The 13 Best Nintendo Switch Games for Kids of 2023

Mario Kart 8 brings together players of all ages for an action-packed good time

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Best Nintendo Switch Games for Kids

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It used to be that parents let kids play video games despite their assumptions that it would somehow turn them into mindless potatoes. But now we have evidence to the contrary—both from living through a pandemic and from studies that show gaming may actually give children a boost in cognitive development and impulse control. That means even the skeptics can begin to feel good about searching for the best Nintendo Switch games for kids.

Reviewed & Approved

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a crowd-pleaser for players of all ages, and multiplayer options keep it from getting dull. For a more complex adventure, we suggest Kirby and the Forgotten Land.

“In a world where it's impossible to avoid screens and video games, [gaming has] become a rite of passage,” says Lyndsey Garbi, MD, chief medical officer of Blueberry Pediatrics and pediatrician at Northwell Health in New York. “[Kids who play games] won't be left out of understanding contemporary games and lingo. There are some games that can be educational and help with hand-eye coordination. Some video games help to spark creativity and special interests as well.”

Of course, we’re not suggesting that your 5-year-old take up the latest realistic war game. This is a safe and fun pastime only with certain parameters in place. One of the best things about the Nintendo Switch is that a great deal of the games developed for this portable device are appropriate for children. We narrowed down the options for this list using the games’ ratings from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) and considering their educational benefits and entertainment value. Then we got some hot tips from children and their parents.

These are the best Nintendo Switch games for kids.

Best Overall

Nintendo Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

4.8
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Amazon

Pros
  • Easy to play

  • Fun for multiple generations

  • Can be played by up to 12 online

Cons
  • Limited number of courses do grow old eventually

Just about anyone can take to the Mario Kart racetrack and enjoy themselves, from 5-year-olds just getting the hang of those motor skills to older siblings who’ve been at this for years, not to mention their parents who haven’t picked up a controller since their Gameboy days. The Joy-Con controller acts as your steering wheel through the outlandish racecourses where you compete against various characters from the Mario and Nintendo universe, collecting coins that increase your speed and blasting through blocks that contain power-ups that can be used for more speed or sabotaging the others on the course.

This game is great for kids because beginners can enjoy smart steering, so they don’t have to be frustrated by veering off the track. But it won’t get boring later on because the latest Deluxe version offers so many levels and creative ways for experienced gamers to compete with each other. If you have additional controllers, up to eight players can race together locally. And if you have a Nintendo Switch Online account, up to 12 people can connect to compete. 

“All the courses are really fun,” says Nate, age 9. “Each one has its own little secret path. The power-ups can really help you. They make the race satisfying. It’s a competition that’s stressful, fun, and satisfying all at the same time. There are lots of fun Nintendo characters to choose from, like Tanoki Mario and the Splatoon characters.”

Price at time of publication: $60

ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

Best for the Whole Family

Ubisoft Just Dance 2023

Ubisoft Just Dance 2023

Amazon

Pros
  • Encourages physical activity

  • Great for groups

  • Allows private online multiplayer modes

Cons
  • Limited number of songs without subscription

Even non-gamers agree that Just Dance, in any iteration since the days of Wii, is a highly effective way to get the whole family (multiple generations included) to gather around, dance, compete, and wind up in a pile of giggles on the floor. Joy-Cons, with their wrist straps firmly attached, are your new dance partner as you follow the moves of your onscreen “coach,” choreographed to the hits of today mixed in with some select oldies. The scoring is based solely on what your right hand does, but it’s a whole lot more fun when you get into it and learn that fancy footwork, too. 

The 2023 edition has an updated look that’s been called more realistic, though we think it’s actually more cartoonish compared to the classic style that didn’t show the dancers’ faces. Another addition is a kind of story mode, a playlist with a vague plot woven into the dance videos. Really, most people are here to dance, though, and it becomes quite a workout. The best part about this for kids is that the competition doesn’t have to be the focus: You’ll have just as much fun earning a handful of points as you do getting thousands, no one is ever “out,” and there are no confusing buttons or commands involved. There are also songs with very easy choreography that allow beginners to get the hang of it.

