The following video games, organized by age/grade band are recommended and have social and emotional skill building themes highlighted in the reviews below.
Elementary Age (Older may enjoy too!)
This popular block-based game drops players into a giant sandbox to explore. Players can build, mine, farm, trade, and explore in an infinitely generated world. Different game modes allow players to build without worry or limitation in ‘creative’ mode, or gather resources and defend against hostile enemies in ‘survival’ mode. Minecraft is a game built around exercising creativity and problem-solving skills. Additionally, multiplayer modes allow friends to work together, stretching those relationship skill muscles.
Social and emotional themes: self management, problem-solving, collaboration (in multiplayer mode)
Another popular game, Among Us has several players take the rolls of ‘crewmates’ enacting repairs on their spaceship. The twist is that one or more of the players is an ‘imposter.’ Similar to a game of ‘werewolf,’ the imposter’s goal is to take out the crewmates and sabotage the ship without being noticed and thrown out of the ship. Everyone can accuse anyone of being the imposter, though, leading to a fast-paced, hectic game that relies on players’ self-awareness and relationship skills to get through.
Social and emotional themes: self awareness, social awareness, relationship skills
Thomas was Alone
A deceptively simple game about guiding a group of shapes through levels. Each shape is different: some can jump higher, and some can fit through small spaces. Only by working together as a team can they reach their goal. A humorous narrator describes the thoughts of each named shape (parents should know the narrator sometimes uses light cursing as he does narrates). Together, the game paints a picture of teamwork that celebrates differences. Thomas was Alone demonstrates the importance of teamwork, problem-solving, and responsible decision-making.
Social and emotional themes: collaboration, problem-solving, responsible decision-making
An Iñupiat girl leaves her tribe to search for the source of an endless blizzard, teaming up with an arctic fox along the way. The two must work together to reach the origin of the storm, receiving aid from helpful spirits as they journey further from home. Never Alone was created through a partnership with Alaskan Native community leaders and artists. The result is a game steeped in Native Alaskan culture, with additional educational videos and content unlocked as the game progresses.
Social and emotional themes: self awareness, social and cultural awareness, relationship skills
Journey is as much a video game as an interactive art piece. Players travel through a land long-abandoned by its previous inhabitants, in order to reach a faraway mountain. Players are able to slowly piece together the story of what happened before the start of the game through environmental storytelling. Although simple at first glance, Journey is a game about the struggles of life, the journey to the destination, and how simple acts of compassion prove that- although we are each on our own journey- we aren’t alone.
Social and emotional themes: relationship skills, social awareness
A short, powerful game that puts the player in the shoes of one of millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet. Try your best to squeak by, deciding between paying your car or phone bill, or between fixing the broken window at your apartment or paying for your child’s extracurricular fees at school. Spent builds social and cultural awareness by putting players in a situation which, by its very nature, is nearly impossible to win.
Social and emotional themes: self management, social and cultural awareness, responsible decision-making
Set in a fictionalized 1980s Eastern European country, the player takes the role of a border agent inspecting paperwork. Players are forced to weigh ethical choices on a day-by-day basis as they perform their job. Should you approve someone without the right paperwork if they offer a bribe, when you can’t afford the medicine to treat your family? Should you deny the man who a girl said was a trafficker when you are paid by each person you let through? The game contains mature topics such as cursing, murder, adult work, as well as nudity when x-ray scanning (which itself can be turned off in the settings), although they are often blunted by the pixelated art style. Despite the more adult tone, the game expertly tests the player’s self-awareness, decision-making skills, and social awareness with tough choices that will leave you thinking.
Social and emotional themes: self awareness, decision-making skills, and social awareness
We highly recommend Common Sense Media to review video games with your kids or teens for developmental appropriateness and kid and parent reviews before they begin playing.
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