How video games can help children manage their emotions

From finding calm to ordering a chaotic world, Tech expert Andy Robertson highlights how children can use video games to manage their emotions.

Video games are usually thought of as something that’s exciting, entertaining or maybe a little silly. We see big brash adverts on bus stops, before films at the cinema and online. Many of these games are aimed at older players and focus on back-slapping exuberance or knife-edge competition.

However, like any media, there are many sides to video games. One of the aspects of games particularly useful at this time is one that many parents and carers may not be aware of: video games can offer spaces, narratives, tasks and characters that help children manage their emotions.

Video games and managing emotions

We are used to the benefits of escaping the chaotic world for an hour or two watching Netflix. We are familiar with how books transport us to other worlds. We know that reading poetry or gazing at paintings can be deeply calming. Many video games can do these things as well.

Whether it’s as simple as a child spending time building in Minecraft, flying through the beautiful landscape of Alto’s Adventure, gently trimming a plant in Prune or the complex web of social and interactive support playing Roblox games might offer, video games share more with these other forms of media that we might realise.

Parents and carers can support children in this, by asking them about what they are playing. Moving from playing a restrictive role to one that helps them understand the games they play can create really valuable conversations.

How to start conversations on gaming

Try asking your child, what they are working on in the game they are playing? Or how about getting them to tell you how they feel after playing their game for a while? Ask if there are achievements they are proud of? Enquire about which games help them feel in control of things. Maybe even see if there are games they would like to share or play with you?

Games available to manage wellbeing

As part of some work to support families at home during the isolation, I have put together a few lists of games that are particularly good at the emotional work:

As part of some work to support families at home during the isolation, I have put together a few lists of games that are particularly good at the emotional work:

Browsing these lists will uncover many games you might not have heard of. Here is further work you can do to help your child. Introduce a wider range of games where they can discover new benefits during this time, particularly if they are experience you can share together.

Mini Metro (PEGI 3)

Available on: Android, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and iOS

Transports you to a simpler world where you gently plan a tube system to transport people to and from each station. It’s lovely and simple to play, but also grants the player a real sense of peace and control. The primary coloured visuals and gentle music are the perfect way to calm yourself during a day at home.

Prune (PEGI 3)

Available on: Android and iOS

In this game, you help different plants grow towards the light. But you do this by pruning off branches that are growing the wrong way. There’s a zen garden feel as you get into the groove of nurturing these plants to flourish into full life. Again it’s a game with simple visuals and beautiful music. On top of this, at the end of each level, you have a lovely blossoming tree that you have grown.

Abzu (PEGI 7)

Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

This is an underwater game about scuba-diving. You go deep into another world where the seaweed, sea bed and fish invite you to investigate and swim. As you progress through the waters, you encounter larger creatures and discover a story about your identity. It’s a game where you can escape to another place for a while, but like poetry or art, when you return to reality there is a sense of calm that stays with you.

Mutazione (PEGI 7)

Available on: Mac, PlayStation 4 and iOS

You play as a 15-year-old girl visiting her grandfather on a faraway island inhabited by friendly but mutated villagers. By finding seeds, tending to gardens and talking to people, you uncover a tightly knit web of characters with unrequited love, hidden trauma and difficult memories. It’s not all positive emotionally speaking, but it offers a chance to find sympathy for other people as well as tend a garden that they can enjoy as you do it. Each plant carries the song of a specific instrument so your gardens create their own compositions.

Sayonara Wild Hearts (PEGI 12)

Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and iOS Apple Arcade

This is a simple game where you tap to move in time to the pop-music. But more than a hectic challenge, what unfolds is a narrative about finding your way in the world and making it home. There’s a variety of each level to keep things fresh so it feels more like an interactive music album than a straight-up game. It invites the player into a meditative state as they tap in time to the music.

Play before you share games

Because of the themes and emotional territory of some of these game suggestions, it’s a good idea to play at least some of them yourself before your child. Also, ensure that your child knows that they can talk to you about any aspect of the game they find unsettling.

These are just some examples of games that can help children manage their emotions. You are best placed to browse the list and find the right one for your context and for your child. Playing these games yourself, and sharing them with your child is a powerful way to help them process the complex and difficult emotions they may have.

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