Not Child’s Play: 6 Kid-Centric Games That Aren’t for Kids

Did you know that the sword-wielding hero of "Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" and the backpacking Pokemon trainer from "Pokemon Yellow" are both supposed to be 10 years old? Lots of video games feature kids going on spectacular adventures. Most of them are light and upbeat, in keeping with their underage protagonists. But not all games that feature children are for kids. Some games, like the ones on this list, put players in the shoes of a child to address issues of innocence, powerlessness and growth. Don't let these games fool you; they may star children, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're for kids.

“Papo & Yo”

Quico is a young boy who lives with a giant named Monster. With Monster's help, Quico can reach high places and explore the far corners of his village — but if Monster eats a frog, he turns from helpful protector into violent beast. "Papo & Yo" was inspired by game designer Vander Caballero's experiences growing up with an alcoholic and abusive father. Much like Neil Gaiman's "Coraline" and Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," this game's fanciful visuals and magical, realistic aesthetic belie the pain of a child trying to make sense of a harsh world.

“Limbo”

You play as a shadowy child who, Dante-like, awakens in the midst of a forest and does not know where he is. "Limbo" has no words, dialogue or exposition of any kind — in the absence of a formal narrative, players develop their own interpretations based on the scant visual and mechanical clues the game provides: the chiaroscuro art style, the character's obvious youth and the impersonal harshness of the twilit world around him. This black-and-white, side-scrolling platformer both thrilled and horrified audiences with its stark, violent twilight world, its rigorous yet dynamic physics engine and its ruthless game-over scenes.

“The Binding of Isaac”

In the Bible, "the binding of Isaac" refers to the story in Genesis where God orders Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Abraham proves himself willing to obey, going so far as to raise the knife above his son's bound body before an angel stops him and Isaac is allowed to live. In this game, however, Isaac's mother is a deluded zealot, and the young boy must escape his locked room before she can slaughter him. Don't let the cartoonish visuals fool you — this game is definitely not for children.

“Ico”

In this beautiful and poignant third-person puzzle game, an ancient curse manifests itself in a young boy named Ico, causing the rest of his village to lock him in an ancient castle and leave him to die. But Ico escapes from his cell and tries to flee the castle with the help of a mysterious, ghostlike girl. The game involves fighting, climbing, pushing blocks and lighting torches to solve puzzles — all the elements of a fantasy adventure game. But the game's real power comes from the simple mechanic of pressing a button to hold the girl's hand.

“The Path”

This game starts out just like the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.” You play as one of six red-clad girls, ranging in age from preteen to young woman, tasked with delivering a basket to Grandmother's house in the woods. "And do not go off the path!" the on-screen text commands. But if you obey, and go straight down the path to Grandmother's house, the wolf will devour you. The only way to win is to disobey the rules and risk the danger of the forest. With only directional controls — no jumping, fighting or shooting — the simple mechanics in "The Path" belie its complex themes of female sexuality, agency and control.

“The Unfinished Swan”

In this game, you play as a young boy whose recently deceased mother was a painter who never finished any of her paintings. In his dreams, the boy chases a swan through the unfinished kingdom of a painter king. It's not that children shouldn't play this game — unlike the others on this list, it's marketed in the PlayStation Network store as a children's game — but "The Unfinished Swan" tackles issues of bereavement, creativity and loss that make this a challenging and emotional game for people of all ages.

Not Child’s Play: 6 Kid-Centric Games That Aren’t for Kids