“Just Dance is my favorite game because I get to dance, and dancing is my favorite thing,” 6-year-old Shay, a competitive dancer in real life, tells us. “I really want to win [the game]. I try to go to my maximum level when I dance on it. Sometimes there are new moves that I don’t learn in my dance studio. The songs get stuck in my head.”

Just Dance 2023, which is a digital-only game, comes with 44 songs, which you’ll be able to dance to while connected to the internet or if you’ve chosen to download all of the songs for offline play. With a Ubisoft account, you can also play along with strangers online or create private groups to compete with friends in their homes. To access more songs, you’ll also need a new Just Dance+ account (free trial month included, then $4 a month or $25 a year), and that will get you 150 songs to start, plus many more promised in the future.

Price at time of publication: $60

ESRB Rating: E

Best Creative

Mojang Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition

Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Encourages creativity

  • Nonviolent mode available

  • Requires problem-solving skills

Cons
  • Lack of goals/storyline isn’t for everyone

While many adults may scratch their heads wondering why kids find it more fun to build with virtual blocks of rock and metal than, say, building things in the real world, we can at least be happy that this game has some educational value. Players can mine and build in “creative” mode, meaning their characters face no real dangers in their pixelated world. Or they can play in survival mode, where they’ll have to create weapons and shelter to protect themselves from angry mobs. Either way, this game encourages creativity and problem-solving, and players gradually learn a lot about three-dimensional design. 

“The thing is that there’s no limit in Minecraft—unless you crash your server,” 9-year-old JD tells us. “You can make a bunch of mobs fight each other or make roller coasters. I feel proud of myself [when I build things], except when you blow stuff up. I’m all about destruction.”

Adds Nate, “You can go crazy with creating stuff. You can make scenes from movies, and you can make a whole palace or a city or a town. You can copy [structures from] your life. It could be like your dream world that you can explore.”

Minecraft is also available on various platforms beyond Nintendo Switch and in a number of variations, such as the Dungeons Ultimate Edition. The game allows for multiplayer mode on the same Switch, or you can sign up for a Microsoft account to connect to friends elsewhere and play with them.

Price at time of publication: $30

ESRB Rating: E 10+ (for fantasy violence and interactive options)

Best Non-Competitive

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

4.6
Nintendo Animal Crossing: New Horizons

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Pros
  • Family-friendly

  • Teaches about animals and plants

  • Safe multiplayer mode

Cons
  • Requires a lot of reading 

Animal Crossing allows for a friendlier—not to mention rounder—type of world building than Minecraft. Players get to craft their own island from scratch, doing everything from building homes and planting gardens to designing textiles. You can interact with the happy animal residents within the game, as well as with up to four players locally. With a connection to Nintendo Switch Online, you can also connect to other players and visit their islands—but only by sharing a special individual code, so no kids will be accidentally visiting with strangers. This game has been around for decades, but New Horizons really gained fame in the early days of the pandemic, when adults were using it as much as their kids were to escape the confines of their home. 

Rachel, a mom of two, shares that New Horizons has had a benefit far beyond escapism for her eldest daughter Lucy, who is 8 now. “I got the newest Animal Crossing before Lucy could read, and she would watch me play,” Rachel says. “I told her I would make a character for her once she could read, so she could play it on her own, and that was actually a big motivator for her to learn to read. She’s picked up the bug and fish species so well that she was able to correctly identify a beetle to a park ranger once, just from her knowledge from the game.”

And what does Lucy like about this game so much? “I can decorate my house and my island and buy my own things,” she tells us. “I like to catch bugs and fish to try to fill up my museum. I like the characters who visit my island. I like to find cute villagers to come live on my island, and I like to talk to them.”

The social element of Animal Crossing is one that spans generations in Lucy’s family. “I play with my great-aunt Traci,” she says. “She visits my island, and I visit hers. She has a five-star rated island, and she gives me a lot of stuff.”

