Gaming for Kids: Dragon Con Kaleidoscope Track Game Tips for Families

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Since 2011, the Kaleidoscope track at Dragon Con has added a special place for kids 9-13 and their parents at a convention that can sometimes otherwise have a more adult feel (especially at night!).

One of the best things about the track is that it offers those families a place to meet each other and talk about the great geekery that they find they don’t have in common with most of the other people on the playground or PTA meeting. This year I attended one of these, “Gaming for Kids,” which brought together Jodi Black of Beautiful Brains, dads Bryan Young and Jonathan McFarland, and 12-year-old Sam Rittwage.

The panel had a lot to say about video games, especially, of course, Minecraft. It served as a perfect example of a game to use to teach your kids about online interactions, as well as a way to give them a safe space for their first online gaming by using servers to which only they and their friends have access. Through this method, the panel encourages teaching them proper behavior in online gaming, including saying only things to one another that you would say if you were with them in person.

“If you’re the parent of a young boy, talk to them about the rules, and make sure they know,” McFarland said. “My son said something that would be common for adolescent boys, and I asked him if he knew what it meant.”

Kids easily pick up language from other players in games as well as from other kids at school, but they often don’t realize the nature or severity of the language, particularly the violent imagery often brought into online gaming chat. The panel recommended playing with your kids or first playing through the games they want to play, even if they’re not particularly appealing to you. It will give you the opportunity to both understand the content as well as to lead them in appropriate online interaction.

The range of games recommended for kids varied somewhat with age but ranged from the distinctly kid-friendly Skylanders and Disney Infinity to M-rated games like Assassin’s Creed. Young noted that he chooses games not by the rating but by the actual content. For example, slaughtering zombies is different from Grand Theft Auto, where the focus is entirely on real-life illegal activities.

In the second half of the panel’s time, they moved on to tabletop gaming, largely with a long list of recommendations for all ages and interests. Many were old favorites for us, but some where new. I suspect our family’s new favorite (which we picked up in the dealers’ room after this panel) will be Call of Catthulhu! If you’re looking for something new to try out, here are the rest of their suggestions:

For pre-readers

We all know how hard it can be to find a game that’s interesting for you but easy enough for your little ones who can’t read yet. For that problem, try:

Iota: The Great Big Game in The Teeny-Weeny Tin
Rory’s Story Cubes
Hey That’s My Fish
Tsuro: The Game of the Path

For older kids and the whole family

⚫ Get them started on RPGs. It doesn’t have to be Dungeons & Dragons. Find a game that interests them and is at the right level of complication. You could try Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space, Toon, Buggin’, or The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men. There’s even an older game, Fuzzy Heroes: The Game of Conflict For Stuffed Animals and Toys, that pits your kids’ stuffed animals in battle, but it can be hard to come by. Conveniently, the second edition is available at Drive-Thru RPG in PDF format. (This is also a great site to surf through for other RPG ideas!)

⚫ Cooperative games like Flash Point Fire Rescue, Pandemic, and Castle Panic. The latter also has a zombie version, Dead Panic Board Game, and a forthcoming mashup with Munchkin, Munchkin Panic.

Telestrations is a mashup of Telephone and Pictionary. (Of course, you can also play this with a notebook and your own list of words without buying the box.)

Finally, the panel had two great suggestions for your general family game play enjoyment:

⚫ Institute the 20-minute rule. You can play anything for 20 minutes. After that, check to see if everyone’s still having fun. No? Time to move on.

⚫ Make old games new again. Create your own rules. Young suggested the example of adding dice and action figures to Candyland, calling it “Siege of Candy Castle.” Make the kids figure out the mechanics and why the pieces are there, which also gives them insight into why rules exist in games and how they can change the outcome.