You’ve heard of summer reading lists. This year, Pixelkin’s prepared something a little different. That’s right—a summer gaming list! Here is our list of the games we think you and your kids should check out during those precious months off from school.Of course, we are not suggesting that your family should ignore the sunshine and hang out in front of a glowing screen for an entire three months. As always, Pixelkin recommends moderation. However, if you’re going to be inside anyway, here are the games we think you and your kids should be playing. Many of them are great opportunities for learning. You’ll get a little of everything—from reading to math to strategic thinking to physical coordination to creative writing to project management.
You can download PDFs of each of these reading lists by clicking on the images below!
Kindergarten & Up
Zoo Tycoon is a simulation game for Xbox One and Xbox 360. It enables players to build their own zoos. The Xbox One version includes Kinect functionality that lets players interact with the animals in their exhibits.
Slice Fractions uses an adorable hat-collecting mammoth to teach kids about basic math concepts. The game is so fun, your little ones will never notice they’re learning math.
Pokémon games involve collecting and caring for creatures called Pokémon. Each kind of Pokémon has unique strengths and weaknesses. By working with them, the player can do battle with other Pokémon trainers and earn badges. These games teach reading, strategy, math, and more.
Third Grade & Up
Counting Kingdom is a wonderful mix of education and fun—and it succeeds on both fronts. As a young wizard, you cast spells on monsters by adding, subtracting, and later multiplying numbers. The Counting Kingdom lets kids explore mathematical concepts without rushing them. An added bonus is the super-cute monsters.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a clever, cute, and immensely satisfying puzzle game. It stars Captain Toad and Toadette, two enterprising mushroom people from the universe of the Super Mario games. In order to complete each level, players must change their perspective to solve puzzles and traverse obstacle courses.
Just Dance 2015 has brightly colored dance coaches guiding you through flamboyant dance routines. Most of the songs are pop hits from this year. Some classics thrown in, too. It’s a good way to get kids up and moving in front of the screen.
Cannon Brawl is a family-friendly real-time 2D strategy game with a fast pace, a smart design, and a good sense of humor. Its gameplay makes multitasking not only teachable, but also incredibly fun.
Child of Light is a great game for playing co-op with a young one since there are two main characters, one a princess and the other her firefly companion. The firefly can help her by collecting shiny stuff and slowing down time so she can fight monsters. The watercolor-esque graphics and eerie storybook atmosphere could make for some great after-game craft projects, too!
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved is a motion game in which you play as the conductor to various popular songs and classical pieces. The game features totally unique gameplay that illustrates the potential for more gameplay innovations in the future.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a platform game in which you play as a forest spirit trying to make his way back to the spirit tree. The game includes beautiful art that’s worth experiencing even though the gameplay can be really challenging.
Dragon Box games teach algebra (or geometry) in a way that doesn’t seem like algebra or geometry. And there’s data to show that kids do better on real math problems when they’re tested after playing the games. The games are colorful and available on lots of mobile platforms, so they make for good road-trip gaming material.
Sixth Grade & Up
Minecraft is the quintessential building game. In Minecraft, every material can be crafted into objects, and Minecraft players build as many things as their imagination allows. It might look simple, but it’s as complex as they come.
Fez is a puzzle game with a twist—literally. At any one moment, the game seems to be two dimensional, yet with the tap of a button the environment rotates by 90 degrees. This mechanic gives way to some truly innovative puzzle design.
Broken Age is a beautiful coming-of-age story starring two teenagers. The game features complex puzzles, hilarious jokes, and fantastic world-building. See why it was one of our favorite games of 2014.
Elegy for a Dead World is more of a word processor than a video game. Players control a lonely astronaut and explore three abandoned planets, each one inspired by a famous Romantic poem. Players complete short writing prompts and can then share their stories with other players online.
Never Alone is a platformer game about a young Native Alaskan girl trying to save her tribe from a blizzard. It’s best played with a friend or family member—one of you can control the girl, Nuna, and the other person can control her fox companion. Never Alone incorporates genuine Native Alaskan mythology into its story.