Price at time of publication: $60

ESRB Rating: E

Best for Kids 6 Years Old and Younger

Nintendo Switch Pokémon Snap

New Pokémon Snap

Amazon

Pros
  • Appropriate for younger kids

  • Easy to learn

  • Encourages exploration

Cons
  • Not very challenging

Rather than letting very young kids play shoot-’em-up style video games, you can let them enjoy the satisfaction of pointing and shooting virtual cameras. The object of this game (which originated on Nintendo 64) is to “snap” images of the Pokémon critters they encounter while exploring various worlds, gradually creating their own Photodex collection. Each image is then scored based on the rarity of the Pokémon behavior they captured. 

Anthony Bean, PhD, a Texas-based licensed clinical depth psychologist who works with gamers, says that the best Nintendo games for kids ages 6 and under are “cartoon-styled games that can help them to bring a sense of accomplishment but [are] not heavily competitive.” Based on the praise we’ve heard from young kids, New Pokémon Snap fits the bill.

“Pokémon Snap is a good game for younger kids,” says 9-year-old Jovie, who played it way back in the day. “You take photos. It's not stressful, and you don't die.”

Price at time of publication: $60

ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

Best for Kids 8 Years Old and Up

Nintendo Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Nintendo Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Amazon

Pros
  • Easy to learn

  • Requires strategic thinking

  • Violence is not graphic

Cons
  • Involves shooting and explosions

Another character with his origins in the ‘90s, Kirby is a delightful alien blob who also happens to be a pretty effective hero—mostly because he can inhale other creatures and inanimate objects like cars to take on their powers. In his latest adventure, his home, Dream Land, has been sucked into a dystopian world where the mean Beast Pack has kidnapped Dream Land’s innocent little Waddle Dees. Players move Kirby through various levels trying to find their way around, rescue Waddle Dees, and obtain the powers necessary to battle the Beast Pack. This is all about problem-solving, with some slightly violent elements but nothing too scary for elementary school-age kids.

“The story is kind of cheesy, but it’s fun going through obstacle courses,” Nate says. “There are puzzles, and you can get power-ups to unlock secret passages that have coins and Waddle Dees in them. You can get certain power-ups to destroy this wall and suck something up, and then you’ll be the right size and shape to go through a hole where there’s a mini game. You have to figure out what to do next.”

Price at time of publication: $60

ESRB Rating: E 10+ (for cartoon violence)

Best for Active Kids

Nintendo Switch Sports

Nintendo Switch Sports

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Pros
  • Gets players off the couch

  • Fun for groups

  • Online multiplayer mode gets competitive

Cons
  • Not a replacement for real sports

If you ever played Nintendo’s Wii Sports back in the day, you already know how much fun this hybrid of real-life motion and virtual sports can be. Players hold the Joy-Cons (with those wrist straps on, for the safety of everyone and their TVs) and swing them around to control their on-screen avatars competing in tennis, badminton, bowling, soccer, volleyball, golf, and chambara (a type of sword fighting). The movements are simple enough to pick up after some in-game instructions, but it will take some time to master them—which is a good thing for gamers who need a little challenge. Though you can play any of these games alone, they’re a lot more fun with a group. Friends or family can either compete against each other (one-on-one or four against four) or team up against strangers in online multiplayer mode (Nintendo Switch Online membership required). For soccer games, the physical version of the game comes with a strap to attach a Joy-Con to your thigh for shoot-out modes, but most of the other motions are still controlled by your hands.

By no means is this sort of game supposed to take the place of real sports and other forms of physical activity kids need, but it does get players off the couch. “Some activity indoors is better than nothing,” Dr. Garbi tells us of the more active Nintendo games. “And even though it's screen time, they can be fun and good for exercise.”

Price at time of publication: $50

ESRB Rating: E 10+ (for mild violence, in-game purchasing, interactions with other gamers)

Best for Young Collectors

Nintendo Pokémon Scarlet

Nintendo Pokémon Scarlet

Game Stop

Pros
  • Open world encourages exploration

  • Requires strategy

  • Appeals to Pokémon fans

Cons
  • Many glitches found in game

The newest Pokémon role-playing game (RPG) has the traditional elements of catching, training, and battling Pokémon, plus the extra adventure of exploring the land of Paldea, taking unexpected detours, and even having impromptu picnics along the way. Unlike previous games, which required players to complete levels in order, this latest one is an open world, so you can choose to go wherever you want, whenever you want.

