Many parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and other loved ones come across a similar dilemma when shopping for children in this day and age, because most children in this day and age want video games. Unless the child explicitly requests a specific title, this can be a daunting task. “Which game should I get? Is it age appropriate? Will it be fun and enjoyed? Was the game actually well-made?” This is not common knowledge that many gift givers are equipped with, and trying to guess usually results in disappointment. But here are some tips that should help with the process and hopefully make the decision much less stressful.
Firstly, know what system you’re purchasing for. Nothing is worse than buying Super Mario Galaxy 2 and finding out that your grandchild only has an Xbox 360. The game cannot even be played. For many, this may seem to be an obvious mistake, but if you’re shopping for Guitar Hero 3, you better realize that the game is available on all three console systems. So here’s a quick review through the consoles: Sony’s Playstation 3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and Nintendo’s Wii. For handheld devices there’s Sony’s PSP and the Nintendo DS. Also, some games are only for PC and Mac computers, so keep that in mind. Figure that out which one you’re shopping for before you head to the store, it will save you a lot of time and potentially some money.
Assuming that the child in question hasn’t blatantly asked for a certain game, and the choice is up to you, always note the game’s ESRB rating, which is usually located on the front side of each game’s box in the bottom-left corner. This rating will help give you a general understanding of what each game entails, and will aid you in buying an age appropriate game. So even if you don’t know what Call of Duty is, if your six year-old is asking for it, the ESRB rating will be a very helpful red flag.
Now this next part will not be as intuitive to some people as others, but it’s something that should be addressed. As a general rule of thumb, if the game is $30 or less (for a console), then something is wrong. This is not a perfect rule and it can be prone to exceptions (perhaps it’s an older, high-quality game that has been out on the market for so long that the cost finally went down, or there’s a price reduction on a game because of a sale at the store), but here are some reasons why a majority of the time, this rule is relevant. One factor is that the game is used, hence the low price. There is always some risk involved with buying any used game, no matter what the store’s guarantee may be. If you’re buying a used game, try to check the disk for marks or scratches before the sale is final. The next possibility is that the game itself is terrible, made with little thought and little time, existing for people who don’t know any better and find out too late that the game is neither fun nor playable. This can usually be said about video games based on movies, TV shows, board games, and even books. Your child might love SpongeBob SquarePants on the TV, but he makes for a bad video game. Again, there are exceptions to this, but generally it works in most situations. One other aspect to look out for is a game that initially received a lot of hype but has since flopped, resulting in a large price drop to recoup losses. In this case you’ll need to ask yourself if the game flopped because the game’s not fun, or because of something else?
Once you’ve managed to get past the $10 bin of games, you just need to weed through the quality games and determine what type of genre of game you want. For the sake of argument, let’s assume you’re buying a game for the Nintendo Wii. Buying for the Wii is simple for kids, because its library is full of age appropriate games that are made by Nintendo themselves, and these are typically high quality games that are fun for all ages. Any game with the words Mario, Kong, Zelda or Super that’s made by Nintendo should do the trick. Also, familiarize yourself with top third party game makers, such as Activision, EA, Bungie, Valve, Konami, and Capcom; these developers tend to make quality games and should make finding a dependable fun game easier for you.
The last tip you’ll need, should all else fail, is luck. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a chance and discover the game you found is a real gem. So good luck, and happy hunting.