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Children talking to people they don't know in a video game rings alarm bells. In fact, even if they do know online friends, it can still feel a bit worrying about what might be said. Worrying headlines about these conversations going wrong or being co-opted by adults means we rush to limit them.While it's important to ensure our children are safe, the rush to lock down communication can limit the freedom they would have had to express themselves and make sense of the world with their peers. With digital spaces becoming increasingly important, the UN has recently stated that the Rights of the Child apply to the digital environment. Sara Grimes Digital Playground book has a chapter on this topic. "Often safety manifests as programmed design limitations and systematic restrictions on children's freedom of expression. While such mechanisms are described largely as in children's best interests, in any other context they would almost certainly be classified as censorship".Reading Sara's chapter led to this list of games that avoid the usual curtailment of children's speech with limitations, allowed phrases or the absence of verbal interactions. We wanted to highlight, as Sara puts it, "opportunities for children to construct types of secret spaces that once characterised childhood," rather than "adult-made embodiments of idealised visions of what children's play space should be".These are games that provide a "forum for engaging with the exceptional, the repulsive, the taboo, the dark, transgressive play" and a break from "the beautiful, the sanctioned, and the sacred". This is uncomfortable ground for parents and guardians, but as Sara puts it, it "provides valuable space for processing and rejecting social roles and expectations." "Within the secret spaces of childhood, children exercise their agency and authority, experiment with ideas and social norms."
Release Date: 11/04/2016, updated in 2018
Out Now: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox X|S
Skill Rating: 10+ year-olds
Components: 3D First-Person, Day and Night and Open World
Subnautica is an open-world adventure where you explore the ocean on an alien planet after crashlanding. You collect resources and fight creatures to survive. This enables you to establish an underwater base, gain new craft and equipment and explore...
Release Date: 26/02/2016, updated in 2018
Out Now: Amazon Fire, Android, Mac, PC, PS Vita, PS4, Switch, Xbox One and iOS
Skill Rating: 9+ year-olds
Components: 2D Overhead, Day and Night, Grid, Open World and Pixels
Stardew Valley looks like a farming simulator. That’s partly what it is, but you also develop relationships with the other townsfolk and delve deep into the mines. Its quirky labyrinthine attention to detail is inviting for young players to try their...
Release Date: 20/03/2018, updated in 2023
Out Now: PC, Xbox One and Xbox X|S
Skill Rating: 11+ year-olds
Components: 3D First-Person, Day and Night, Open World, Persistant World and Weather
Sea of Thieves is an online game where you play a pirate searching for treasure and adventure. Cast into a large open sea you work with other online players to crew your ship and find treasure. The game has a main story but really focuses on creating...
Release Date: 15/06/2016, updated in 2022
Out Now: Amazon Fire, Android, Mac, PC, Xbox One, Xbox X|S and iOS
Skill Rating: 7+ year-olds
Components: 3D Third-Person
Roblox is a series of games where amateur game-makers create simple online games that often mimic real-world grown-up scenarios, like working in a pizza restaurant, surviving natural disasters, escaping prison, scuba diving or playing hide-and-seek. The...
Release Date: 08/08/2017, updated in 2018
Components: 3D First-Person, Day and Night, Open World and Persistant World
Ark: Survival Evolved is an adventure simulation game that offers hunting-and-harvesting gameplay in a primal setting. Although not as polished or streamlined as a game like Horizon Zero Dawn, this is a more ambitiously open world where you can choose...
Release Date: 08/02/2018
Out Now: Mac, PC, PS4 and Xbox One
Skill Rating: 14+ year-olds
Rust (also, Rust: Console Edition) is an online survival game set in the wilderness. You explore, gather and craft materials to manage hunger, thirst, health and protection. The preparation is to ward off the threat of bears, wolves and (more commonly)...
Release Date: 10/08/2016, updated in 2022
Out Now: PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox X|S
Skill Rating: 12+ year-olds
No Man's Sky is a space simulation about exploring endless planets and galaxies. It invites you to take your spaceship to explore and colonise a universe rich with diverse planets, creatures and fauna. Facing so vast a space is daunting at first, but a...
Release Date: 02/02/2021
Out Now: PC
Components: 3D Third-Person, Day and Night, Open World, Persistant World and Weather
Valheim is a Viking inspired strategy game for up to 10 players. You build, survive, conquer, and explore the world. It's popular because it combines strategy of building your town stronghold with tough adventures and encounters with the enemies of the...
Release Date: 31/08/2021
Components: 3D Third-Person and Open World
New World is an online role-playing game where you colonise fictional land modelled after 1600s colonial America in the Atlantic Ocean. The world is persistent and accommodates 1000s of players to create a living breathing eco-system in MMO (Masively...
Release Date: 12/11/2019
Components: 2D Side-On and Text
Kind Words is unusual because of the main interaction. You write letters to real people and receive back encouraging letters in return. Set in a cosy room with soft furnishings and relaxing music, it creates a space in which to find support and...
Release Date: 19/06/2019
Out Now: Mac and PC
Components: 2D Side-On and Pixels
The Things We Lost In The Flood is a minimalist adventure. You sail through a flooded world, building and improving your pixelated boat as you go. Along the way you can write messages for others to discover, and toss them into the drink in a bottle.
Release Date: 16/07/2020
Out Now: PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One
Components: 2D Side-On and Cartoon
We Should Talk is a short narrative game about working the night shift in a bar dealing with romantic advances and your disgruntled partner. Like other narrative games you choose conversation responses that have consequences. Unlike other narrative...
Release Date: 28/09/2022
Components: 2D Overhead, Day and Night, Open World, Persistant World and Weather
Foxhole is a strategic battle, where you play with hundreds of others to manage not only the front lines of war but also the infrastructure behind your offensive. From your overhead view, you collaborate to devise strategies and build bases, railways,...
Release Date: Coming soon
Coming Soon: Mac and PC
Components: 3D Third-Person, Cartoon, Day and Night and Text
Kind Words 2 is an online communication game that expands upon the original Kind Words game where you wrote and received letters from an online community. Play is simply moving around social spaces and conversing with other players through letters to...