The differences between Scarlet and Violet (sold separately for $60 or together for $120) are going to seem minimal to anyone uninitiated in the Pokémon universe. You’ll get different exclusive Pokémon in each game, and the appearance of Paldea is different, with Scarlet looking old-timey and Violet in a futuristic setting. (Check with your kid before buying one or the other if they seem to be picky about this sort of thing.) But the gameplay is essentially identical: Travel through the land and collect Pokémon that you’ll send into battle on the road or in a gym. You’ll earn money to buy ingredients for picnics (and those meals, along with potions and other objects, help heal the Pokémon) and to customize your avatar. Eventually, you’ll make your way to the academy, where you’ll take your training to the next level with classes.

“I like how you have to figure out what’s going on—there’s often a person who tells you information, but then they run off,” Nate tells us after playing for the first time. “I like exploring the world.”

While this feels like a very solitary game, there is a multiplayer option, which two to four players can engage in either locally or online with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. 

The release of Scarlet and Violet on November 18, 2022, was met with mixed reviews. Gamers have found several glitches (avatars fall through the ground, Pokémon disappear on occasion) and aren’t pleased with the frame rate of the graphics. Still, we think those are minor issues that kids either won’t notice or will just be amused by when they’re into the game and its story.

Price at time of publication: $60

ESRB Rating: E (some mild cartoon violence, in-game purchases, and interactions with other gamers)

Best Nonviolent Battles

Nintendo Splatoon 3

Nintendo Splatoon 3

Amazon

Pros
  • Replaces guns with painting tools

  • Safe online multiplayer competition

  • Many opportunities for personalizing

Cons
  • Long dialogue and cutscenes 

Many of us are determined to keep every kind of toy gun out of our kids’ hands, even the virtual kind that’s always been so prevalent in gaming. And yet, how do we fulfill children’s seemingly inherent desire to aim at things and shoot them? “Splatoon” manages to come up with a very satisfying alternative, as the object of the game is to paint—shooting, rolling, and squirting swaths of color across the ground and walls as your human-squid/octopus avatar. Instead of bloody battles, you have a riot of color to show for your efforts.

“Splatoon 3” has an offline story-driven game in which you use your inky skills to help fight an underground crime network that has stolen Splatville’s Great Zapfish, which powers the town. But you can also choose to skip the story and go straight to battles and turf wars. In these, you’ll team up in real-time with other players (with a Switch Online membership) and compete to cover the most ground with your team’s ink color. The battles last only three exhilarating minutes, which is very convenient for parents who have heard a whole lot of, “Let me just finish this level,” every time we say gaming time is up.

As a reward for your hard work, you can use experience points to purchase new outfits as well as new painting tools. Often in these games, we’ve found that kids’ absolute favorite thing to do is customize the look of their avatars, sometimes spending as much time fiddling with them as they do in any actual gameplay. 

“I like the fact that we’re playing against real people and not just robots that do the same moves,” Nate says after playing the game for just a few hours. “Decorating lockers is really fun. It’s like your own home inside this little box.” His one complaint is that some of the written dialogue can be a bit tedious. “In the weapon shop, there’s a super long conversation, and I just want to buy my paint gun and be gone.”

Price at time of publication: $60

ESRB Rating: E 10+ (cartoon violence, in-game purchases, user interaction)

Best for Solo Play

Ubisoft Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope

Ubisoft Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope

Amazon

Pros
  • Combines strategy and storytelling

  • Players control multiple characters

  • Visually appealing

Cons
  • Kids may grow impatient with long cutscenes

To many parents, the descriptions of games like this can sound like pure gibberish: Mario and Luigi team up with Rabbids (rabbit-human-type creatures that are dressed like Mario characters, including Mario, Luigi, and Peach), Sparks (which are Rabbids mixed with a star-like creature called Luma, from the Mario galaxy), and a couple of very smart robots to save the universe from an evil force called Cursa that keeps spreading oozing moodiness called the Darkmess everywhere it goes. What this really means is that this is a game involving strategy and storytelling. There are a whole lot of animated cutscenes and speeches players need to read and watch to understand this whole plot, but when it comes time to play, what you’re actually doing is figuring out which three characters to place into battle based on their different strengths and weaponry. Then it’s all about taking aim at the enemy with the knowledge that once you shoot, you’re paralyzed and potentially vulnerable to attack as the enemy takes their turn. 

