Approved for all ages
It's time to obliterate the misconception that games aren't for everyone. The contradictory impressions of games as being "for kids" and "too violent" have isolated generations of players, preventing them from enjoying what could otherwise be a spectacular bonding experience.
Sure, some games let us indulge our baser instincts, but plenty of other titles are innocent enough for impressionable youths yet complex and fun enough for experienced players to enjoy.
These 12 games are just a handful of what's out there, but they're more than sufficient to help you introduce new players to your favorite pastime.
Plants vs. Zombies
Fighting the undead with exotic flora may seem like an odd choice for all-ages gaming, but Plants vs. Zombies is a blast regardless of whether you eat prunes or Lucky Charms for breakfast.
It's a fun tower-defense game that teaches the importance of critical thinking, resource management, and gardening when it comes to protecting ourselves from the inevitable zombie apocalypse.
The violence is minimal and comical (nothing that could be traumatizing to a toddler), but the lasting gameplay, challenges, and achievements will keep players coming back for months.
You can pick it up on Steam for $10, so it's well within the limits of the average allowance (or retirement fund).
If you need to get in touch with your creative side, try two hours of Minecraft and call me in the morning.
You may have heard that Minecraft is more of a playground or a sandbox than a traditional game, but it actually becomes whatever you make of it. You can adventure through caverns and mountains to fight monsters and collect resources, or construct lavish buildings and express your imagination. Players have created replicas of the Starship Enterprise, the Game of Thrones landscape, and even a simple computer that runs inside Minecraft using only the blocks you can find (or fashion) within the world.
It's basically a nerd's paradise, and it's also a worldwide phenomenon that knows no age limit. The violence is minimal, and opportunities for creative learning abound.
You can check out the Minecraft page for more information or to purchase the game for less than $30.
Sid Meier's Civilization series has always been a nigh-perfect marriage of strategy and history, affording you an opportunity to guide the growth of human civilization. The latest installment throws in gorgeous graphics and complex gameplay mechanics that are perfect for history buffs and would-be leaders.
You manage your own society and economy, controlling terrain to gather key resources and create defenses. Choose your own victory condition, whether it be global domination in science, culture, or all-out war. Thankfully, the violence is nothing worse than the battle scenes you might see in a history book.
The learning curve is a little more difficult in Civ than in something like Plants vs. Zombies, but stick with it—Civilization 5 is a a game that you and your loved ones can play for years to come.
On Steam, you can grab the Game of the Year edition, which includes the expansion pack and extra downloadable content for a cool $50.
This beloved Valve franchise has captured the hearts and imaginations of players across all age groups.
Love puzzles? Put aside that old cardboard jigsaw and open up the space-time continuum for some mind-bending, physics-defying fun. There's minimal violence, unless you count a bumbling sidekick and a malicious AI who mostly just attacks your self-esteem.
Portal 2 comes with a cooperative play mode, so you and your loved one can work out the puzzles together. It'll either serve as a great bonding experience or end in a transgenerational fistfight (which could make next Christmas awkward).
Find it on Steam for $20.
Another beloved PC franchise, SimCity has spanned four games over 20 years. It's been a while since the release of SimCity 4, but the series is making a big comeback this March.
SimCity games have always appealed to players of all ages because they're all about building the city of your dreams and running it however you wish. Of course, in order to construct your perfect metropolis, you'll need to hone your planning skills and be ready to solve the daily problems of your citizens with good critical thinking.
Feel like creating a better Las Vegas? It will take careful road planning, a strong economic plan, enough power and water to satisfy the city's needs, and an infrastructure to deal with emergencies. Want to have mindless fun after a few hours of laying road and building firehouses? Drop a meteor on your city and watch it burn. (Just be sure to save first!)
It's a great way to learn about planning ahead, to pick up simple economics concepts, and to understand what it takes to make a city function. The new SimCity will be available on March 5 through Origin.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Ready for another classic? XCOM may be pushing the limit for younger players with its big, scary aliens and laser weapons, but the cartoonish style and sci-fi theme make it nothing worse than what you would find in a Saturday-morning cartoon. You may want to put it on mute, though, since it has some very minor swearing.
You and your loved ones control a small group of commandos on a mission to defend Earth from invading aliens, and every soldier counts. Lose a character, and you lose the experience that they bring to the table, something that is not easily replaced.
