Updated: Jul 17, 2020
With many of us stuck indoors and looking for new ways to entertain our kids, I decided to do some research into video gaming for very young children. I wanted to find out whether it’s really okay for kids as young as five to play some of the most popular video games and what parents can take into consideration when they decide which games their five year old should or shouldn’t play.
Should five year olds play video games?
Five year olds that play video games can benefit in certain ways such as by developing their problem solving skills or improving hand-eye coordination, especially if games require some movement by the child to play. These kinds of games also help kids be less sedentary. Some games also build players collaborative and creative skills but parents should place a limit on the time their five year olds spend playing video games though so that it doesn’t take away time from their healthy daily habits like sleeping, eating and being active. Parents should also consider whether specific games are appropriate for their child because some games may contain content or capabilities that might distress or endanger their child such as graphic violence or live communication with the game’s entire player community.
Should a five year old play Call of Duty?
I’ve found that there is a really broad spectrum of opinion out there when it comes to children playing Call of Duty. Some people feel strongly that children shouldn’t be allowed to play Call of Duty at all whereas others think that if kids can ‘handle’ it then they should be allowed to play it. The game contains settings that allow you to choose the level of violence and explicit language used although this isn’t password protected and so it could potentially be changed without a parents knowledge or consent. Call of Duty, or CoD, also allows players to connect with other players (including adults) from all over the world who they can hear and talk to as they play.
Bearing in mind that Call of Duty is rated 18+, you should consider whether playing a game that centres around violence and warfare aligns with your own family’s values and whether you want your five year old to be exposed to such graphic scenes of blood and fighting. CoD certainly doesn’t seem to promote the constructive social skills or empathy that five year olds are still developing and being able to hear and talk to anyone over the internet also has its dangers which you should take into account.
Should a five year old play Minecraft?
Minecraft is really popular with younger children all over the world, maybe because it is so open ended and thanks to its brightly coloured, fun design. The game allows it’s players to build and create across a virtual environment with little to no rules. Minecraft has a multiplayer option where players can connect and play with friends and with other players from around the world (again, children or adults). This could open up your five year old to dangers such as being exposed to bad language although multiplayer mode can be turned off to try to avoid this.
Unlike CoD, Minecraft doesn’t contain much violence and it’s cartoon style means that the graphics are fun and child friendly rather than super realistic. One thing you should keep in mind is that many Minecraft players also spend time on Youtube browsing gameplay and how-to videos from popular players which could contain language or comments that you don’t feel are appropriate for your five year old to hear.
On the bright side there can be some educational value to playing Minecraft as the open ended build and craft game encourages creativity, problem solving skills and computer skills such as using software and basic programming. Playing Minecraft could support five year olds' development by building their understanding of technology and their awareness of shape and space. It may also help to develop design skills as kids to explore the materials in the game and experiment with combining them in different ways to create representations of things with a purpose in mind.
Should a five year old play Fortnite?
Fortnite is a post-apocalyptic game in which the objective is to be the last player on Earth alive. To do this players have to kill any other player they come into contact with as other players will try to kill you. The game is recommended for children 13 years old and above although it is another one that is extremely popular with children much younger than this. It’s a tough one for parents to keep kids away from because it can be played on video game consoles and computers as well as on smartphones.
Parents across the world seem to have varying opinions on how appropriate the level of violence in Fortnite is for younger players and many feel that the cold, savage approach that the game promotes can only promote similar behaviour in kids’ real lives. There is no research that links violent video gameplay with real life violence that supports this though. The cartoon style graphics mean that the violence isn’t quite as explicit as in Call of Duty although many parents feel that it’s still enough to make it unsuitable for their five year olds.
Fortnite’s individualistic gameplay doesn’t do much to support teamwork, collaboration or even empathy for other people which isn’t great for very young children who are still innately very self-centred and should instead be developing their social skills through positive relationships with peers and familiar adults. The creative mode allows for some development of creativity and problem solving skills as players can build and explore. For five year olds the creative mode could provide an opportunity for developing technological understanding and honing their design skills although it’s not clear whether there is any way to switch modes on and off so that your five year old only has access to the most constructive creative mode.
Like most video games these days, Fortnite also includes unmoderated live communication between players - both real-world friends that kids can connect and play with and other players around the world of any age. This is optional but is also very easy, even for children, to turn on and off.
Video games for five year olds
The official ratings show that none of the three games I have explored above are suitable for kids even close to five years old but there was a clear best choice. Minecraft is rated for children as young as 8 years old - the closest rating we saw out of the three. This rating is applied for a number of factors though, and so parents might want to consider each of these in their decision on whether or not Minecraft is appropriate for their five year old. Complexity is the first - Minecraft’s creators simply think that the game would be too difficult for children younger than 8. If your five year old is able to play and enjoys it then this shouldn’t be an issue for you.
Next is mild violence - Minecraft players have the option of using weapons, setting fires and creating explosions. The cartoon style of the graphics means that these acts are not realistic at all and are therefore unlikely to be distressing for five year olds. Parents could always try the game first and see for themselves or let children have a go and closely monitor them for any signs of distress or negative reactions.
Finally, the biggest cause for concern with video gaming for five year olds is the online community. Minecraft, Fortnite and Call of Duty all contain live communication options that would essentially put your five year old in contact with strangers whose intentions could unfortunately be harmful. Kids playing these games would also risk hearing adult language as players chat or being exposed to ideas that don’t necessarily fit with the values your family holds.
Which version of Minecraft should I get?
Minecraft for mobile is a low cost mobile app version of the game that is playable on Apple, Android and Microsoft phones and tablets. This edition has less features than the full video game console and computer options but is still engaging and great fun for kids to play. From what I understand, this version of the game does have the option for multiplayer gaming however the setting for this is quite well hidden within the options menu and so a five year old could conceivably play in single-player mode without ever knowing that there is a multiplayer option. Whether or not you could get away with this would depend on how much of an awareness your five year old already has of Minecraft gameplay, but if they have next to no existing knowledge and are keen to join in on video game fun then this could be a great option.