“It’s interesting that you can switch between avatars; not many games let you do that,” Nate says. “It’s also cool that each character has a special ability. When Rabbid Luigi shoots, it bounces off from one enemy to another. Princess Peach could shoot a whole wide blast. … The story is corny, though.”

Price at time of publication: $60

ESRB Rating: E 10+ (for cartoon violence, in-game purchasing)

Best Open-World Adventure

Nintendo The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

4.4
Nintendo The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Amazon

Pros
  • Stunning graphics

  • Challenging

  • Encourages creative problem-solving

Cons
  • Lack of guidance may frustrate younger players

Here’s the best way we can think of to describe this open-world role-playing adventure: Imagine you’re watching "Lord of the Rings" or some other fantasy movie and suddenly find yourself dropped into the action, like Bastien in "The NeverEnding Story." You don’t need to know anything about previous Zelda games because this one is completely different. In fact, at the start of this game, your character, Link, has awakened from a 100-year nap that has left him without any memory at all. From here, it’s all about wandering around, talking to strangers, opening mysterious books, climbing mysterious mountains, and solving puzzles to get around and get your hands on the tools you’ll need to survive. Eventually, in a completely nonlinear fashion, you’ll figure out how to save the land of Hyrule from the dark forces of Ganon.

Everything about this game is beautiful—even when Link is falling to his death or freezing, it looks good. But it can be very frustrating for younger players. Nate, who had saved up his allowance money to buy this game, wound up giving up after a couple of weeks. It’s a good one for an older tween or teen to work up to—and for their parents to borrow when they’re done.

Price at time of publication: $60

ESRB Rating: E 10+ (for mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol, and fantasy violence)

Best Social Game

Epic Games Fortnite V-Bucks Gift Card

Epic Games Fortnite V-Bucks Gift Card

Amazon

Pros
  • Exciting

  • Players can team up with friends online

  • Free to download

Cons
  • Violent

  • In-app spending encouraged

While we are loath to recommend a violent game full of non-stop gun battles, we also know that for gaming tweens and teens, these inevitably become a dominant genre. If the kid you’re shopping for is heading in this direction, you may as well steer them toward something that requires strategic thinking and teamwork rather than mindless shooting. The battle royale-style game means players are competing against others (up to 100 players in each battle) to be the last person standing. You can play solo or team up with friends virtually. You’re dropped from a flying bus into a city-turned-battlefield and then must immediately find weapons. There’s also a Minecraft element to this game because you need to mine your surroundings and build structures while fighting to survive. 

The game is free to download and play but then requires in-game purchases (using something called Vbucks) for new skins (your avatar’s appearance), specialized gliders, pickaxes, and dance moves. And these customizations often wind up being kids’ absolute favorite part of the game. 

“It’s more realistic than other games,” 10-year-old Otto tells us. “You can change your skins and get cool characters and accessories and emotes. I talk to friends during the game about if you see enemies or find ‘heals.’ And we talk at school about what happened in the game.”

Otto’s mom, Brooke, is also pleased with the social aspect of Fortnite. “I like that he’s expanded and strengthened some friendships at school because they play Fortnite together,” she says. “It’s social, and they chat while playing, which makes it feel more interactive and better than the typical computer or iPad games.”

Price at time of publication: Free to download, but there are in-app purchases

ESRB Rating: T for teens (for violence, in-game purchases, and user interaction)

Best for Two Players

Electronic Arts It Takes Two

Electronic Arts It Takes Two

Amazon

Pros
  • Imaginative storyline

  • Cooperative play

  • Beautiful graphics

Cons
  • Subject may be too mature for some

  • Can’t play solo

As the title suggests, this is a game that requires the cooperation of two players, and that’s what makes it as fascinating as it is challenging for older kids, teens, and adults. The game, which won several awards when it came out in 2021 on other platforms, just made it to Nintendo Switch in 2022. The premise reads like an ‘80s movie: A little girl named Rose sees her parents, Cody and May, fighting and planning a divorce, and somehow, she turns them into miniature doll versions of themselves. Now, Cody and May have to work together to survive their suddenly hazardous house under the guidance of a marriage counselor who is a literal “Book of Love.” Now, we don’t think many tweens and teens would jump at the idea of learning about how to mend the long-term relationships of middle-aged folks, but when that involves blasting wasps with special sap guns developed by squirrels or swinging through obstacles with the help of giant magnets, it’s much more appealing. In fact, this is an exciting and magical adventure that’s filled with little puzzles and beautiful scenes. 