The turn-based combat is challenging, but it affords you as much time as you need to dust off parts of your brain that haven't had to think about tactics and strategy for a long time.
Scribblenauts Unlimited is all about throwing conventional logic out the window in favor of letting your imagination run rampant. When a magic notepad lets you create absolutely anything, how will you decide to stop a bank robber? Conjure up a simple cop, or go with a law-enforcing T-Rex that wears a purple cape? Anything you write (within reason) will appear in the world to help you solve each level.
It's a simple game with fun, cartoonish graphics to appeal to the younger crowd, but the near-infinite possibilities should spark plenty of interest in older fans.
The game works by incorporating a huge database of words; you can create anything from a grapefruit to Dracula to a palm tree. If that's not enough, the item editor lets you create and program something entirely new—I made a flying Grim Reaper in a pink tutu that throws roses. The comedy practically writes itself.
Braid's story is as cryptic as its time-bending gameplay, but don't let that dissuade you from playing one of the best side-scrolling puzzle games around.
It's about as violent as a Mario game (think bopping hedgehogs on the noggin) but as complex as the inner workings of a pocket watch. You can run and jump your way through beautiful worlds that look like watercolor paintings, but you can also rewind time to line up the perfect jump or avoid a fiery pit. There is no dying in this game: Instead, time will always rewind to prevent your death.
It's the perfect indie game to alter your perception of time and expand your imagination. And it's just plain fun (if a little bewildering).
You can pick up a copy on Steam for $10.
If you have ever wanted to play through a family-friendly fantasy adventure with two of your closest friends, Trine 2 is the game for you.
To get through this beautiful physics-based platformer, you take part in a three-person ensemble of characters (a wizard, a knight, and a thief) that have symbiotic abilities. Be warned—teamwork and multitasking are key!
The premise is simple: Get to the end of each side-scrolling level. It takes serious brainpower, timing, and a basic knowledge of physics to reach the end.
The violence is minimal and appropriate for a cartoonish fantasy world. No blood, no guts, just cartoon monsters and comedic writing.
You can grab Trine 2 on Steam for $15, or for $20 if you want extra downloadable content.
If you're looking for something a little more relaxing, perfect for those last few moments before bed, Osmos will put you in a serene place.
You play as a molecule or "mote" drifting in a primordial puddle, consuming smaller molecules to grow larger. Beware those that are larger than you, though, or you will become the prey.
The gorgeous art style and calm music intertwine with the floaty, simple gameplay to create a peaceful atmosphere.
Unless you consider the average biology book edgy and violent, there's no reason to avoid sharing Osmos with your family and friends. It's pretty, fun, and cheap.
Check out Osmos on Steam for $10.
Aspiring chemists and visual computer programmers will rejoice at the prospect of playing SpaceChem, a serious test of your smarts and critical-thinking skills masquerading as a PC game. You play as a reactor engineer tasked with programming remote manipulators to handle molecules on other planets, and some of the puzzles could take you days to work out.
Using a system of commands to move, combine, and separate chemicals, you form specific compounds and solve puzzles. It's a game of keeping the bigger picture in mind while perfecting the most minute timing details. SpaceChem is difficult, but the feeling is incredibly satisfying when you finish a puzzle.
The sheer variety and number of puzzles in this game is guaranteed to keep young minds fresh during summer break; in fact, some schools in the United Kingdom have incorporated it into their curriculum as a fun way to teach basic programming concepts. Outside of the classroom, you can find it on Steam for $10.
FTL: Faster Than Light
Live out your childhood fantasy of being a spaceship captain and divert all power from shields to fun with FTL, the first great PC game crowdfunded by Kickstarter.
FTL places you in command of a lone spaceship trying to traverse multiple sectors of space while evading a rebel fleet. You decide what the crew does, where the power goes, and how to upgrade the ship. Choose poorly, and your ship will be space scrap, which will happen often.
Though hostile encounters are hard to avoid, there's minimal violence (none of which is graphic); FTL challenges you with fast-paced gameplay and quick-thinking situations that create opportunities for weighty tactical decisions. It wouldn't be hard for two people a generation apart to sit together and take turns commanding the ship, sharing space war stories along the way.
The 13 most noteworthy games of 2012
Take a look at the most important games of 2012, and see if you agree with our picks for the biggest games of last year.
Whether you agree or not, be sure to catch up on all the ones you may have missed!