Why Classic Video Games Are Great For Kids


I know from spending time in the racketboy.com forums that a lot of people in the retro gaming community, including myself, are 20 years old or older and either have kids or may plan on having some soon.


Once I have kids of my own, I want them to be well-adjusted and smart, but still able to have fun. I’d like to keep passive TV watching to a minimum and help both my kids’ bodies and minds stay active. I don’t plan on keeping my kids deprived of digital entertainment, so I hope to have a healthy dose of quality video games to work their minds and keep them occupied.

As a classic video game enthusiast, I will naturally be inclined to share my favorite old-school games with my kids as they grow up, but I have a number of reasons why I think other gaming parents should look into building their game library around the classics as well.

Classic Games Are Less Complex

kids-less.jpg It is a simple fact that two-dimensional games are less complex than their modern 3D brethren. Just by comparing the controllers for the NES, Sega Genesis, or even the Super Nintendo to the likes of the XBox 360 or Playstation 2 you can see that the dramatic increase in the number of buttons and controls used for modern games.

The in-game perspective can also make a huge impact on the game’s complexity. I think most people would agree that three-dimensional games are more complex than their two-dimensional cousins. In 2D games, you only have two ways to move — left and right (not including jumping and such).

With these simplified controls, these old-school classics are ideal for youngsters who are just getting started out with games. Having a simpler game also makes it more inviting other family members (mom/dad/grandma/grandpa/uncle joe) to play with the kids.

Classic Games Are Good, Clean Fun

Depending on the age of your kids and how sensitive you are about the content of games, you may be concerned about keeping the “bad stuff” out of their entertainment. This is increasingly difficult as more of the modern media outlets are filled with content that would be deemed inappropriate for younger children.

While there were some mature games made in the 80’s and 90’s, it was much easier to find some good, clean fun. (Even those games rated “Teen” or “Mature” in the 1990’s are pretty tame by today’s standards. Perhaps this was because most games in the earlier years of the industry were marketed towards kids.

Classic Game Genres Are Perfect for Kids

Some of the earliest game genres such as platformers, adventure, and puzzle games are both engaging and beneficial for kids.

Platformers (or “those run-and-jump games”) like Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog typically have colorful characters, a variety of colorful settings, and


some puzzle-solving elements hidden within. There is also a healthy selection of high-quality platformers based on Disney cartoons such as Mickey Mouse, Aladdin, The Lion King, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers, and many more if your kids are into those. These games typically have very simple controls and objectives, but offer some nice challenges in further stages (Dad may have to lend a helping hand sometimes).

Adventure games like The Legend of Zelda and the Monkey Island series are filled with charming stories, exploration, treasure-collecting and many puzzles to solve. A child’s imagination can go wild with these types of games and you might also want to encourage them to have similar adventures in your back yard when they need to run around a bit.

Puzzle games are logically the perfect choice for working your kids’ brains while offering a challenge in either single-player or two-player modes. Games like Tetris, Dr. Mario, and Puyo Pop Fever are all excellent choices to get you started and there are many other variations to keep you busy. What is also appealing about puzzle games is they are not dependant on graphics at all, so your kids are less likely to want more in terms of eye candy.

Classic Games Are In Abundant Supply

If you only have a Gamecube or an XBox 360, you might have a harder time finding a steady supply of kids’ games that will keep your youngster interested over the years. However, if you are willing to dig back into the massive libraries of popular classic platforms like the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, or Sony’s original Playstation, you will have hundreds of games that are easily accessible on eBay.

Classic Games Are Cheap

Face it: Kids are expensive. And kids go through toys and other entertainment products like crazy. So if you want to avoid taking out a second mortgage to pay for a big game collection, I recommend finding some excellent classic game bargains that can be found online.

kids-price.jpgOther than the rare games that are popular with collectors, most any popular game more than a few years old can be found dirt cheap – many for less than $10. Luckily for you, I’ve already done some digging around and compiled a list of the best games for older consoles that can be picked up off of eBay or Amazon.com for less than $10 (and some essentials that are slightly more).

