communicating effectively in difficult situations and under time-constraints. It teaches kids the importance of reading and comprehension to relating information accurately. We’d recommend starting this one with the most experienced gamer in the house playing the bomb diffuser. 

Available on: MacOS, Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift

Minecraft – Ages 7+

Parents’ Guide

In all likelihood, your child is already a pro at Minecraft! This game is amazing for encouraging creativity and problem solving as well as learning to code. 

While this could definitely fit into the ‘games for kids to play solo’ category, with recent updates playing together is easier than ever and we feel that this is a great way to spend time with children, both for understanding their worlds and collaborating to explore and create. Most kids play Minecraft in creative mode, this is an unlimited playground for creation, but we’d recommend playing together in survival mode. This way resources for building have to be discovered and collected which creates new limitations to work in, and a greater sense of exploration and achievement. 

You can play together from different devices (tablets, phones, computers, and all current-generation consoles). However be aware that each device will need a free Microsoft account, and consoles will require paid subscriptions to access online functionality.

Portal 2 – Ages 8+

Parents’ Guide

This mind-bending puzzle game is a brilliant one to play with 2 players. Its tools are the laws of physics with one new addition, a gun which instead of firing bullets will create a portal on a surface. This encourages kids to think about the way physics works in totally new ways. Things like the conservation of momentum will become second nature without even realising it as well as helping kids develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Players have to figure out where to shoot portals, how to jump through them, and at what velocity and angle. The focus of the game is solving puzzles.

Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Mac, Linux

Mario Kart – Ages 6+

Parents’ Guide

While Mario Kart probably needs no introduction, it is one the best games to play together as a family in our opinion. The learning for this game is a bit lighter than the others, focusing mostly on hand-eye coordination, but this is pure family fun! Doing a couple of races is a great way to spend a break from work together without too much thought on the activity itself.

Available on: Nintendo Switch

Snipperclips – Ages 6+

Parents’ Guide

A brilliant and creative 2 player puzzle game. Perfect for teaching 2d reasoning skills, geometry and physics. Communication and teamwork skills are also essential in this game. Each player takes control of a character made out of paper, and the players can reshape each other to solve fun and interesting problems. You can also bring in even more players for some extra hard challenges!

Available on: Nintendo Switch

Rocket League – Ages 8+

Parents’ Guide

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play football with rocket-powered cars instead of people? Well either way, now you can! This totally ridiculous game is extremely fun and will require some good communication and coordination skills to do well in. It can also help kids learn about strategy in games if you want to make it more competitive.

Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, macOS, Linux, Microsoft Windows, Mac

Games For Kids to Play Solo 

While playing together is a brilliant experience, sometimes it just isn’t possible. But not to worry, there are hundreds of incredible games that kids can get fantastic learning benefits from on their own! Any game that is challenging will have positive benefits. These are a few of our favourites that offer learning hidden in fun and engaging experiences. All these games will also work brilliantly when experienced together.  

Gorogoa – Ages 6+

Parents’ Guide

A beautiful puzzle game full of life and wonder. The main mechanic is moving tiles around a grid and clicking on objects, but each is full of hand-drawn illustrations which come to life as everything fits together. This is all about thinking outside of the box and recognising patterns in order to solve problems more easily. 

Available on: iOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Android, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Mac

World of Goo – Ages 6+

Parents’ Guide

This charming and often funny game is a masterclass in engineering principles, told through the story of balls of goo looking for a home in a slightly dystopian future. Each level brings new challenges and new tools, and lots of ways to reach the goal with such simple controls that anyone can pick this up and get playing.

Available on: Nintendo Switch, Android, Wii, Linux, iOS, Microsoft Windows, MacOS

The Witness – Ages 10+

Parents Guide

This is one of the most inventive and rewarding puzzle games yet made. But it is very challenging! The puzzles in this game teach players to be creative and analytical in their problem-solving. There are no instructions, you learn how to play through a carefully crafted journey of discovery. The answer is always there, but you might need to look from a different perspective (both literally and figuratively) to find it, and sometimes you’ll just have to come back to that part later with a fresh perspective! The setting and content for this game would be suitable for any age, but we’d recommend it for older kids due to its difficulty. However, playing together with younger kids can work great as well. 

The educational benefits of this game come in developing problem-solving skills, with a focus on creative problem-solving by challenging kids to look at the puzzle in many unconventional ways, thus helping develop their creativity.

Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, iOS, Mac, Microsoft Windows, Nvidia Shield TV

Everything – Ages 6+

Parents’ Guide

This is not a conventional video game, there aren’t any obvious goals or objectives, but everything to explore! In a way which is both complexly engaging and light-hearted, this game explores the philosophy of Alan Watts through the player embodying everything in the universe!

Kids can become anything from a subatomic particle, a strand of DNA, a rock, a flower, a mouse, an elephant, a baobab tree, an island, a planet, all the way to an entire galaxy. This is truly an experience about discovery and exploration, with both scientific and philosophical learning inherent in everything you do. It’s a great way to understand the scale of the universe.

