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Transgress Intended Play

Video games are a great way for children to play. However, they are also contested spaces often created with profit as well as play in mind. How do we empower children to play, break the rules and self-determination in light of other pressures and owners of these digital spaces?

We worked with Sara Grimes on this list of games that offer new and emergent ways to provide play possibilities to children. Her book, Digital Playgrounds explores the key developments, trends, debates, and controversies that have shaped children’s commercial digital play spaces over the past two decades.

The politics of children’s play aren’t something we often talk about. This is more than decrying big business muscling in on childhood. It’s about understanding digital play in a holistic sense so it can be all it needs to be in the life of a child. Sara describes this as an embrace of the complexity of children’s online playgrounds, virtual worlds, and connected games.

It comes down to something at the heart of our database: seeing games more than mere sources of fun and diversion. “Games serve as the sites of complex negotiations of power between children, parents, developers, politicians, and other actors with a stake in determining what, how, and where children’s play unfolds.”

We’re excited about games in this list as they are not only digital spaces where these things meet, but that children use them in ways they weren’t intended. These games can be places where children push back at the powers-that-be and take ownership of these digital public spheres in unexpected ways.

  • Metaverse rule making and breaking in games like Roblox and Fortnite, where the context offers more than competition. Children often invent their own rules and ways to play not instigated by the developer.
  • Citizenship their own way in games like Alba, Cozy Grove or Unpacking where children have agency to influence and contribute (or not) to public spaces. Then there's games like and Please Touch The Artwork and Sloppy Forgeries that invite usually discouraged behaviour.
  • Undirected play can lead to unintended scenarios in games like Pok Pok Playroom, Kids, A Short Hike or Townscaper where play isn’t directed or capitalised upon, but left alone to be an end in its own right.
  • Purposeless Exploration in games like , Proteus and Ynglet can be used as a way to waste time, not progress and refuse direction.
  • Misbehave in games like Untitled Goose Game, Donut County, Carrion, Fable, Scribblenauts and Beholder is expected. But how children stretch and reinvent (or refuse to partake in) this usually frowned on behaviour opens unexpected possibilities.

The Let's Game It Out YouTube channel is a great example of games you can play in ways (very) unexpected by the developers. These aren't all child friendly, but are fascinating examples of play transgressing intended rules.

This list includes 33 games from the last 18 years, with 1,400 likes. They come from a range of different genres and play-styles and are all good games if you want to subvert developer's intentions.

DetailsList Details

PEGI Ratings: PEGI 3 to PEGI 18
ESRB Ratings: ESRB EVERYONE to ESRB MATURE 17+
Australian Ratings: G to R 18+
Genres: Action, Adventure, Creative, Fighting, Narrative, Open World, Platform, Point-and-Click, Puzzle, Racing, Role-Playing, Simulation, Sports, Stealth, Strategy and Turn-Based
Total Likes: 1,400
 

 

Balan Wonderworld

Content Rating: PEGI 7

Release Date: 26/03/2021

Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S

Genres: Action, Adventure and Platform

Accessibility: 16 features

Developer: Square Enix (@SquareEnix)

Players: You can play with 2 players in the same room

Balan Wonderworld is a running, jumping and exploration game. It draws on classic 3D platform games, but with simpler controls and a more laid back challenge. Like Mario Odyssey, much of the gameplay revolves around getting temporary abilities (here it...

Proteus

Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 4-12 year-olds

Release Date: 30/01/2013

Platforms: Mac, PC, PS Vita, PS3 and PS4

Genres: Open World and Simulation

Accessibility: 3 features

Developer: A Twisted Tree (@ATwistedTree)

Players: This is a single player game

This game takes you to a pixelated island. As you explore you discover that your presence changes the seasons and time of day. Delving deeper, there are rudimentary interactions with the creatures that inhabit the land, and rain clouds that blow in from...

