Navigating life as a gaming parent is tough, so our Editor Matt decided to take on the challenge of writing about it in a long-form format. Welcome to the first part of this epic work from Matt, we hope you enjoy it and you can expect new parts every so often. It is also worth noting that Matt wrote this with people that may not understand video games in mind, so feel free to share with your friends and family that are a little lost in this era of gaming and tech. You can catch up on the previous chapter here:
My Kids Stole My Controller: Chapter 7 – Picking Sides in the Console Wars
So what should your kids play games on? Which console is better? What is all this garbage about console wars? Well, stay with me folks, because if you don’t know your Nintendo’s from your Atari’s you may get a little lost. I am going to put tablets and mobiles aside for this portion of the show. But worry not; their time will come.
As far as core-hobby gaming is concerned, there are four main players to consider. The expense and power of a good gaming PC, the family-friendly subscription options of the Xbox, the portability and practicality of the Nintendo Switch and the sales leading behemoth of Sony’s Playstation systems.
Personally, I am not one for picking favourites. In my mind, any gaming is good gaming. That being said, there are many online who are somewhat less agnostic and who will defend their chosen system to the death in the vicious, never-ending console war battlefields of social media and gaming forums. My first suggestion is to ignore this whole subset of vocal gamers: their blind loyalty has led them to plumb the most depraved parts of online behaviours, creating a vicious, unwelcoming environment for everyone who doesn’t instantly agree with their viewpoint. It is such a shame that a pastime that was designed primarily around fun has been taken down this path by a toxic subset of the community.
That isn’t to say that these systems don’t have their pros and cons. It’s just less a case of which is the best than it is of which is best for you and your family.
First up is the humble PC. PC gaming is essentially where gaming really began to flourish, and therefore a lot of old heads like myself have fond memories of playing games on a PC. What PCs do really well is offer an expansive range of experiences for just about every taste. Small indies titles to triple-A big-budget releases are all available in abundance for PC players and, as a result, there are more games available on the PC than all three other platforms combined.
The number of games available to PC players really is massive, and as such, it brings a few problems that are worth considering. PCs are generally a bit harder to get flashier games running on, and they take a little bit of upkeep that isn’t required for consoles. Granted, modern PCs are much, much easier to use and maintain than those of even 10 years ago, but that need is still there and complete tech newbies may be put off by this housekeeping.
The second major downside to a gaming PC is the expense. Easily the most expensive gaming option, a respectable gaming PC starts at roughly $1600, and can easily be upwards of $3000 depending on what your desires are. This is, of course, offset somewhat by the fact a PC is a multi-purpose machine. For example, my gaming pc is also my video-editing PC, my word processing PC, my website management PC and my stereo system. None of the consoles can offer this sort of flexibility but, at the same time, it is still a hell of a cost, and many of those extra functions would be sufficiently fulfilled by a mid-priced laptop.
Next on the list is Nintendo, easily the most unique of the options. Nintendo has a well-deserved reputation for creating games that are not only family-friendly but are in a class of their own. Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Donkey Kong are just some of the household names all created by the big N. This reputation for quality gaming has carried effortlessly over to the Switch, the only portable option of the main gaming systems. The Nintendo Switch can play on your TV, just like any traditional console, but the biggest selling point may be its ability to be taken on the go with its own inbuilt screen.
Personally, I cannot remember the last time that I even bothered to connect my Switch to the TV. It is a fantastic little system that has multiplayer gaming options, even on the go, making it the perfect companion to long car trips or visits to a boring Nanna’s house. The downsides to the Switch are all on the tech side of things. It is, by far, the least powerful of the gaming systems, which means that games that appear on all the consoles will look a little rough and likely not run quite as smoothly on the Switch. Another weakness is Nintendo’s online infrastructure. The House that Mario Built has never really understood the online space and that deficiency continues with the Switch. Compared to what Sony and Microsoft offer, Nintendo’s online space is simply put, outdated and lacking, which makes it a bad choice for kids who want to play with their friends when they are not in the same location.
