Some games I'm happy to share with my son -- others, not so much.
"Hey dad, what are you playing?" It's a question I get from my inquisitive 6-year-old almost every time I'm lucky enough to steal a few minutes from my busy life to get a little gaming time in.
Sometimes it's on a game console, sometimes it's on a PC gaming laptop, and sometimes it's on a phone, which is really the easiest place to sneak in a few minutes of fun.
But my son seemingly has some kind of video game radar. Fire up any game, and he's in the room in a flash, looking over my shoulder and rapid-firing questions about the on-screen action. Sometimes, it's a great opportunity to share a new game with him, maybe even one he can download and play by himself. At other times, I'm indulging in a game that's a bit too mature or violent for him, leading to a few awkward conversations ("Why did that monster's arm fall off?")
Here are a few of the games that we've had this very unique father/son talk about, even if it's just to say, "This isn't the right kind of game for you, let's turn it off and go do something else."
Star Wars Puzzle Droids (iOS/Android)
This cheesy mobile phone puzzle game is a guilty pleasure. Not too hard, cool Star Wars graphics, easy to pop open and play on the subway or sitting around waiting through a TV commercial break. Naturally, my son loved it -- he's a Star Wars fan, and loves similar match-three games like Bejeweled. I got him hooked up with the game on his hand-me-down iPad, and it's one of my favorite "grown-up" games for him, since it doesn't hit you over the head to pay for extra features.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (PC)
This cult-favorite old-school role-playing game will appeal to fans of Dungeons & Dragons, Neverwinter Nights and other classic RPG adventures no kid has ever heard of (ok, lots of adults have never heard of them, either). However, this is a Mature rated game, with plenty of gruesome monsters and big fights. So, not great for kids. But, junior kept sneaking up to eyeball a few minutes over my shoulder while I was playing, and asked a lot of probing, intelligent questions.
Since this is a game you play from an almost top-down perspective, controlling a four-member party of adventurers, there's a lot going on on-screen at once. "Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?" "Can you tell all those people what to do?" "Why is there a chicken?" That last one was about a quest in the game involving a demonically possessed chicken. But, I was impressed with my son's curiosity about the order and structure of old-fashioned turn-based strategy games and his insistence on following a "good guy" moral code. I think we've got the makings of a future RPG fan here.
Assassin's Creed: Origins (Xbox One/PS4/PC)
From the name alone, this does not seem like the type of game a child should be watching a grown-up play. And you'd be right, even though the actual violent, assassinating parts of the game are few and far between in this M-rated game. It's really more about sneaking around, riding a camel through the desert and spelunking around cool-looking caves and tombs.
But the game also has a semi-secret mode that's perfect for when an inquisitive child wants to see what's happening in ancient Egypt (where the game is set). A new Discovery Mode, which you can find from the main menu, turns the game, and its incredibly detailed, historically accurate recreation of Egypt, into a series of narrated, guided walking tours, with zero violence and great explanations of Egyption history, culture and engineering along the way.
Or, as my son wanted to do, you can just climb up to the top of one of the great pyramids and slide all the way down over and over again like it's some kind of new X-Games event.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 (PS4/Xbox One/PC)
Another dose of Star Wars pop-culture action, this time built around big battles from across the various Star Wars eras. My son loved seeing familiar characters, and was really into playing "spotter" for me, and pointing out Stormtroopers in the distance.
Since it's Teen-rated, the action doesn't get too gruesome. It's mostly just people being zapped by laser blasters and falling down, much like the actual Star Wars movies. But, it's still definitely a bit much for a pre-teen, so whenever my son would see me playing it, I would finish the multiplayer match I was in, then quit the game. Oh, and I told him these were all just robots shooting each other.
Cuphead (Xbox One/PC)
What an amazing work of art this game is. Hand-drawn in a classic 1920s/1930s animation style, it tells the story of Cuphead (and sometimes his brother, Mugman), as they fight their way through a series of ever-more-challenging levels and bosses. My son was charmed by the amazing animation and music, which were miles beyond anything seen in what passes for cartoons these days (excuse the cranky old man subtext!). If you want a kid to appreciate the classic look of vintage hand-drawn Disney or Fleisher cartoons, this is the place to start.
But, the game is also incredibly hard. Punishing, really. It was supposedly designed that way to emulate the high level of challenge games had back in the '80s. I don't know, though -- I don't remember games being this hard. Then again, it's probably just my aging reaction time.
Even though junior doesn't get all the cool retro references and in-jokes, Cuphead is so incredibly charming and beautiful to look at that it's a great game to share, even if I can barely get past the first level.
Which games do your kids watch you play? Which games do you shut off as soon as they enter the room? Let us know in the comments section below!