Flower

Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 5-11 year-olds

Release Date: 12/02/2009

Platforms: PC, PS Vita, PS3, PS4 and iOS

Genres: Open World, Racing and Simulation

Accessibility: 2 features

Developer: That Game Company (@ThatGameCompany)

Players: This is a single player game

Control the breeze blowing across fields of grass and blow petals into other flowers to make them bloom. Flower is simple and single-purpose in evoking the feeling of the wind. What starts as an awkward struggle to control the breeze soon turns into a...

Fable (Series)

Content Rating: PEGI 16

Skill Rating: 12+ year-olds

Release Date: 14/09/2004

Platforms: Mac, PC, Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S

Genres: Action, Adventure, Open World and Role-Playing

Developer: We Are Playground (@WeArePlayground)

Players: This is a single player game

This is an adventure role-playing game set in a fantasy world where your interactions with the world and villagers, and decisions about your use of magical power, substantially alter the story and the environment.

Sea of Thieves

Content Rating: PEGI 12

Skill Rating: 12-18 year-olds

Release Date: 20/03/2018

Platforms: PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S

Genres: Action, Adventure, Fighting, Open World, Role-Playing, Simulation and Stealth

Accessibility: 26 features

Developer: Rare Ltd (@RareLtd)

Players: You can play this with 24 players online

Sea of Thieves is an online game where you are 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...

Unpacking

Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 9-14 year-olds

Release Date: 02/11/2021

Platforms: Mac, PC, Switch and Xbox One

Genres: Narrative and Puzzle

Accessibility: 34 features

Developer: Witch Beam Games (@WitchBeamGames)

Players: This is a single player game

Unpacking is a meditative puzzle game where you unpack belongings into a series of either spaces, each representing a stage in life. You get to know the owner of the objects by their possessions and circumstances. To finish a level you need to work out...

Don't Starve

Content Rating: PEGI 12

Release Date: 23/04/2013, updated in 2017

Platforms: Android, Mac, PC, PS Vita, PS3, PS4, Switch, Wii U, Xbox One and iOS

Genres: Action, Open World, Simulation and Strategy

Accessibility: 16 features

Developer: Klei (@Klei)

Players: You can play with 2 players in the same room and up to 6 players online

This is an open-world survival game. Here it’s the environment and enemies, rather than other players, that you work with. You need to find and develop food, weapons and shelter to survive. It’s enjoyable because it’s hard, so repeat-plays to...

Among Us

Content Rating: PEGI 7

Skill Rating: 10+ year-olds

Release Date: 16/11/2018, updated in 2020

Platforms: Android, PC, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and iOS

Genres: Action and Role-Playing

Accessibility: 29 features

Developer: Inner Sloth Devs (@InnerSlothDevs)

Players: You can play with 10 players in the same room and up to 10 players online

Among Us is a strategy game where crew-mates prepare their space ship for launch by completing tasks. However, one of the players is an impostor intent on sabotaging the ship and killing the crew. As the game progresses in real time the impostor...

Sneaky Sasquatch

Expected Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 6-10 year-olds

Release Date: 30/07/2019, updated in 2021

Platforms: Mac and iPhone, iPad

Genres: Adventure, Open World, Role-Playing and Stealth

Accessibility: 21 features

Developer: Rac 7 Games (@Rac7Games)

Players: This is a single player game

Sneaky Sasquatch is an adventure game where you sneak around in campsites and try to find food from coolers and picnic baskets without getting caught. There's a large variety of things to do. For example you can race, play golf, ski, find buried...

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure

Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 5-10 year-olds

Release Date: 11/12/2020

Price: 35% off

Platforms: Mac, PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One and iPhone, iPad

Genres: Adventure, Narrative and Simulation

Accessibility: 30 features

Developer: Us Two (@UsTwo)

Players: This is a single player game

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is an adventure game where you play as a young girl who starts a wildlife conservation club. When Alba visits her grandparents on a Mediterranean island, she is excited for a summer of exploring with her friend Ines. But when...

