When it comes to my kids playing videogames, I have two simple rules: no more than 45 minutes per day, and nothing with blood, guts, guns, and other violent images.
That leaves out a lot of the hot new releases, like Assassin's Creed III, Dishonored, and Halo 4. If you're a parent like me, that can create something of a quandary this holiday season: The kids have outgrown the educational stuff, but you'd rather not expose them to all that realistically rendered brutality.
Fortunately, alternatives exist. If you want to give the kids something new for the Xbox, PlayStation, PC, or other game system, you can choose from dozens of fun-filled titles that haven't a trace of violence, gore, or adult themes.
For starters, look no further than the LEGO series of games
, most of which are available for all three major consoles (and, in some cases, the Nintendo DS).
The latest entry, LEGO Batman 2
and LEGO Lord of the Rings
, exhibit all the hallmarks of the previous titles (which include LEGO Star Wars
and LEGO Harry Potter): satisfying puzzles, clever humor, fun nods to the movies on which they're based, and not a shred of objectionable content.
(I should note that the LEGO games do involve some fighting and/or shooting, but nothing of a realistic nature. Instead, it's more like the kind of pretend "pew-pew" stuff kids do on the playground.)
I'm also a big fan of Microsoft's Kinect accessory for the Xbox 360, which gets kids off the couch for physically active motion-controlled gaming.
For example, if you have sports fans in the house, look no further than Kinect Sports
and its sequel, Kinect Sports: Season 2
. Between them they offer everything from baseball and football to darts and skiing—all controlled by body movements.
Older kids are sure to like the new Just Dance 4
, which challenges players to match dance moves with onscreen avatars. It features more than 44 popular tunes, with an option to buy more ("Gangnam Style," anyone?) from a built-in store.
Finally, the latest Kinect jewel is Kinect Rush
, a family-friendly game based on four Pixar movies: "Ratatouille," "The Incredibles," "Toy Story," and "Up." In Ratatouille, for example, you must help Remi escape the sewers by solving various puzzles that involve switches, breaking things, and swimming.
Wii owners should definitely check out Oregon Trail
, an almost-educational game that's all about surviving a historic journey from Missouri to Oregon. (I should note that there's some mild cartoon violence along the way.)
Another smart Wii pick: DreamWorks Super Star Kartz
, a kart-racing game populated by the stars of "Shrek," "Madagascar," "Monsters Vs. Aliens," and other popular kid-flicks.
Finally, I consider Sonic Generations
an excellent choice for Xbox 360 and PS3 alike. The Sonic games are all about running, rolling, jumping, and collecting. They're about as violence-free as videogames get.
Now, let's talk turkey. New videogame releases always carry a premium price—often as high as $60. If you're looking for cheaper alternatives, skip the new releases and opt for last year's big hits (many of which I've mentioned here). Most of them will be heavily discounted by now.
For example, can't swing $50 for Just Dance 4? You can buy a pre-owned copy of Just Dance 3
for half the price. Likewise, where LEGO Lord of the Rings will also set you back $50, LEGO Indiana Jones
can easily be found for $20 or less. And Sonic Unleashed
may be a couple years old, but it's a fraction of the price of the newer Sonic Generations.
In the meantime, if you've discovered any non-violent videogame jewels, tell me about them in the comments!Veteran technology writer Rick Broida
is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his
money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC
World and Wired.