This year’s top trends in software and video games for kids include online gaming and "tech toys," such as guitars that plug into home computers, to enhance the software experience.
To help us evaluate these games, 10 "experts"—kids ages 8 to 14—participated in a Game Design Boot Camp. We helped them to define what they liked and disliked and to consider how character, setting, design and rules affected their game-playing experience.
The following winners emerged from the perspectives of kids who play as well as the researchers who evaluate new technology. We hope your family enjoys these top picks as much as we did.
n PEEP and the Big Wide World Web Site, WGBH Educational Foundation, 2003; free; ages 3 to 5; www.peepandthebigwideworld.com. Requires: Standard Web browser with Flash plug-in. This fun Web site is a spectacular resource for parents and an excellent early educational destination for kids. It smartly complements the animated PBS TV series about Peep, a chick whose adventures introduce youngsters to the "big, wide world" around them. Online resources help parents create "Anywhere Activities." Well-designed online games and video clips round out the experience.
Early elementary students
n Get Puzzled! for Leapster, Scholastic, 2007; $24.99; ages 5 to 8; www.leapfrog.com. Requires: LeapFrog’s Leapster. Think of this as Big Brain Academy for the kindergarten set. Our young testers loved the array of fun puzzles and brain teasers that echo classic electronic games like Frogger and Tetris, as well as pen-and-paper games like "word finds." This game provides a fantastical experience that helps kids develop logic, language and problem-solving skills as they level-up to the "Superpower" challenges. This is among the best programs created for Leapster.
n IKeepSafe.Org, Internet Keep Safe Coalition, 2004; free; ages 6 to 9; www.ikeepsafe.org. Requires: Standard Web browser with Flash plug-in. This site helps parents and children to safely navigate the Internet. A variety of games and downloadable worksheets promote early digital media literacy skill development, provide discussion starters and furnish great ideas for raising today’s digital natives. Tips from the Parent Resource Center explain how to enter social networking sites, limit personal information shared online, handle cyberbullying and more.
Ages 8 and up
n Brain Quest DVD Game, Ages 8-10, Brighter Minds Media, 2006; $24.95; www.brightermindsmedia.com. Requires: TV or computer with a DVD player. This interactive DVD lets kids show off what they know and have fun learning what they don’t. More than a "trivia" game, players analyze quickly as they answer new kinds of questions that rely on the interactive and visual features of a DVD game on TV. Questions span music, science, nature, history, reading and math. This game earns the Gold Award for all-out family fun.
n Frogger 25th and Professor Fizzwizzle, Konami Digital Entertainment, 2006; $5.99; ages 9 to 11; www.konamimobile.com. Requires: Multiple mobile phone services. What could be better than taking a classic game like Frogger and making it available on your cell phone? "Not much!" say our kid testers, who loved the retro feel of this 25th-anniversary edition designed for mobile gaming. They also had a blast racing through the puzzles of Professor Fizzwizzle. So if your offspring like playing games on their phones (or yours), both of these games are great choices.
Tweens and up
n Crazy Machines 1.5: More Gizmos, Gadgets & Whatchamacallits, Viva Media, 2007; $19.99; for ages 9 to 12; www.viva-media.com. Requires: Windows 98, 2000, XP or Vista. Awesome! This tween favorite is a digital Erector Set that enables kids to create machines from multiple parts and see what their creations "do." It’s better than most electronic puzzle games because players construct their own solutions. Kids have to think about building machines and complex systems that achieve a goal and then expand their reasoning to include multiple moving pieces and variables to meet increasingly difficult challenges as players level-up. Adults will love this game, too.
Alex Chisholm has worked extensively in games research and creative development as co-director of the Education Arcade at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is vice president and director of content experience at IPG Media’s Consumer Experience Practice.