If you’re considering this for a kid who doesn’t have a sibling old enough to play along, It Takes Two has a very special bonus: You can invite another player to join you for free with a “friend pass” and play online together or side by side.

Price at time of publication: $40

ESRB Rating: T for teens (for animated blood, comic mischief, fantasy violence, language, and some user interaction)

How We Selected the Best Nintendo Switch Games for Kids

We looked at the many, many games available for this kid-friendly console and then narrowed down the list by looking at their ESRB ratings as well as competitor reviews. We asked all the young gamers we know for their recommendations, interviewing several of them for their expert insight. We sat down with publicists from Nintendo and a handful of gaming publishers to learn about the very latest releases, which we tried out, too. Finally, we asked a pediatrician and a psychologist who specializes in gamers for their tips and recommendations for finding the best and most appropriate games for kids.

What to Look for in a Nintendo Switch Game for Kids

Types of Games

There are too many different genres and subgenres of video games to list in this space, but if you’re not a gamer and are about to start shopping, you may want to familiarize yourself with some common terms used to describe them.

  • Platform Game: The old-fashioned style of game, like Super Mario, where players move from one platform to the next in a set order, usually after they’ve completed certain tasks or defeated a “boss” (bad guy).
  • Role-Playing Game (RPG): These are adventure games in which the player’s character is part of a story and gains power and abilities as they move through a world, often trying to complete some kind of quest. The Legend of Zelda and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet fall into this category. Many of these games involve a lot of reading, so they can be difficult for younger kids to get into, but they also wind up encouraging kids to read more.
  • First-Person Shooter (FPS): Exactly what it sounds like, a game in which the player sees everything through the eyes of their avatar and has to shoot enemies to survive. There are also third-person shooters, like Splatoon 3, in which the player’s perspective is slightly removed from their avatar, and can see their whole body as they control it.
  • Battle Royale: Games like Fortnite, in which every player has to fight for survival and kill their opponents, and the last person standing wins.
  • Sandbox: This is a term for games like Minecraft and Animal Crossing, where the player has freedom and creative control, and there’s no set goal. There are consequences to their actions, but they can simply hang out, build, and interact with elements of the game in whatever way is most fun to them. 
  • Open World: A style of adventure game in which players can move in any direction and do things in any order. Unlike sandbox games, an open world game may still have stories and goals, but they’re not necessarily linear. The Legend of Zelda and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have open worlds.

Age Level

This is not just about whether a game is violent—which we’ll get to below—but about whether the game is easy enough, but not too easy, for a child to play. 

“The elements that make any game fun and engaging are easy-to-learn controls, based learning which helps to allow the player to acquire a sense of accomplishment, and playing with parents,” says Bean, who helps grown-ups get up to speed on topics like these in his book, “Checkpoints and Autosaves: Parenting Geeks to Thrive in the Age of Geekdom.” “Elements that should be avoided are tasks that are not developmentally appropriate for the child... I would not put a 3-year-old in a game where you have to have high reflexes to continue on, but an easy matching game that is more their speed.”

Sompon, a mother of two, found this out the hard way with her 6-year-old son Bryant, who has some motor issues. “We got him Paw Patrol on a Roll last year, and he found it frustrating, as it was hard for him to jump and move on in the game,” she tells us. “We downloaded him Little Mouse's Encyclopedia, where you explore, and Sir Tincan: Adventures in the Castle, which he also liked.” And yet when we asked Bryant what his favorite game is, he said it was Minecraft, in creative mode, because “you get to build stuff, and you can make stuff inspired by life, like, if I wanted to build a Thai Buddha, I can use gold blocks for that.”