Microsoft’s Xbox line is next on the chopping block. The Xbox brand took a bit of a beating a few years ago when the Xbox One launched. A misguided direction from senior Microsoft management caused the Xbox One to struggle for much of its lifespan in the sales department. That being said, things have turned around significantly in recent times, with a huge focus on consumer programmes that make the Xbox systems arguably the best value-for-money option. This is largely because of their Gamepass program. Much like video-on-demand services like Netflix, Gamepass offers hundreds of games, updated monthly for a low subscription fee. The games are full versions and can be downloaded and played in their entirety. This isn’t just for older titles, either: all Microsoft produced games come to this service on their release day, so it really is a fantastic proposition for families. When I was growing up I often only received a couple of games a year. The thought of having so many at my fingertips would have blown my prepubescent mind.
The Xbox ecosystem also has the most stable online infrastructure of all the consoles thanks to Microsoft’s worldwide server farms and it is a fantastic UHD Blu Ray player for those with a 4KTV (the digital-only Series S notwithstanding). It is, of course, not all roses: the user interface (or UI for short) has been – and continues to be – a bit of a mess. Navigating the Xbox systems is often an exercise in frustration. The other big downside is that a lot of Microsoft exclusive games, at least historically (this looks likely to change, though, thanks to a slew of new developer acquisitions) are aimed at a more adult audience. Things like Halo and Gears of War are not really kids games, and even though there are lots of kids gaming options available for the system, Xbox has never really branded itself as a place for the whole family so they can take a little bit of digging to find.
Finally, we have the market leader Sony with their Playstation. The PS4 was a marvel of both design and simplicity and the PS5 has followed suit. These consoles are easy to use and easy to set up, making those initial steps for technophobes much more approachable. The real reason that Sony has led for so many years, however, comes down to one thing: games. The Sony first-party titles of recent years have been nothing short of astounding. High-quality title after high-quality title has come from Sony’s studios. And while a number of these titles aren’t for kids, many are perfectly fine for young ones. Sony doesn’t offer a subscription service like the Gamepass in Australia (though it does in other countries), so there is still a need to buy all your games, barring a couple of (usually older) monthly titles should you buy into the PlayStation Plus online service. After trying to do everything back on the PS3, Sony has since pivoted to simple systems designed to do one thing and one thing only: play games and play them well.
As you can see, no matter what system you decide on, you are in for a good time. I personally enjoy every system for what they are, and while I tend to do most of my gaming on the Xbox, that is primarily because of a preference for the larger controller, not because of any inbuilt belief that it is better. That said, if I was forced at gunpoint to suggest the perfect system for a family just taking their first steps into gaming, I would have to say that the value-for-money proposition of Xbox Game Pass is just too good of a deal to pass up. New games every month, hundreds of games at your fingertips (many of which are family-friendly) and no limits on how you play, all for less than the cost of buying two big games per year is a hell of a sales pitch. Fear not, no matter which route you choose, you are in for a great time for both yourself and your children so there are no “wrong” options here. And, hey, there’s a PC Game Pass option, too.
It is worth noting, for those that are new to gaming, that tech moves at a rapid pace. Anything and everything I have mentioned here is susceptible to change at a moment’s notice. That being said, these rather generalised accounts have, broadly speaking, held true for quite some time now. Either way, there is sure to be something to keep the kids (and perhaps yourself) happy no matter which route you take.
Thanks again to Tim Henderson for being the copy editor on this work. You can start at the beginning with Chapter 1 here:
Dad, Gamer, Writer, Husband all rolled into one big ball of random matter.
Editor of Player 2, Matt spends his time yelling at strangers as they walk past, imploring them to visit Player 2. Sadly this tactic hasn’t yielded any significant results but he keeps on trying regardless.
Writes on Ngunnawal land.