Toca Life: World (Series)

Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 2-6 year-olds

Release Date: 01/01/2019

Platforms: Amazon Fire, Android and iOS

Genres: Action, Open World, Role-Playing and Simulation

Developer: Toca Boca (@TocaBoca)

Players: This is a single player game

The Toca Boca, Toca Life, series of games comprise what are essentially toys in electronic form. They build on the Sago Mini games for 6-10-year-old children. Recreating interactive everyday settings like shopping, hospital,...

Townscaper

Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 8+ year-olds

Release Date: 30/06/2020, updated in 2021

Price: Free

Platforms: Android, Mac, PC, Switch, Web, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and iOS

Genres: Creative and Simulation

Accessibility: 25 features

Developer: Osk Sta (@OskSta)

Players: This is a single player game

Townscaper is a town building toy. You pick colours from the range available and click to put down a house in the sea. As you continue to add houses of different colours the game automatically orientates the architecture for you.

Grounded

Content Rating: PEGI 12

Skill Rating: 10-16 year-olds

Release Date: 28/07/2020

Platforms: PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S

Genres: Action, Open World, Simulation and Strategy

Accessibility: 24 features

Developer: Grounded The Game (@GroundedTheGame)

Players: You can play this with 4 players online

Grounded is a survival game where you are tiny and find yourself in someone’s back garden. It’s like Honey I Shrunk The Kids meets Fortnite. Ants, cockroaches, and bees pose a threat along with environmental hazards like water, tall grass and large...

Sago Mini (Series)

Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 2-5 year-olds

Release Date: 09/06/2017

Platforms: Amazon Fire, Android and iOS

Genres: Adventure, Creative, Open World, Role-Playing and Simulation

Developer: Sago Sago Toys (@SagoSagoToys)

Players: This is a single player game

Sago Mini games are designed for 3-5 year old pre-school children. Like Toca Boca games for younger kids, they offer interactive storybook characters with light narratives and open-ended play. Superheroes, space explorers, boat...

Cozy Grove

Content Rating: PEGI 3

Release Date: 19/03/2021

Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One and iPhone, iPad

Genres: Narrative, Open World, Puzzle, Role-Playing, Simulation and Strategy

Accessibility: 22 features

Developer: Spry Fox (@SpryFox)

Players: This is a single player game

Cozy Grove is a life-simulation where you camp on a hand-drawn island. You play a scout and explore the ever changing island's forest to find secrets and help the local ghosts. Like Animal Crossing, it has a children's story-book look, but is a...

Carrion

Content Rating: PEGI 16

Release Date: 23/07/2020

Platforms: Mac, PC, Switch and Xbox One

Genres: Action, Fighting, Platform, Puzzle, Simulation and Stealth

Accessibility: 12 features

Developer: Kroskiewicz (@Kroskiewicz)

Players: This is a single player game

Carrion is a horror game where you play the amorphous alien as well as human protagonists. This reverse-horror scenario puts you in control of an organic tentacled monster to make your way through the facility, stalking and killing humans in your path.

Papers, Please

Content Rating: PEGI 16

Release Date: 08/08/2013, updated in 2017

Platforms: Mac, PC, PS Vita and iOS

Genres: Narrative, Point-and-Click, Puzzle and Turn-Based

Accessibility: 19 features

Developer: Dukope (@Dukope)

Players: This is a single player game

You play the role of a border-crossing immigration officer in the fictional dystopian Eastern Bloc-like country of Arstotzka. You review each immigrant’s and returning citizens’ passports and paperwork according to an increasing list of changing...

Baba is You

Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 9+ year-olds

Release Date: 13/03/2019

Platforms: Mac, PC and Switch

Genres: Puzzle

Accessibility: 9 features

Developer: ES Adevlog (@ESAdevlog)

Players: This is a single player game

Baba is You requires some lateral thinking. Each level is controlled by rules written on the screen, such as ‘Lava is Hot’, ‘Wall is Stop’ and ‘Flag is Move’. By moving the words around with your pixilated character, you subvert the...

