Should You Start Your Kids with Retro or Modern Games?

Does Timmy seem more like a Tetris kinda kid or a GTA Online kinda kid?

Should you introduce your kids to the world of gaming with retro or modern games?  Super Mario Bros. or New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe?  The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or Breath of the Wild?  Does Timmy seem more like a Tetris kinda kid or a GTA Online kinda kid?

Being a parent is, without a doubt, the most rewarding life choice I have made on this planet (I’m equally proud of the life choices I have made on other planets, but we’ll talk about those another time). It fills me with joy to know that my legacy will live on through my scruffy little gamepad destroyers.

But, being a parent comes with responsibility.  Our children need food, somewhere safe to live, not to mention lots of love, encouragement, attention, and someone to check for monsters under the bed.

Hold on, honey, I’ll just check…and if I find any…

Another responsibility is how we choose to introduce our children to the world.  To people, art, music, television and, yes, video games.  The introduction we choose will impact their initial impression and their opinions going forward.  Unfortunately, we can’t simply re-load an earlier save if we make a bad decision.

When I was growing up, my dad insisted that my introduction to music should be with the musicians that he grew up listening to – mainly Rod Stewart.  Now, Rod Stewart has had a long career for a reason, but when my friends were listening to more modern music, I quickly came to resent the sound of Rod’s husky voice.  This resentment carried over even into adulthood, until just a few years ago when I found myself humming along to a Rod Stewart song and thought “hey, my old man wasn’t totally wrong.”  Had I been allowed to find Rod by myself then I may have had “Don’t Ya Think I’m Sexy” on my MP3 player alongside Eminem, Dr. Dre and 2Pac.  Hey, it could have happened.

How Should You Introduce Your Children to Video Games?

I’m assuming that you’ve made the decision to introduce your kids to video games.  The next question is – where will you start?  Which game should be the first?  What journey should they go on – if any?

Should your kids grow up playing the same video games you played? Should they follow your journey through the ages to ultimately appreciate the modern day?  Or, should you just let them dive into recent games, complete with all of the modern comforts we have come to enjoy?

Atari or Sony?  8-bit or 4K?  There is no right or wrong answer, but it is an interesting conundrum to ponder.

I knew that I didn’t want my children to look at gaming the same way that I looked at my dad’s music collection.  I wanted (and still want) them to look forward to picking up the game controller the same way that I always have, without resenting every pixel on the screen.

Sonic The Hedgehog waiting impatiently.
Don’t worry Sonic, I won’t turn them against you. Even if you sort of suck now.

I know that I was really torn when choosing between retro games and modern games.  If I went down the retro route, should it really start at the beginning of my gaming journey?  My first console was the Atari 2600 Jr. – should my little ones have to experience Jungle Hunt and Combat before 3D games?

Or should they jump through each of my favourite games only? Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Master System, Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES, F-Zero on the Super Nintendo, Pokemon Blue on the original Gameboy, and so on.

And, should they experience the “classics” that I have never played but that are mentioned in every retro gaming conversation?  Zelda, Chronos Trigger, Super Metroid?  (Yes, there are some pretty significant gaps in my gaming history.  Don’t hate.)

But, what if I went down the modern game route?  Beautiful 3D graphics, refined control schemes, and realistic sound effects, things I’ve come to take for granted as I’ve grown and video games have evolved.  Where should it start?  Relatively recent games like Viva Pinata on the Xbox 360?  Little Big Planet on the PS3?  Any Lego game ever on the PC?  Or with the plethora of current-gen kid-friendly games on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4 and PC?

Decisions, decisions…

How I Introduced My Daughter to Video Games

I’ve written about my daughter getting into video games before and, in truth, it wasn’t as complicated as I thought it needed to be.  In my mind, it needed to be some kind of divine passing of the controller from father to child, but, well, that would have been stupid.  A little bit cool, but stupid.

My daughter got into video games initially by playing games on her Kindle.  We bought her a Kindle Fire for Kids with a subscription to the Fire Kids Unlimited service, basically giving her a ton of touch and tap games to play.  This got her used to the idea of video games; collecting coins, completing levels, winning.  Then she started to show an interest when my wife and I would play Overcooked, so we hooked up a third controller and let her run around aimlessly while we too ran around aimlessly trying to fulfil food orders.  From there, I gave my daughter an old PS3, then we got PS Now, and now she is my little player 2 several afternoons a week.

I always thought that I would introduce my children to my favourite games moving through the ages.  I liked the idea of them coming to appreciate how video games have evolved in my lifetime and where they are going.  I wanted them to understand why thumbsticks are such a great innovation, and to experience the sensation of blowing on a cartridge before slotting it into a blocky console (even if you’re not supposed to).  It turns out that all I really wanted was for my daughter to enjoy playing games with me so that we can bond over a hobby that I feel is a part of my identity.  My son is beginning to show an interest now, too, though we’re some way away from me giving my whole family a beating in a Goldeneye deathmatch.  One day, though.

I do still intend to play some of the games from my youth with my kids.  I don’t want them to look down on 8-bit games as being inferior – I want them to understand that fun is fun regardless of the screen resolution.  But at the end of the day, all that matters is that your kids have fun, whether that is with a retro game, a modern game, or something else that interests them.  As adult gamers, we’ve had our childhoods and while I know we all want to relive a piece of what we had through our little ones, sometimes it is just as much fun going on a new adventure together.

Written by John

I'm a 36-year-old gamer, clinging onto the gamepad despite real life responsibilities trying to pull me kicking and screaming away. You can follow me on Twitter: @johnlevelsup.

Current setup: Gaming PC with a 1080 Ti, Xbox Series X, Steam Deck, and retro consoles, on a Gigabyte M32Q monitor, sitting on a Flexispot E7 standing desk.