What does the world look like if you are a single-cell organism in a drop of water? What does the world look like when you’re a sun with planets orbiting around you? This is interspersed with recordings of Alan Watts talking about the interconnectedness of things. A great platform to start discussing spirituality and what believing in something means with your child. We’d recommend this for playing together as well. 

Available on: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Linux, MacOS

Kerbal Space Program – Ages 8+

Parent Guide

It’s not rocket science, oh wait… actually it is! Kerbal Space Program is all about making your own space agency, launching rockets into space, and exploring the fictional solar system. The key here though, is that the physics involved are very accurate and representative of actual space flight. NASA has given this game the big seal of approval and even worked with the team for over a year on extra missions to capture asteroids. 

There is a lot of trial and error involved in making a rocket that can actually get into space, but once you have your own satellite orbiting the planet Kerbin, you not only have an incredible sense of accomplishment but a decent understanding of propulsion technology, air resistance, communication technology, gravity, orbital mechanics, and how space rockets actually work! 

If you have a budding rocket engineer, astronaut, Mars Rover designer, or physicist look no further. While the game does have some good tutorials, we’d recommend doing some internet research if it’s not working after a while, there is a great community of rocket engineers making YouTube videos about how to get stuff into space in the game.

Available on: MacOS, Windows, Linux

Scribblenauts Mega Pack – Ages 10+

Parents’ Guide

While most puzzle games are built around using limited options to find a creative solution, Scribblenauts turns this on it’s head and gives you almost everything you can think of to play with! Users are presented with a problem to solve, then asked to type in a solution or object that will aid in finding a solution and it will appear in the world! 

How do you save a cat who is stuck up a tree? Get a fireman to chop it down, give the cat wings, or maybe even build an escalator for the cat to come down on? 

Every puzzle has a myriad of solutions, and the creative potential in this game is outstanding. What do you do when you can do anything? Try it all out and figure out the best way. 

Note: This is a bundle of 2 games, the classic Scribblenauts Unlimited and the DC Comics crossover. The DC Comics version contains some cartoon violence. 

Available on: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One

Sid Meyer’s Civilisation VI – Ages 11+

Parents’ Guide

Civilization 6 is a strategy game where kids build a civilization from ancient times all the way to the information era. Founding cities, learning new technologies, government policies, building wonders and interacting with other civilisations helps to improve kids’ knowledge and understanding of human history. 

Each civilization is led by a historical figure. You can play as Queen Victoria, Gilgamesh, Peter the Great, and many more. This game does, in the way history does, feature war. Declaring war is entirely optional, but back out of a trade or encroach on someone else’s borders and war could very well be coming your way. The game, and it’s combat, are turn-based with a similar feeling to the board game Settlers of Catan. This is a great way to talk to kids about the history of civilizations and war, why they began and how they were won or lost. If you own the game on multiple devices you can even play together (or against each other).

Available on: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, iOS, Mac, Linux

Epistory – Typing Chronicles – Ages 8+

Parents’ Guide

Remember when touch typing was the big skill everyone needed to know? While touch screens have become for many people a more common way of typing, for work (especially coding) keyboards aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Touch typing isn’t taught very widely in schools anymore, but we think it’s still a good skill to have, especially in an increasingly digital world. This game harkens back to all those touch-type training programs and builds it into a really beautiful narrative action game – making for a really interesting take on the genre!

Available on: Microsoft Windows, Linux, MacOS.

Layton’s Mystery Journey – Ages 10+

Parents’ Guide

Having a budding detective in your house? This game is a brilliant way to start solving some mysteries. Hunting for clues, interviews, and puzzles led by the smart, strong and resourceful Katrielle Layton in a very over the top alternate history London. Kids are rewards for analytical and creative thinking, and while some of the puzzles can be tricky, solving cases can earn clue coins to help in tricky situations. This is all presented through beautiful animation, an engaging story and some great role models. 

Available on: Nintendo Switch

Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild – Ages 10+

Parents’ Guide

This game has the most combat of any we’ll be recommending, but the way it rewards players for logical thinking and creativity over swinging a sword means it has to be on this list! Legend of Zelda games have always pushed the boundaries of creativity, but this most recent title takes it to a whole new level with a beautiful open world full of character, life, and engaging stories. Kids will discover things like chopping down trees to make pathways across ravines, finding warm clothes to scale a snowy mountain without freezing, and the best ways to cook an apple. Dotted around the world are “shrines” which offer small inventive puzzles that reward kids with bonuses like extra health in the rest of the game. We’d recommend talking to your kids about what they’re doing and why while playing the game to maximise the educational benefits of the game. 

Available on: Nintendo Switch, Wii U

GNOG – Ages 7+

Parents’ Guide

A stylish and bizarre puzzle game that is all about exploring, trying things out and discovery. This was designed to be a relaxing experience, great to unwind after work with a bit of creative fun. The game centres around exploring and activating “GNOGs”. The best way we can describe GNOGs is giant robot heads that are also houses. Each one needs to be activated in some unique way which kids need to figure out how to do by exploring and trying things out.

