Since you were asking, dear friend, here are some family-friendly gaming tips from πŸ‘¨πŸΌβ€πŸ«Papa, πŸ‘©β€πŸŽ“Mama, πŸ‘§Daughter, πŸ‘±Son. The games towards the top are fit for the youngest players, towards the bottom of this post are more for teenagers. All of these games can be played on a Windows or Mac computer, some have console versions as marked. If there is interest, we may put together a separate list for phone, tablet, indie-exclusive and retro-games as well in time.

Why do we game?

For the long winter evenings, for quarantine, for an hour of indulgence. A good game can be as deep and teaching as a good book or classic cinema. It involves other faculties, transmits other cultures. Learning the rules and controls, orienting your avatar in a virtual space, these basic skills are today worthy of acquiring at every age in order to experience the art of video games.

"A video game makes you culpable. It makes you a part of something." -- Alec Kubas-Meyer
Screenshot from Father and Son from TuoMuseo - fatherandsongame.com

How much do we play?

We often play "analogue" board and card games, from Catan to UNO, even ones we have made/printed/drew ourselves. This post is about video games - but just don't get the impression that that is all we play. Limiting screen time is a priority for all parents, ourselves included, and we count computer use, TV and gaming together, keeping it to about 6 hours per week - a half hour to an hour every other weekday and on the weekend. Ideally followed by a round of basketball in the yard or Vitaparcours in the forest.

Of course this is very individual, and as our kids grow we expect this to increase. One or two hours daily seems to be the sweet spot, which becomes harder to balance with the increase of screen use at school or remote learning. It is worth investing into a large, high quality screen or projector. It is easy to ensure proper ergonomics, just like you would at the office, with a PC or console connected to a desktop monitor. Most importantly: take breaks, drink water, stretch, blink! Games - like sports - can be played more or less healthily.

As with healthy eating, try to mix things up, as this Australian study recommends:

A key concern about screen-based activities is that they may displace time spent in activities that are more developmentally beneficial to children. .. We explore how screen time varies according to children's participation in extracurricular activities, such as team and individual sports, art and music lessons and involvement with community groups. Activities such as these are generally linked with positive outcomes for children (see discussion in Simoncini & Caltabiano, 2012).
5. Australian children’s screen time and participation in extracurricular activities | Growing Up in Australia
This chapter uses LSAC data to explore high levels of screen-based activities during childhood and effects on aspects of children’s wellbeing.
Children's total screen time on weekdays and weekend days, 4-5 to 12-13 years, LSAC K cohort, TUD data Waves 1 to 5 - The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children 2015

Recent studies on media consumption in Switzerland are linked here:

Mediennutzung | ZHAW Angewandte Psychologie
Forschungsprojekte in diesem Bereich untersuchen hauptsΓ€chlich das Mediennutzungsverhalten von Kindern und Jugendlichen. Aber auch von anderen Alterskohorten.

How to play a game well?

When we get to play a video game, we want it to be worth our time. Obviously. Games that make us laugh, explore, wonder and learn. Not ones that keep us glued to the console for hours of repetitive grinding and dopamine kick. One of the best ways to ensure our kids are thriving on games and not just 'escaping reality', mindlessly grinding loot boxes, or even becoming addicted - is to play together.

Talk about the games, the stories and strategies before and after you play. Make drawings of your favourite game characters, or even make a costume - like this one we made for Halloween, inspired by the game Polytopia. This means you should try to get to know each other's virtual worlds - yes, even if it is not your favourite genre.

Try to avoid stressful confrontation with a shared understanding of what healthy and unhealthy gaming means: define positive behaviours, discuss what negative situations you want to avoid, from the start. Having a clear time limit and "5 minutes shut-down warning" policy can help. Good tips can be found at Psychology Today, and please share your own.

Enough talk, Spiel mich!

Without further ado, here are 13 highlights that we have played together in the year, most of them can be played cooperatively by at least two people at the same time:

1. Pikuniku

PIKUNIKU is easy to get into, hours of replay fun, great fun for playing together at all ages, especially with younger ones. Lots of delightful minigames and adventures. Accessible yet meaningful story. Wonderful atmosphers and sounds. Even the bugs are adorable. "You can’t do much, alone." Not to be confused with the similarly entertaining PICO PARK, and best played using 2 gamepads.

Play time to date: 10.3 hours
Biggest fans here: πŸ‘§πŸ‘±
βœ… PC, Mac, Linux, consoles

2. Blueberry Garden

Blueberry Garden - is short, sweet and very delicious. An experimental game that can delight the youngest players and still fascinate older ones in the simple but universal mysteries of growth and gardening. This is a real gem, if you can still get a hold of a copy. Especially nice to use with a touch-screen.

Play time to date: 5.4 hours
Biggest fans here: πŸ‘¨πŸΌβ€πŸ«πŸ‘±
βœ… PC, Mac, Linux

3. Windosill

In Windosill (also as iPad edition) you guide a toy truck through a strange land. ... ... Just ... play it, okay? Please. You will see. For ages 1-111.

Play time to date: 8.9 hours
Biggest fan here: πŸ‘©β€πŸŽ“
βœ… PC, Mac, Linux, iOS

4. Pupper Park

Pupper Park (shown), as well as Pipo Park, Kart Kids, Yardlings, Uniseas.. are among the 80+ downloadable experiences that the French Sokpop Collective has air-dropped on us over the last couple of years. These unique and wildly creative games may lead you to amusement and distraction, and - unlike a baguette - they are guaranteed to not leave a dry taste in the mouth.

