By Kathryn Peck
In a recent article for Bicycle Pie, I wrote about knowing when it was time to bring video games into our home. After putting it off for several years (yes, my son had been asking incessantly for at least two years), my husband and I felt his 10th birthday was the time.
With that decision made, it opened up the Pandora’s Box of other video game-related questions. Which console to get? What games would be okay to start with? How would we manage screen time and monitor activity? And what about the exposure for the younger children in our family?
Well, when it’s time to take the plunge, you will likely ask yourself these questions and more.
I’ve done my research so you’ll have a place to start (and so I can selfishly fantasize about which game system for buy for myself someday), and here’s a rundown of what gaming systems are available and good for younger kids, and what games to consider for beginnings.
We ultimately went with the Nintendo Switch for my son’s first foray into the world of gaming. Many of us can recollect the early days of Nintendo’s first Super Mario Bros., right? And then there was Metroid and Tetris. Well Nintendo is sticking strong to its history of creating family-friendly games, so this is a great system to start with.
At $299, the Nintendo Switch is versatile, which means it can be played on your TV or it can be played more like a handheld console on the go when removed from its dock (aka switch). The side controllers can be removed and used for two-player games in tabletop mode. Parental controls are available, and games can be bought in-store or digitally downloaded.
Games typically cost between $40-$60. Great starter games include Super Mario Odyssey, Minecraft, Animal Crossing, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
Or consider the Nintendo Switch Lite ($199) for a strictly handheld option.
Some of my son’s friends have a PlayStation, and I’m partial (or maybe just nostalgic) to this system from my own pre-child gaming days, but we just weren’t ready for this yet. It’s more expensive to start, and with a host of sophisticated games, it’ll give us something to grow into.
The newest PlayStation 5 console ($499) was in high demand earlier this year, and for good reason. The system is powerful, and games like God of War and Fallout 4 are outstanding – just not at all appropriate for younger audiences (look for games rated E for Everyone). But you can find great games that are more family-friendly like Planet Coaster, Lego Games, and Sackboy. A nice feature is PS5’s backwards compatibility, meaning it will play the vast majority of PlayStation 4 games.
If you can’t get your hands on the PS5, the Sony PlayStation 4 Slim ($400+) is sleek and offers up amazingly crisp graphics. It also offers added entertainment options thanks to the PlayStation Store streaming services; you can watch movies, listen to music, and more. Check out games like Crayola Scoot, Overcooked 2!, and Lego Worlds. One thing to note, the PS4 is not backwards compatible, so you cannot play games from the previous generation on this console.
If you’re looking for a bit more, consider the PS4 Pro 1TB Console ($400+) for superior quality graphics.
Overall, a PlayStation console is a great option for parents who game and want to add some family-friendly games to the mix. There are parental controls.
Released in November 2020, the Xbox Series X ($499) and Xbox Series S ($299) are, in my opinion, more gaming power than your child needs. They are backwards compatible, all the way back to the original Xbox games, which is a nice touch. (Note, the Xbox Series S does not have a disc drive to play physical discs.) But consider previous models like the Xbox One X ($499) or Xbox One S ($299) instead for all of the necessary features your kid might require.
They’re less expensive, to start. There are parental controls for both. You can also remotely configure playtime limits through your computer, tablet, or phone.
The Xbox Series has some longevity, however, thanks to the Xbox Game Pass. It’s a subscription service that costs between $5 and $15 per month, and gives players access to a library of more than 100 downloadable games, which is great as your child grows. Despite the huge offering of games available, many aren’t exactly family-friendly games, and those that are family friendly are only mediocre, so you’ll need to do some digging.
Consider games like Team Sonic Racing, Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure, or Lego Harry Potter Collection.
VTech InnoTV ($49) is for anyone looking for their littles ones to get a head start into the world of gaming. It’s a TV-connected, educational gaming system with a kid-friendly wireless controller that makes it the perfect first gaming system for kids. Suitable for ages 3-8, it comes with one controller and four games that are, without a doubt, geared toward the education of little ones, focusing on math, science, and language arts. Sounds like school, we know, but your little one won’t know it.
Another game system for toddlers ages 3-8 is from Leap Frog. With more than 100 games, apps, and videos available, LeapTV, like VTech InnoTV, focuses more on learning skills like reading, mathematics, or science. A feature that sets it apart, however, is the motion-sensing camera for games that’ll get your kids up and moving around.
It comes with one game, Pet Play World, but others games like Banzai Beans Ninja Number Challenge and Letter Factory Challenge are a great place to start and range from $7.50-$20 each.
What to consider before buying?
- Price – How much do you want to spend on the console? And on games?
- Parental Control – How much control do you want to have? Can I control screen time?
- Portabililty – Will you be traveling with this?
- Game Support – Which games are you most likely to play?
About the author: Kathryn is the owner of Bicycle Pie and mom of 4 little ones. Also a writer, editor, and former owner of one of Boston's premiere baby boutiques, she continues to write about motherhood, children's products, family life, and all other things that test our skills and patience as parents.
Photo credit: iStock.com_bysonmez