Got kids or teens yearning to connect with friends? These video games are also great social experiences
Quarantining during the coronavirus pandemic has helped us discover our inner video game fan.
Sales of video games have surged this year, as both adults and kids stuck at home turn to gaming to stay entertained and connect with friends.
During the second quarter, between April and June, total consumer spending on video games in the U.S. hit a record $11.6 billion, research firm NPD Group reports, up 30% from last year.
“During the pandemic, many have turned to video games not only to keep them preoccupied, but also to stay in touch with family and friends,” NPD analyst Mat Piscatella said.
For many parents with tweens and older children, video games can serve as an outlet to maintain fledgling relationships with classmates unable to physically connect at school. And as districts opt to start the school year virtually, finding opportunities for kids to continue forging those bonds with classmates becomes increasingly important.
Let’s say you want to open the door to more social gaming experiences where your kids or teens want to get together with friends. Here’s how to get started.
First, set some boundaries
Maybe you want to limit how much time your child spends each day on their consoles, or you allow them to play only at certain times of the day (once school is done, for example). The three main home consoles all feature tools allowing parents to manage their kids' time.
PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo's Switch offer parental controls where parents can set time limits or allow play only during set periods. When the time expires, the device will either shut off, ask whether you want to add time, or force your child to log off.
Parents can also set up notifications warning kids when their time is about wrap up. Also, these settings can be controlled on the device, through a browser or via app.
Another question: Where do you want them playing? Are you comfortable allowing a device in their bedroom, or do you want a shared space where you can keep an eye on what – and how – they play?
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How does audio chat work?
The audio chat feature can be essential to get the most out of communal gaming, replacing those discussions kids would normally have on playgrounds or in the hallway.
Access to audio chat varies by platform and by game. If you have a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you’ll need to subscribe to PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live to access voice chat. Both leave voice chat open to everyone by default, but you can limit it to friends only. Both consoles allow users to tailor profiles to curb what tasks kids can perform.
Nintendo Switch is largely similar, with one important difference: You need to use a smartphone app for voice chat. When you run a game supporting the feature, you flip on voice chat on the phone and you’re all set. But the reviews for the app are mixed, which means you may need a third-party option.
PC or Mac chat settings are typically tweaked separately by game, so be sure to check privacy settings if you want to adjust. If a game doesn’t offer audio chat, you might also consider third-party audio chat apps to talk with friends.
Now for the games.
If you have somehow made it this far without knowing anything about Epic Games’ mega hit battle royale, here’s a quick recap: 100 players drop on an island (thank you, Battle Bus!) scooping up weapons, gear and resources to survive as the last player or team standing (better known as the Victory Royale). You unlock items by leveling up, as well as outfits and emotes – fun dances your character performs. Players can go it alone (solo), but it’s even more fun with friends playing as either duos or squads of up to four people. If you're not interested in the competitive side, Fortnite includes a Creative option where players can build the island of their dreams. Another cool perk on Fortnite: a push-to-talk feature where players communicate by pressing a button like a walkie-talkie to chat.
The gaming platform boasting 150 million monthly active users features countless user-created games where you can manage a theme park, adopt and care for pets, or speed run through a variety of courses. Like Fortnite, players can create their own games and even make money.
For parents, they can set up profiles for kids under 12 that offer more restrictive settings compared with profiles for older kids. Despite the restrictions, there are some games on the platform that slip past with more violence or inappropriate behavior than you might expect. . One step I've taken with my kids is playing Roblox with them, to get a firsthand look at whether a game is appropriate. Now I just need to get them to stop calling me a "noob."
Imagine a battle royale combined with the TV show "Wipeout" starring a horde of mini-Teletubbies. This is "Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout" for PCs and PlayStation 4. Players start out competing in a massive race trying to finish among the top 60 before partaking in a variety of challenges to end up the last one standing. It’s a super fun, kid-friendly way to socialize.
If you have kids who are into sports, it’s hard to pass up on the myriad simulations available on home consoles. All games have options where players can get their competitive juices flowing against friends online choosing their favorite football, basketball or soccer teams. Or you can play together on the same team.
This first-person shooter from Blizzard Entertainment ("World of WarCraft") features a dynamic cast of cartoonish heroes that players select in a variety of online-only competitive matchups, such as battling to capture key battlepoints or moving a critical payload to the desired destination. At its core is playing together as a team and communicating, which makes it an ideal experience for any teen seeking to blow off steam with friends by their side. One note: You might spot splashes of blood during combat.
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.