Papo & Yo is a puzzle game that deals with parental abuse and alcoholism in an indirect way through metaphors like frogs and sad monsters. It’s a wonderful story to use as a starting point for a difficult discussion, and it also has great puzzles and beautiful scenery.
Dance Central is a dancing game where you perform choreographed moves to a variety of popular songs. The game includes a number of challenging moves and is a great game to be used for exercise.
Gravity Ghost is a unique PC game where you play as the ghost of a little girl as she traverses the universe. The gameplay involves jumping on and off planets and soaring through space. The planets in the game each have different gravitational pulls, which you must manipulate to achieve your goals.
Tearaway is a platformer game set in a world made of paper. As yourself, you guide a tiny paper messenger towards the goal of delivering a message to you! It’s an adorable, creative little game that lends itself well to arts and crafts, since you can print out and make most of the characters in the game from paper.
Peggle 2 is a puzzle game where you shoot a ball at a series of pegs with the goal of eliminating all the orange pegs before you run out of balls. It’s an incredibly engrossing single-player and multiplayer experience, and while it can get really strategic, it’s still easy for inexperienced players to pick up.
Ninth Grade & Up
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a thoughtful adventure game in which you control The Scythian, a wandering warrior on a woeful errand. This game features a fantastic soundscape as well as a lot of unusual twists on common gaming tropes.
Device 6 is an incredibly intelligent and mind-bending puzzle game. It uses pulp mystery tropes to guide the player along a twisty, text-based adventure. The game is incredibly self-aware and raises a lot of questions about free will, fate, and the nature of media.
Persona 4 is a very long game and a good way to spend some relaxing hours after running around outside has run its course. While the game is rated M for Mature, it deals with a lot of important teen concerns (friendship, sexuality, gender, parental expectations, leaving home, loneliness, etc.) and has a great story and characters all around.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a surprisingly gentle game, given the subject matter: World War I told from the perspective of both combatants and non-combatants. This is a history game, but instead of being about war tactics and strategy, it’s about family, friendship, and how war affects people in profound ways no matter their relationship to the battlefield.
Year Walk is a puzzle horror game about Swedish mythology. It’s scary, and it’s a great place to start talking about myths, monsters, and where our innermost fears come from. It also takes place in winter, so it might be a nice respite from a hot day.
Journey‘s beautiful art and music make this game a poetic experience that encourages players to think about big issues. Themes include environmental stewardship and the need to persevere in the face of incredible hardship.
College & Up
Dragon Age is actually a series of three (so far) fantasy RPGs. On the outside there’s a lot of dragon-fighting and magic involved. But the games are very much about culture, history, and politics. Players make choices, both moral and mundane, about how to navigate a treacherous medieval world.
Mass Effect, like Dragon Age (both are made by the game developer BioWare), is a trilogy of games. Mass Effect is a space opera. But it delves into complicated issues surrounding war, genocide, romance, and politics. It allows players to make their own choices about how the main character develops as the commander of a spaceship.
BioShock is a first-person shooter set in an underwater city called Rapture in the year 1960. What was designed as a completely unregulated society has gone horribly awry. Many of the city’s residents have succumbed to an “addiction” to genetic modifications. Rapture is a beautiful and immensely creative environment. The story is also one of the best that can be found in a game.
Life is Strange might not be your first choice for a summer game since it takes place in a high school. However, there are a lot of ideas in this game that are well worth discussing and exploring in your time off. Players take on the roll of a teenager who finds herself with a strange new ability—time travel.
The Last of Us is a zombie apocalypse survival game (and a first-person shooter to boot). It explores the fraught relationship between a teenage girl and her sort-of father figure. There’s plenty of zombie-killing in this game, but there’s also a lot of emotion.
Sunset Overdrive is an action game where you play as a survivor of an apocalypse caused by the consumption of an untested energy drink. The game pokes fun at gaming conventions and general pop culture. It probably contains the most profanity of any game you’ve ever played. But it’s well written and vastly entertaining to play.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity is a historical fantasy game in which you play as Arno Dorian, an Assassin in Paris during the French Revolution. There’s a lot of stabbing to be sure, but the game is laced with historical events and characters like Napoleon Bonaparte and Robespierre.