Kids

Skill Rating: 2+ year-olds

Release Date: 31/05/2019

Platforms: iOS

Genres: Puzzle and Simulation

Accessibility: 1 feature

Developer: Michaelfrei 10 (@Michaelfrei10)

Players: This is a single player game

Kids is an unusual game where you tap to interact with groups of monochrome cartoon children. Seeing the little kids run around and respond to each other creates a playful and intriguing game that only lasts half an hour but will be played many times.

Please, Touch The Artwork

Expected Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 8+ year-olds

Release Date: 26/01/2022

Platforms: Android, Mac, PC, Switch and iOS

Genres: Narrative and Puzzle

Accessibility: 32 features

Developer: Studio Waterzooi (@StudioWaterzooi)

Players: This is a single player game

Please, Touch The Artwork is a puzzle game that tells a story with real abstract paintings. Unconventionally it asks, what would happen if we did touch the artwork in museums? The answer is revealed over three stories each focusing on a different...

Beholder (Series)

Content Rating: PEGI 16

Release Date: 09/11/2016

Price: 80% off

Platforms: Mac, PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One

Genres: Narrative, Point-and-Click, Puzzle, Role-Playing and Strategy

Accessibility: 23 features

Developer: Beholder Game (@Beholder_Game)

Players: This is a single player game

Beholder is a detective game where you spy on tenants in a building, discover their secrets and report violations of laws to the authorities. As the game unfolds and you see more of the controlling totalitarian state, an uneasy tension develops between...

Rain on Your Parade

Content Rating: PEGI 7

Release Date: 15/04/2021

Platforms: PC, Switch and Xbox One

Genres: Action, Puzzle and Simulation

Developer: Unbound Creations (@UnboundCreations)

Players: This is a single player game

Rain on Your Parade is a slapstick puzzle game where you play a mischievous cloud ruining everybody’s day. "You are a cloud jerk," says the trailer. In each of the varied levels you have to work out what it is you need to do to make people's lives a...

Scribblenauts (Series)

Content Rating: PEGI 12

Release Date: 15/09/2009

Price: 78% off

Platforms: 3DS and 2DS, Amazon Fire, Android, DS, PC, PS4, Switch, Wii U, Xbox One and iOS

Genres: Action, Creative, Puzzle and Simulation

Developer: 5 TH Cell (@5THCell)

Players: This is a single player game

Scribblenauts is a series of puzzle games where you solve by typing the names of everyday objects so they appear in the game and let you progress. What's surprising is the sheer number of items included in the game. This means you can solve problems in...

Pok Pok Playroom

Expected Content Rating: PEGI 3

Skill Rating: 2-6 year-olds

Release Date: 20/05/2021

Platforms: iOS

Genres: Creative and Puzzle

Accessibility: 23 features

Developer: Play Pok Pok (@PlayPokPok)

Players: This is a single player game

Pok Pok Playroom is a storybook game, filled with interactive digital toys for children to discover and explore as they scroll through a series of settings. It's for children 2-6 years-old and offers open-ended play where the focus isn't on right and...

Sludge Life

Content Rating: PEGI 18

Release Date: 28/05/2020, updated in 2021

Platforms: PC and Switch

Genres: Adventure, Open World, Platform, Point-and-Click and Puzzle

Developer: Devolver Digital (@DevolverDigital)

Players: This is a single player game

Sludge Life is an open world adventure where you play as Ghost, a graffiti artist determined to put his tag all over Sludge City. You play in an adult world full of lived-in locations and intriguing characters. It requires some caution, but beyond the...

The Stanley Parable

Content Rating: PEGI 7

Release Date: 31/07/2011

Platforms: Mac, PC, PS4 and Xbox One

Genres: Adventure, Narrative and Puzzle

Accessibility: 21 features

Developer: Hello Cakebread (@HelloCakebread)

Players: This is a single player game

The Stanley Parable is an interactive drama with no combat or action to speak of apart from walking around and interacting with everyday objects. You guide a silent protagonist, Stanley, while discouraging narration plays in your ear. As you discover...

