True Parent 2
Ours is the first generation to grow up on videogames. And while we may have graduated to parenting, some of us are still gamers who want to mold our kids' taste beyond Barbie Horse Adventures and Madden. For everyone else, it's a jungle out there. Want to feel okay about unsupervised game time? Here are a few quality games that inspire learning and creativity, as well as being girl-positive or gender-neutral—so you don't have to worry about your kid growing up to be a Gamergate douchebag or a vapid, doormat princess.
(Media Molecule; PlayStation 3 and 4; Rated E; ages 6+)
The third installment in this excellent puzzle platform series features that adorable Sackboy (though to be fair, lacking any genitalia means he's more like Sackperson) either running through beautiful, immersive levels, or even better, running around levels created by your kids. No programming skills necessary! Online gameplay allows players to share levels with distant friends or play in co-op mode, while unlocking new costumes like Wonder Woman or a dragon head keeps the incentive and silliness high. Plus with Hugh Laurie as the voice talent (Stephen Fry narrated previous iterations), hearing it in the background won't drive you up the wall.
National Geographic Animal Jam
(Smart Bomb Interactive; Desktop; No ESRB rating; ages 6+)
This cute educational game is pretty much Baby's First MMORPG. There are customizable animal characters, minigames, and unlockable achievements. Being "massively multiplayer," there might be a natural reticence to let your kids online, but take heart: the chat feature is heavily (heavily) moderated to keep the bullies and white creeper vans out, while fostering social skills so your kids can learn proper internet etiquette. Parental permission is required for play, and you'll be notified if your little scamp gets suspended for inappropriate behavior. Oh, and they learn about animals while they're at it.
(Bandai Namco; PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, iOS; Rated E; ages 3+)
This series of nearly a dozen games really is fun for the whole family. You play the "Prince of All Cosmos," whose father went on a bender and accidentally destroyed all the celestial bodies in the sky. Your mission: build new stars and planets out of ordinary household objects by rolling around a giant, sticky ball so your katamari ("clump" in Japanese) will be big enough to launch into space. Nail polish, soy sauce bottles, crabs, slippers, teddy bears—it's all yours for the rolling! When your katamari gets big enough, you can even roll up people, cars, and clouds. If it sounds utterly bizarre and ridiculous... that's because it is. (Which is entirely the point.) The readers in your family will get extra entertainment value from the humorous text bubbles, but littles will still rejoice in rolling a big ball of crap all over the place while catchy J-Pop plays in the background.
(Double Fine Productions; Android, iOS, Linux, OS X, Windows, Ouya; No ESRB rating; ages 9+)
From the developers that gave us the critically acclaimed Grim Fandango and Psychonauts, Broken Age chronicles the parallel adventures of two teenagers. Shay is desperate to escape his sheltered home life under the oppressive eye of his computer-mother, have an adventure, and do some good in the world. What's so remarkable about this game, however, is the story arc of Vella, a brave heroine on a quest to end her village's barbaric use of female sacrifice to a terrifying monster by defeating the monster herself. Vella, a courageous young woman of color is a far cry from the damsel in distress or the jiggly-breasted, spandex-clad warrior-princess that girls are typically given for female characters. While Broken Age might be better appreciated by middle school-aged kids than littles, the game also promotes problem-solving and reasoning skills—and everyone needs that.