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5 Video Games I'll Start My Kids On

Rus McLaughlin | 3 Jan 2014 15:00
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I've got the best Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card of all time. My wife - not me, the guy who works in the video-game industry - introduced our sons to video games. So far, the boys' catalog consists of a few iPad apps starring the Doras and Diegos and Elmos that populate their world, but the day's soon coming when they'll graduate to more serious fare.

Then I'll have to step up like a responsible adult and further their education.

A lot of people already struggle with how to introduce kids to our frequently hyper-violent hobby. A decade from now, everyone will need an answer to those questions.

This situation isn't unique to me. The average age of your typical gamer falls in the mid-30s range, prime parenting territory, and 67% of American households contain one or more game-playing individuals. A lot of people already struggle with how to introduce kids to our frequently hyper-violent hobby. A decade from now, everyone will need an answer to those questions.

It helps that I'll play right alongside the boys, but it's a point of honor that I get this transition right. Kids learn through play. I have to pick out the lessons I want to impart. At the same time, whatever I present shouldn't present psychedelic lightshows, cannot include curb-stomped exploding heads, and must be awesome, or they'll check out entirely. That's a tricky juggle. And like "The Talk," I've got to lead this conversation early to preempt some snot-nosed 3rd grader explaining the facts of Battlefield to my unprepared children.

This is exactly how I'll do it.

Happy Action Theater

Want a demonstration in serious fantasy role-playing? Watch a kid for five minutes. A cushion on the lap turns the entire couch into a boat. Coat hangers become umbrellas. Curtains open to an arena of rock fans ready for a good face melting. And no video game understands this better than Happy Action Theater.

The Xbox 360's Kinect camera peripheral essentially puts your entire room (and everyone in it) on your TV, then Happy Action Theater overlays your real-time action with some fairly wild scenarios. One fills your room with knee-high lava - grab a handful and fling it like a fireball. Another encourages you to flatten a city Godzilla-style. Then the game drops a hundred red playground balls on you to kick around, turns everyone into living fireworks, or drops you under the sea. And if you play on the automatic setting, Happy Action Theater switches between all 18 modes at random every minute or two.

Sure, it's really more a toy than a game, but who cares? Happy Action Theater offers zero bar to entry and no goals other than to have fun. Perfect for a young kid who wants to go, not stop. And that's every kid. Even if your child's on the quiet side, Happy Action Theater will encourage them jump right in and engage.

Not every mode feels like a winner, but at its best, Happy Action Theater puts the ideas in a child's head up on the TV and lets you play just like they do, driven by pure, unpredictable imagination.


Jenova Chen doesn't make uninteresting games, though sometimes "interactive art" hits closer to the mark. He and his team take exploration as a basic concept and infuse it with emotion in subtle but profound ways, delivering small experiences that feel monumental.

Pure, unpredictable imagination.

All of which will zoom clear over my 5-and-3-year-olds' heads. But in Journey, they'll get a dramatic, gentle, and literal sandbox to play in. The game centers on a robed stranger heading for a shining beacon on a faraway mountaintop - very biblical - and exploring a series of desert ruins along the way. No timers. No difficult puzzles. Very few threats. Which means you're at liberty to just breathe and amuse yourself without worry or hurry. It even strips down to an elegantly simple control scheme.

And as an introduction to multiplayer, Journey's seamless, online co-op can't be beat. Players just suddenly wander into each others' games (no voice communication allowed, so no worries there). That's exactly how kids start playing with each other. Journey lets them walk up to another kid and say "Hello," even if it comes out as a single note that echoes across a sand dune.

You can't find a wrong way to play Journey, and that's important to a kid. They don't have to clear any of the puzzles if they don't want to. They can skip to an interesting area and enjoy the freeing sense of flight along its corridors. Or sing and play with the magical scraps of cloth floating in the air. Or hop around tooting notes aimlessly. The real beauty in Journey is that the destination doesn't matter nearly as much as the path you take...and the discoveries you make on the way.

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