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Top Next Gen Video Games that are surprisingly educational

Updated on February 23, 2015

Meeting our children where they're at

Kids play lots of video games these days. It's hard to convince them to go outside or spend their time doing something else. The level at which developing children and teenagers interact with screens will continue to grow. The relationship that young ones have with the television has changed and instead of staring at the screen while messages and television promos fill their minds, they are being asked to interact with their program in the form of apps and video games. With so many miniature screens around the house, most parents have come to call it 'screen' time.

So what can we do? It seems their drive to spend their time playing video games can be distracted for a short while, but it's getting harder and harder to steer them to toys or objects that simply don't compare. So, in an effort to meet kids where they're at, we may take a more proactive approach to our children by incorporating education into their activities. Kind of like mixing squash in their mac and cheese, or adding broccoli to the breading on their chicken nuggets. There are simply ways to add health to what our kids enjoy.

So in descending order, here's a listing of the top 5 popular games that are educational.

1. Scribblenaughts Unlimited (Wii U)

Scribblenaughts is a game of riddles, but instead of solving the riddle with something that is close by, the player will have to spell words to create the object and give it to the person in trouble. For example, if a man needs to cross water, then the player can create a solution from their backpack that will help him. The excitement comes from the different solutions to the problem. While this example is quite simple, my first thought was to create a boat and set that close to the man. However, my son wanted a bridge. Now this is where it gets really interesting. The bridge did not quickly solve the man's problem, because he was much farther than the length of the bridge. By adding an adjective, we made it a "large" bridge. Once we dragged the large bridge to the man, he happily crossed and we received a star in return. This is a recurring example of the types of challenges the player will face and surprisingly, this game is fun for all ages. Even the adults in my family had taken to the action, trying to solve problems and explore the colorful world. There are other editions of Scribblenaughts, but this game stands out as the most educational of them all incorporating both spelling, vocabulary (adjectives) and problem solving. For this reason, my kids are allowed to play this game at any time and don't have to "earn" playing time.

2. Animal Crossing New Leaf (3DS)

Animal Crossing New Leaf is a very different game from its predecessors. It has the same social landscape as the series and is an inspiration to games in its genre. While incorporating simple outfit and house construction, this game places you as the mayor of the town and your top goal is to clean it up and acquire currency, by working small jobs. Albeit, very simple at first, is very in depth and requires a lot of actionable jobs and assignments. You will eventually have to pay your mortgage, attend community events and meet with residents scheduled in real time, in order to achieve the goal. While this game has the highest potential to be educational, it includes retail sales (called retale, in this case...), micro economics, banking, problem solving, politics and personal welfare, the town may very well end up underdeveloped if the player has no motivation to change it. Having experimented with 3 children, found that only 1 of them was learning something while the 2 youngest had dug holes and picked fruit. In order for this to be truly educational, it may require setting goals for your kids. In the end, it provides a wealth of educational avenues that should not be overlooked.

3. Minecraft (Playstation 4, XBOX One, PS Vita)

Minecraft has the highest probability of goofing off than any other game. It's entirely contradictory. While it offers up a lot of educational avenues like agriculture, mining, architecture, artistry, resource management and electrical engineering, the game gets its inspiration from medieval fantasy. Zombies and skeletons will stalk you at night. You'll have to find and build shelter before the first evening, otherwise might learn quickly why it was necessary. There are several modes, such as Survival - Peaceful and Creative that are entirely about the educational components. If you guide or set goals for your kids, they'll be surpassing you in no time. With one resource called red stone, did I mention this has one of the deepest and most accurate electrical engineering concepts built in any game? This game has a potential to be extremely educational, but tread carefully as there is a lot to do that isn't. Consider buying a helpful guide or a book with detailed creative projects, to keep kids focused on learning.

4. Assassin's Creed 3 (Wii U) - NOT A KID'S GAME

American History has been created before in learning applications and interactive PC games like the Oregon trail. Assassin's Creed 3 is the peak of American History gaming. This game (although called 3) was developed as the 5th installment in the Assassin's Creed series. While Ubisoft is a French company, they complete a very thorough independent study before producing each installment. Surprisingly, given their in depth research, they were able to create a very realistic version of America's first 13 colonies, displaying the relationship with the immigrants and the native Americans, along with the battles brought on by the British. Having experienced first hand the events of the Boston Tea Party, the player will swiftly be following the most relevant events of this time and eventually fight alongside George Washington. This is not a kid's game, but will take the player through a very realistic reenactment of American History, which in all truth was a very violent time. Ubisoft offers the player a way to turn off the mature content, but despite a single unnecessary F bomb at the beginning, the game plays as any teen rated adventure. Recommend showing your younger audiences the terrain and different towns, from a previously saved game in order to avoid any content that may be impressionable. A picture says a thousand words. While this game is very educational, this is the first and the last experience in the series where the history came first and the game came second, so don't expect a sequel to hit the same high points as this one.

5. Kirby and the rainbow curse (Wii U)

While a very recent addition to the Wii U, this game is easy to overlook as just another colorful game from Nintendo. It's not necessarily the game that promotes education, but what comes after. Having spent a good deal of time playing this game with the kids, we noticed their motivation to pull out the legos and playdoh, to begin re-imagining the same experience in real life. While there is certainly artistic and problem skills to be obtained from this game, it is truly terrific to see little ones motivated to turn off the television and rush to build that same world in real life. This is a game intended for younger audiences, but will be enjoyed by all age groups with a decent range of difficulty. It was a pleasant surprise to see that a video game could translate well into real life activities.

Other games to consider

6. Little Big Planet 3 (Playstation 4) - arts & crafts

7. Game & Wario (Wii U) - drawing, team building

8. Terraria (Xbox One & Playstation 4) - resource and time management

9. Steamworld Dig (Wii U, Playstation 4, 3DS, PS Vita) - managing personal finances

10. Majora's Mask, The Legend of Zelda (3DS) - banking, time management, puzzle solving


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