So, you may have to do a bit of trial and error to find the games that engage your child the most, but don’t worry too much if a game is frustrating for them at first. Bean says that some frustration is good for kids “to develop abilities to manage themselves appropriately, and this is a key indicator for any child to continue to grow [by] failing in a safe space.”

ESRB Rating

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has given adults the best tool for judging whether a video game is appropriate for children.  Though it’s technically a voluntary system, all gaming console companies require games to have an ESRB rating to be licensed for their systems, so you won’t be able to buy a game without a rating. The board judges games based on whether they contain elements of concern, such as violence, blood/gore, substance use, sexual themes, and gambling. It also takes into account interactive elements, including whether players are encouraged or required to make in-app purchases, whether the game might share their location, and whether they might wind up interacting with other players remotely, resulting in exposure to uncensored content or communication. The ratings range from E for Everyone up to A for Adults Only (18 and up). All the games listed here are E, E 10+, or T for Teens.

Violence

We wish we could tell you precisely how much, if any, violence in video games is okay for your kid. But the truth is, there are still no hard and fast rules, and everything will be based on the individual.

“In a perfect world, I'd say that [violent games] should be banned, and the makers of the games should be held accountable,” Dr. Garbi says. “In reality, I can't even keep my own son from playing some violent games. Games have ratings, like movies do, so parents should check them. Studies have shown that violent video games can increase a person's aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior. However, it's debatable whether this correlates with real-world violence.”

Again, you’ll have to judge what’s best for your family and your values, and consider having ongoing conversations with your child about the kind of violence that’s occurring in games, whether they’re allowed to play them or they’re wondering why you’re banning something their friends are playing.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are video games good or bad for children?

    Video games are not inherently good or bad for children. Though gaming disorder is a real condition recognized by psychologists, there is no reason to expect that all gaming leads to addiction, especially since only about 1% to 3% or less of the global population has it. Parents and caregivers should only be concerned “when video games take over other regular kid things such as spending time with friends or other hobbies,” Dr. Garbi says. 

    Bean also says that the fear that all gamers’ mental health eventually suffers because they lack personal interactions has been overblown. “While many will continue to believe this in order to push a narrative that is built on stigma and lack of evidence-based understanding, there was a study released [recently] from Oxford that was able to prove that claim wrong,” he says.

  • What limits should I set for video gaming at home?

    We are not going to tell you that kids who are X years old should play for only X amount of hours because the information from experts is constantly changing and showing that an individual approach is far more beneficial.

    “Video games and screen time are naturally addictive, so limits should be set, game consoles should be kept in common areas, and parents should make sure they know what games their kids are playing,” Dr. Garbi says. 

    Bean echoes the American Academy of Pediatrics' advice to create a Family Media Plan in which all members of the household agree to certain rules and limits for their media usage. 

    “The best answer we can provide when working with families about screen time is to establish what works best for your family dynamics,” he says. “Having a conversation about limits and encouraging the child to be a part of the conversation is exceptionally important. Children and adolescents require guidance and nurturing, of course, but encouraging the child to be a part of the conversation allows them to have a lasting impact and begins their participation in the concept of setting their own limits.”

    When creating a media plan, Bean suggests that parents explain the reasons behind rules, establish negative and positive consequences for them, lead by example, and remain flexible and open to bending or changing the rules when necessary.

Why Trust Verywell Family

Sabrina Rojas Weiss is the senior commerce editor for Verywell Family and Parents.com. She’s been a parenting and lifestyle editor and writer for nine years, following an earlier career as an entertainment journalist. She finally got her son a Nintendo Switch for his ninth birthday, leading to a whole lot of heated, hilarious family games of Mario Kart and Just Dance.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Kim HS, Son G, Roh EB, et al. Prevalence of gaming disorder: A meta-analysis. Addict Behav. 2022;126:107183. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2021.107183

  3. Vuorre M, Johannes N, Magnusson K, Przybylski AK. Time spent playing video games is unlikely to impact well-being. R Soc Open Sci. 2022;9(7):220411. Published 2022 Jul 27. doi:10.1098/rsos.220411