Play time to date: 7.1 hours
Biggest fan here: πŸ‘±
βœ… PC, Mac

5. Feather

Feather (see this website for console editions) is a beautiful, meditative, forgiving simulator of bird flight. Is it art? Is it play? You soar through skies, discover worlds and new bird species. There is no "goal" except to just be, and to delight in the freedom of the open skies. Recently the cross play feature was added to connect for a game with friends, so give us a shout (or a chirp, or a warble) if you'd like to spend some quality air time together!

Play time to date: 11.9 hours
Biggest fan here: πŸ‘§
βœ… PC, Mac, Consoles

6. Firewatch

Firewatch is our favourite in the "Walking Simulator" category. Set in a beautiful forest landscape, it tells a captivating story of escape and ecological crime. This is a game you can play with alone or - as we would recommend - together with your partner, taking turns at the controls. We can hardly wait to play the sequel.

Play time to date: 5.1 hours
Biggest fans here: πŸ‘©β€πŸŽ“πŸ‘¨πŸΌβ€πŸ«
βœ… PC, Mac, Linux, Consoles

7. Terraformers

Terraformers is a game under development that we have been helping to beta-test and hoping to play the final release of soon. Combining exploration, building, card-game tactics and Civ-like politics, it makes Mars seem like a lavish world within the palm of our hand - while playfully educating about the problems facing Humankind when we bring our Earthly habits out into space. Speaking of which, another in-development space game we are looking forward to is the next installment of the Out There series, which are just as lovely to play as parent and child.

Play time to date: 5 hours
Biggest fan here: πŸ‘¨πŸΌβ€πŸ«
βœ… PC, Mac, Linux

8. Overcooked

Overcooked - does not really need an introduction: the classic game of frantic cooperation, teamwork, and the proper kitchen manners on a pirate ship. Parents will love hearing their kids shout "Get those dishes cleaned now!" for a change. This game can get under your skin, so best limit it to 5 or 10 cooking sessions. Especially if you're also one of those families where food is a big topic.. Yikes!

Play time to date: 7.5 hours
Biggest fan here: πŸ‘§
βœ… PC, Mac, Linux, C

9. Polytopia

The Battle of Polytopia is a colorful, foldable, turn-based strategy game from Sweden that is buckets of fun in co-op against bots, in contest, or as a peaceful sandbox. Up to sixteen (16) people and bots can play together on one device, or online. War and conflict is the underlying theme, with some (very mild) sword-swinging and bow-firing animations, so it may not be advisable for small children. An excellent feature is the ability to define how long you want to play, and that you can stop anytime and resume the game just as you left it.

Play time to date: 28.7 hours
Biggest fan here: πŸ‘±
βœ… PC, Mac, Linux, Consoles, Mobile

10. Moon Hunters

Moon Hunters is a Role Playing Game from a Montreal studio that puts you in a diverse procedural world (sometimes referred to as roguelikes, which changes every time you play), which you can explore, meeting interesting personalities and hearing their stories. The game is a "mythology generator", which you'll want to play together, over and over again. Two gamepads recommended.

Play time to date: 3.4 hours
Biggest fan here: πŸ‘¨πŸΌβ€πŸ«
βœ… PC, Mac, Linux, Consoles

11. Deathspank

Deathspank is.. well, it's almost a little embarassing to put it on this list.. but it's just the game we like to relax and forget ourselves in. Humorous and not too cerebral, with riveting action and a ridiculous but somehow captivating story. It might not be your cup of tea, but then again..you might just love it. Two gamepads recommended.

Play time to date: 13.6 hours
Biggest fans here: πŸ‘©β€πŸŽ“πŸ‘¨πŸΌβ€πŸ«
βœ… PC, Mac, Consoles

12. Shelter

Shelter puts you in control of a badger and her 5 cubs without much of an introduction, letting you fend for yourself and their survival as you navigate a painfully beautiful and dangerous landscape. We don't know another game which portrays the natural world in such an artistic and vivid ways. It is probably not for the youngest children, and even adults may find parts of this game offensively frustrating and unjust. But, c'est la vie. There are wonderful sequels, and you should explore all of Might and Delight's projects, where you are bound to find a treasure or two.

Play time to date: 2.9 hours
Biggest fan here: πŸ‘¨πŸΌβ€πŸ«
βœ… PC, Mac, Linux*
(Shelter 2 is available on Linux through Steam and GoG)

13. Brothers

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is the work of visionary film director Josef Fares and his team at Starbreeze Studios who just wouldn't say "no" to any unusual-yet-surprisingly-fun game mechanic involving two separate characters. From the Nordic landscapes to the jaw-dropping finale, you will not want to miss this experience. Despite Josef's protests, and quite unergonomically/ romantically, two people on one controller can each control a brother, but the "full" experience is single player. This is not a game for children, as it contains a LOT of gore and heavy subject matter. But, it might be just the game to play with your teen.

Play time to date: 4 hours
Biggest fans here: πŸ‘©β€πŸŽ“πŸ‘¨πŸΌβ€πŸ«
βœ… PC, Mac, Consoles


Post scriptum

With everything going on in the world it is nice - actually, it can be a real lifesaver - to have such wonderfully engrossing and inspiring games to dive into. APlaying games often inspires us to think up new levels, modifications, or whole new games. This is why you'll find us at the PlayBern annual festival, supporting independent game making, modding, and coding for families and in classrooms. See my earlier posts for more on this.

Coding games from Biblioplay.ch at PlayBern
Scratch workshop with Koboldgames.ch at PlayBern

You can find more games like these in my Family collection on itch:

Family - Collection by seism
A collection by seism

There are so many others that we look forward to playing in 2022, and I am sure that you might have one or two recommendations, too. Drop us a line! Warm wishes for a very happy new year from us to you. Keep in touch, keep it real, keep it ludic. Good night, gaming world! πŸ’€

πŸ‘¨πŸΌβ€πŸ«πŸ‘©β€πŸŽ“πŸ‘§πŸ‘±