If you don’t yet have some of these classic gaming machines, there are some very affordable consoles such as the Sega Genesis and Sega Dreamcast that can be found for about 5-10% of what you would pay for a cutting edge gaming machine. Not only does this mean that you won’t have to spend much to get started, but you also won’t have to feel bad if your kids break it.

Classic Game Cartridges Are Durable

Speaking of breaking things — if you’ve even hung around with young children and watched them play with their toys (or your toys, for that matter), you know that they don’t always take care of things.

I remember when DVDs were first becoming popular, many parents still wanted to get VHS tapes for the children as they weren’t sensitive to scratches and such, leaving them less vulnerable to their kids’ destructive habits. Since video game cartridges are even less sensitive that VHS tapes (there is no tape inside), you could make an even stronger argument for game cartridge durability. (CDs and DVDs are liquid-proof, however)

What Are Your Thoughts?

As I mentioned, I’m not yet a parent myself, but I would love to hear your thoughts if you play games with your kids. I’ve started some topics in the forum, but feel free to use the comments section below as well…

Special Thanks: Title photograph by smcgee on Flickr


All Hail The New Flesh says:

Funny thing is that I thought about the future of my life, like what if I have kids, I was thinking, like that I should start letting my kids play the NES first, and when there ready, move to Genesis/Mega Drive, then move to SNES, and so on, and so on.

racketboy says:

Yeah, it would be interesting to see if they appreciate the older stuff better that way instead starting them out on the PS3 🙂

I mean, I used to be blown away by the Genesis when I was a kid (Altered Beast and Super Thunderblade even!).

Sega says:

Its great to get your kids into Retro games, then they can work their way up for example NES>GENESIS>SNES>SATURN>PS>N64 ect… I will get cheaper and cheaper and your kids will always be impressed with the graphics on the next system they get.

If you just buy a Kid an Xbox 360 they will get bored since theres nothing after it, you can’t go backwards because the kid is used to the graphics that the kid will say ” Im not playing this cause it looks crappy “

nonesuch says:

I’ve done some thinking about this also, and I’d like my kid(s) to have some appreciation for games as an artform and how modern games evolved. Modern games are a mishmash of the concepts and genres of many classic games. When viewed in their earlier forms, its easier to make sense of what the more recent games are trying to accomplish.

My dad played Colossal Caves Adventure with me when I was a kid. My kids are going to play some Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, and Tetris. And I’m going to be right there with them.

Plus the thought of ANYONE missing out on Chrono Trigger or Ocarina of Time just breaks my heart.

SovietSniper says:

i totally disagree with the ‘more complex controller’ stuff…. if we exclude the wiimote, literally ALL the gamepads for the last 25 years had identicall controllers. The nes started it all, the 16 bit generation only added more buttons, thats all. The only real transformation happened during the 32-bit PS and the 64-bit N64 with the inclusion of 2 things we use -till today: analog sticks and vibration. Apart from that, it is exactly the same-ol gamepad. The best proof of that are the PlayStation controllers than for the last 12 years have exactly the same funtionallity, they even look identicall!!! (well, before the Dual Shock there was the digital only one, the PS2 controller introduced ‘touch level’ so it could determine the strength you push a button, and PS3 introduced the SIXAXIS, wireless and motion sensing, wireless is more comfortable, although no big deal, and motion sensing… well, i am still waiting for Warhawk…

halosoul says:

I’d have thought kids would appreciate older simpilar games, makes perfect sense to me. Although I was suprised that my 4 year old cousin really doesn’t like 2D games, it has to be 3D or he isn’t interested, which is a real shame.

But saying this, he can’t get the hang of playing any type of games at the moment, I think if he was playing sonic 2 on a mega drive with a d-pad, insted of on a gamecube he would be able to get the hang of it, it’s these darn anologue sticks! So maybe this is the reason, if I get him to play something 2-D (on a classic console) in the first place he may just be able to play it, then I’m sure he would appreciate how much easier 2D games are to play.

Maybe this is asking too much…he is only 4 after all^^’

Gentlegamer says:

Get your children started out in video games right: Atari Flashback 2

Gamerforlife says:

Good read, even though I don’t really plan on having kids myself. If I did, I would definitely have them play the classics and work up from there, so they can have a real appreciation for gaming history and not be like the annoying kids of today who only care about graphics.

