When I was a child, I played a lot of computer-based video games (and a few console games as well). Even though our parents thought video games would rot our brains and turn us into zombies, a few studies have shown that the right kind of video games can actually improve brain function.
I’m sure there are a lot of great modern video games available that provide educational value and important STEM skills, but I like seeing my kids play the same games I enjoyed as a child. Most of these games are readily available through “retro” purchases on various game systems (usually the company that originally produced them) and you can find a lot at Amazon and used video game stores. These video games for kids are a great way to mix up your STEM activities for kids and help them learn without them even realizing they are learning.
10 Retro Video Games for Kids with Educational Value
The following retro video games for kids were some of my favorites growing up and provided some excellent educational value.
Please note: All of these games are family/child-friendly, unless you censor magic, in which case a couple games may not be suitable.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
This is probably my favorite classic video game of all time. I’ve played this game through at least 4 times myself, and my siblings have all played it several times as well.
It has everything you want: epic adventures, fun mini quests, things to collect, catchy music, multitudes of enemies to fight, RPG-like character progression, time travel, mystery, and a developed storyline.
If your kids only ever play one game on this list, make it this one.
Ocarina of Time develops reflexes, problem solving, perseverance, and reading comprehension.
Get the 3D version here.
King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella
This ancient game was old even when I played it, but I loved it anyway. One of my favorite parts about this game was that it featured a female lead, which was a rarity back in the day.
Basically, Rosella is trying to save her father from dying by rescuing a magic fruit. The story is quite traditional fairytale, but traditional in the dark way, not the modern Disney way.
Kings Quest IV promotes problem solving, and spelling. In fact, I learned most of my spelling through 2nd and 3rd grade by playing this game. You have to spell things correctly or Rosella will not obey your commands.
Sim City 2000
I played both the 2000 version and the original, and the 2000 Sim City has just enough added to make the game challenging, but it is not nearly as complex as the modern renditions of the game, making it more suitable for younger children.
Sim City 2000 teaches problem solving, quick thinking (when disaster strikes), money management, organization, and minor politics.
Age of Empires
Age of Empires was not my favorite game as a child (it stressed me out), but I did enjoy playing it until the later levels. I’ve included it in this list because it is a real time strategy game, which is what the study linked above stated could improve memory and brain function (the specific game studied was Starcraft, but I did not care for that one).
Age of Empires teaches time management, quick thinking, money and resource management, and strategy.
Find it in a PC game package here.
I never cared much for the regular Pokemom games as a child, but I loved Pokemon Snap. In this game, you go through a course and try to take the best photos of the Pokemom that pop up.
Pokemon Snap teaches quick thinking, basic photography (you are rated on the quality of your photo), and search skills.
Mario Party isn’t terribly educational, but it is a lot of fun. It is one of the few games that allow you to play with 4 or more people (depending on the version). We currently have Mario Party 2, which is like a live board game intermixed with mini-games.
Mario Party teaches quick reflexes and how to be a good sport when you suddenly lose when you thought you were going to win.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
We played a lot of Mario when we were kids, but I preferred this RPG version. The plot of this story is the same as other Mario games, but this time, you get to control Mario like an RPG character without dying instantly each time you hit an enemy. There is magic, battles, leveling up, and puzzles to solve.
Super Mario RPG teaches problem solving, quick thinking, and reflexes.
Star Wars: Rebel Assault
This game is in the Star Wars universe, but you don’t play one of the main characters, which I like. It follows all of the main events of the story (episodes 4, 5, and 6) with several styles of play throughout the game.
Rebel Assault teaches coordination, quick reflexes, patience, and perseverance. You die a lot.
Star Wars: Tie Fighter
We owned several of the X-Wing games, but for some reason, this one remained our favorite. My brothers and I played this game every chance we got. It had a surprising amount of story for a flight simulator and introduced Thrawn from the Timothy Zahn universe.
Tie Fighter teaches coordination, reflexes, and strategy.
Purchase the PC version here.
Star Wars: Racer
This was my favorite Star Wars game because it was the only one that I was able to beat before my brothers. I loved racing through the courses trying not to die. The music was also amazing.
Star Wars Racer teaches coordination, timing, strategy, reflexes, and patience.
Get the PC version here.
What are your favorite retro video games for kids? Do you allow your children to play video games for learning or just for fun?
More STEM ideas for kids here!