What Remains of Edith Finch – Ages 13+

Parents Guide

This is definitely a game for older kids, it explores some difficult topics including loss of family members and depicts actions that lead up to accidental deaths, but this is one of the best narrative experiences ever made in gaming. The story depicts 18 year old Edith Finch returning to her family home to document the lives of three of her very eccentric family members to better understand herself and pass this knowledge onto her unborn child. Discovering the family members’ stories unravels in a series of small surreal and inventive experiences that build up to a fascinating tale of a very unlucky family.

We recommend this game as a great example of what is possible in video games and inspiring creativity. It’s also a great way to talk about family, what it means and could inspire investigation into your own family tree and story. 

Available on: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows

Tools to Make & Design Games

Playing video games is a great way to let loose and get some educational benefits but if you want to take it one step further, learning to design and code your own games can be a fun past-time for the kids as well as the rest of the family. Here are some of our favourite resources to learnt to design and code games, including some of our own!

Arcade Coder – Ages 6+

We think this is a brilliant way to learn about games design, with a focus on games for the whole family! The unique blend of pixel art, video games, and physical board games make this a brilliant way to not just to learn how to design and code games, but to share and play creations with the whole family! 

You can learn more about what you can do with the Arcade Coder and whether it is right for your child here.

Available on: iOS for iPad + Arcade Coder

Games Designer Club – Ages 6+

A creative hub packed with fun hands-on projects themed around invention & game design. Perfect for kids 6-10+ to complete independently or with the whole family. With new projects added weekly, kids are gradually introduced to new concepts building their coding, design and critical thinking skills and much more.

A lot of the projects on the Games Designer Club need only household items and a printer in order to complete but there are some that need an Arcade Coder to complete. It is free to join & you can check out the projects here.

Dreams – Ages 10+

Parents Guide

Dreams blurs the lines between being a game and a tool for creation. It is both a welcoming social platform for sharing games, art and music, and a set of powerful but easy to use tools to create your own. While the content creation tutorials and many of the games are suitable for children, we do recommend parental supervision and setting some rules for playing the user-generated games (dream surfing). At time of writing, there are no parental controls available for limiting games, and some user-generated content can be disturbing for children.

However, the creation tools themselves are a joy! Kids can make digital paintings, animations, music, 3d models, and combine all of these, with a really interesting approach to coding, into a full videogame! The possibilities here are endless, you can make anything you imagine and remix parts from other users games as a starting point! It takes quite some time to learn how to use the controls and all the tools, but it’s well worth it. A great game to encourage long term strategic thinking.

Available on: PlayStation 4

Scratch – Ages 8+

Parents’ Guide

Scratch is the grandaddy of block-based coding! For over a decade Scratch has been used by kids in both schools and at home to learn to code, and kids have made some amazing things with it. While making fully-fledged games can get complex with the blocks, simple experiences are really easy to achieve, and there are a myriad of tutorials both on the scratch website and around the web. The Arcade Coder coding blocks are built with the same technology that powers scratch, and there is some crossover!

Available on: Web-Based

Games Designer Club – Ages 6+

A creative hub packed with fun hands-on projects themed around invention & game design. Perfect for kids 6-10+ to complete independently or with the whole family. With new projects added weekly, kids are gradually introduced to new concepts building their coding, design and critical thinking skills and much more.

A lot of the projects on the Games Designer Club need only household items and a printer in order to complete but there are some that need an Arcade Coder to complete. It is free to join & you can check out the projects here.

Super Mario Maker 2 – Ages 6+

Parents’ Guide

This one is a bit more of a limited game design tool than some of the others mentioned here, with kids just having access to things which already exist in Super Mario games. But, limitation can be an amazing way to level up creativity, and the possibilities here are huge! While logic and code don’t really feature, making a game is magically easy! With just placing objects and enemies onto the level to make a game, this becomes an experience purely about the design of games. There are fantastic tutorials about not just the tools, but how to design your games to be fun and enjoyable. You can even play and design together on the same console! If you have a Nintendo Switch and want somewhere to start playing around with games design, this is a great place to start.

Available on: Nintendo Switch

Nintendo LABO – Ages 8+

Parents’ Guide

If you’ve been following Tech Will Save Us for a while, you’ll know that we LOVE cardboard. If you have a Switch, Labo is crazy fun and a really interesting experience. Building the cardboard contraptions can take quite a while, but it’s a great way to learn about engineering and mechanics in a unique and fun way (the instructions often explain why something needs to be done for it to work), and the discovery mode is both extremely informative and very well written for kids. The games themselves while fun doesn’t offer a huge amount of long-lasting entertainment. There isn’t a huge amount of depth to what you can do with this cardboard! The keyboard has a really great studio mode, and when you’re ready the Toy-Con garage allows you to create your own games with simple if-then logic which you can make some awesome stuff in!

That’s all folks!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide of video games and that you’ve found it useful! While these are our favourites, there are many other video games out there that have great educational benefits for children. If you can think of any, we’d love to add them to this list. Let us know on our social media channels by tagging @techwillsaveus.

Tech Will Save US STEAM toys mentioned in this article