And forget emulation, if a kid is going to play an S-NES game it will be on an S-NES controller and when they play Starfox 64, it will be with the rumble pack(can’t get that on the Wii’s Virtual Console)

Okay, I’m done:)

aaron says:

idea stealer!


gord says:

older games I have played with my niece: hundreds?
newer games I have played with my niece: none?

new games I would say are boring for playing with younger fellows though, they are all either shooting each other or just rubbish.

World of illusion on the mega-drive is fantastic for playing with the youth of today 🙂

Thad says:

I have a younger cousin who is now 13; I’ve watched him grow up from the days I’d just give him an unplugged controller and let him think he was playing along on to seeing him be a pretty adept player in his own right.

The first game he really clicked with was Sonic Adventure.

This leads me to a few downsides of retro games:

Stiffer controls. This is not, of course, true across the board, but generally speaking you have more control over your character with an analog stick than a digital pad.

Greater difficulty. This is also not true across the board, but in the 8-bit days replay value was based largely around making games REALLY HARD. I was born in ’82, and it was ’98 before I finally beat the original Dragon Warrior, ’99 before I finally beat the original Super Mario Bros, and ’05 before I finally beat the original Ninja Gaiden. (Aladdin is an example of a fun and gorgeous 16-bit game, but I could never get more than a few levels into it.)

That said, there are games that are as good now as they were when they were released. There’s a reason the Mario, Sonic, Mega Man, Zelda, and Final Fantasy games have been rehashed so many times — sure, it’s to make a quick buck, but the fact that you can still turn a profit on a game that may be older than some of the people playing it speaks volumes. (I gave my cousin a copy of Final Fantasy VI Advance for his 13th birthday, noting that it’s a little bit older than he is.)

I’m 18 and my half-brother is only 7 years old. When he got to the age where I believed he could start playing video games, I didn’t give him anything on the PS2 to play. I let him play the old school Mario and Sonic games which he instantly loved and still plays ’em today.

Recently I picked up a broken Dreamcast, fixed it, and gave it to my half-brother and he’s been loving Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2.

What I’m really happy about is that he’s become indifferent to good graphics/bad graphics and 2D/3D. He can watch me play some new razzle dazzle PS2 game and he’s just as pleased when he’s playing a 2D platformer that came out more than a decade ago. As long as the game is fun to him, he doesn’t care.

Ender says:

This is a great article and I have to 100% agree to it.
This needs to go deeply by publishing a small guideline for parents (or whatever) recommending which consoles they should buy for their kids (SNES,GENESIS,DC,ETC) and which games may be suitable for which age, as this seems to be a major concern on adults.
They want their kids to play nice games, they need them @ a cheap price and they need advise on which games would suit their kids.
If somebody is interested we can prepare a guideline together for parents.


Ultraboy94 says:

Unfortunatley, while I was already planning on this if i ever had kids before I read the article, I feel it wouldn’t work… By the time you would want to introduce your kid to video games they will be at school, where they will be with other children, who are far more likely to bring them into the modern games. Every time Ive been in a game shop and seen a 5-10 year old with their parents looking for games, they always are asking for Call of Duty, or worried if that game has achievements. Seriously, I remember conversations such as KID: “I want Call of Duty Modern Warefare 2” PARENT: “No, you can’t. It’s too expensive, you can either have Call of Duty 3 or Call of Duty 4”, and PARENT (at that hunting rifle for the Xbox 360): “I don’t think you should get this yet, you only get to shoot animals and you’d get bored as there isnt other people to shoot”. While I’d try my best to have my children at least appreciate the classics, I wouldn’t bar them from the modern gaming scene, as it would be near damn impossible without stopping them having friends.

Anon says:

Hilarious to see this article touting the benefit of cheapness, particularly with the highly sought-after Dreamcast. And by hilarious I mean depressing XD

racketboy says:

For sure. But there are still a lot of classics that are pretty affordable on the grand scheme of things. But even in that regard, things are like 2X to 3X more than when I wrote this when you consider hardware and all that. Fortunately, there’s a lot of solid emulation and compilation options to this day, so you can still enjoy the other benefits of retro with kids 🙂

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