Ynglet

Expected Content Rating: PEGI 3

Release Date: 05/06/2021

Platforms: PC

Genres: Creative, Platform and Simulation

Accessibility: 25 features

Developer: Nifflas (@Nifflas)

Players: This is a single player game

Ynglet is an exploration game where you jump between bubbles that float in the sky making sounds as you interact with the doodled environment. Part platform game, part dynamic soundtrack, it's a game designed to let you flow through the world to...

Hypnospace Outlaw

Content Rating: PEGI 12

Skill Rating: 13+ year-olds

Release Date: 12/04/2019, updated in 2020

Price: 40% off

Platforms: Mac, PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One

Genres: Narrative, Point-and-Click, Puzzle and Simulation

Developer: Tendershoot (@Tendershoot_)

Players: This is a single player game

Hypnospace Outlaw is a puzzle game where you explore a simulation of the internet in the 1990s. Your role is to enforce good behaviour by finding misconduct on the pixelated pages. It's not only a unique piece of historical fiction but because its web...

Say No More

Content Rating: PEGI 7

Release Date: 09/04/2021

Platforms: PC, Switch and iOS

Genres: Adventure

Developer: Studio Fizbin (@StudioFizbin)

Players: This is a single player game

Say No More is an adventure game where you learn to say "no". You play as an intern at a new job putting up with colleagues being unpleasant. The twist is that in this world it's illegal to say "no". Eventually pushed to your limit, you discover the...

Sloppy Forgeries

Release Date: 26/04/2018

Platforms: PC

Genres: Creative and Simulation

Developer: Sloppy Forgeries (@SloppyForgeries)

Players: You can play with 2 players in the same room

Sloppy Forgeries is a painting game where you race an opponent at copying a famous art piece as quickly and accurately as possible. You win by having the largest percentage of paint in the correct areas. The game randomly selects a painting to copy and...

Work At A Pizza Place (Roblox)

Content Rating: PEGI 7

Skill Rating: 7+ year-olds

Release Date: 28/03/2008, updated in 2021

Price: Free

Platforms: Amazon Fire, Android, Mac, PC, Xbox One and iOS

Genres: Role-Playing, Simulation and Strategy

Developer: Dued 1 Roblox (@Dued1_Roblox)

Players: You can play this with 12 players online

Work At A Pizza Place is a strategy game where you take on the role of a team member in a pizza restaurant. When you start you choose a role and work with other online players to fulfil orders, cook pizzas, manage stock and other aspects of the business.

Bomb Rush Cyberfunk

Content Rating: PEGI 7

Release Date: Coming soon

Platforms: PC and Switch

Genres: Action, Open World, Platform, Simulation and Sports

Developer: Reptile Games (@ReptileGames)

Players: This is a single player game

Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is a city adventure and parkour jumping game. Drawing on Jet Set Radio, you play self-styled crews equipped with personal booster packs and graffiti aspirations. Your aim is to get your tags and art all over each neighbourhood.

Kenshi

Expected Content Rating: PEGI 16

Skill Rating: 15+ year-olds

Release Date: 06/12/2018

Platforms: PC

Genres: Adventure, Creative, Fighting, Open World, Role-Playing and Simulation

Accessibility: 13 features

Developer: Lo Fi Games (@LoFiGames)

Players: This is a single player game

Kenshi is a single player role-play game where you have complete control over your character and how they live their life. With no central story, it allows you to go anywhere and play however you like, be that as a city dweller who never ventures into...

Taming Gaming Book Written by parents for parents, the database complements the in-depth discussion about video game addiction, violence, spending and online safety in the Taming Gaming book. We are an editorially independent, free resource without adverts that is supported by partnerships.

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