You decide: what gameplay means to kids

Games are an incredible interactive system for children, in a world where they do not get to make major decisions, games can provide a sense of empowerment and teach responsibility for one’s actions and their consequences.

In my article Games: the hobby of making decisions, I discussed how playing games leads to the growth of the player’s ability to be decisive. While it is true that play is often considered from the perspective of doing something to entertain oneself; games are the application of play to accomplish something. Even if the end goal is simply interacting with an entertaining mechanic, games also serve as a space for developing judgement.

Just as playing Jenga teaches players about balance and structure, as I discussed in my article Jenga: a lesson in structural integrity, it is also a study in choice, which blocks the player chooses to remove is simultaneously an expression of character and strategy.  If the block is a high risk removal it expresses courage or brashness and can be used as an intimidation tactic, if a block is easy to remove it may indicate pragmatism or risk aversion.

Thus, gameplay can be a powerful tool in the character development of children; by engaging children in gameplay they not only gain the ability to make choices based on outcome and personal preference, but they also get the opportunity to grow in confidence when faced with a difficult decision. We see this not only in the games children play but also in the games they create.  In my article Children are Game Designers: how child’s play mirrors professional game development, I explain how the process of making rules, deciding on goals, and the structure of a game when playing with children helps them develop an understanding of fairness, challenge, and competition.

Settlers of Catan
Playing games with children is a good way of ensuring that the right lessons are being taught to them. Selecting an easy to pick up board game such as Settlers of Catan can be a good way of enjoying a game which not only features strategic growth and acquisition mechanics, but also includes trade / diplomacy mechanics which help to build character. While not every game will have the same effect on decision making and personal growth, it should be acknowledged that playing games is a worthwhile activity and should be encouraged in children.

How do you feel about children playing games? Does that opinion differ from children who play sports, vs board games, vs video games? Had you previously considered that gameplay could have a positive impact on decision making and character? Do you agree or disagree with the idea that gameplay provides children with a sense of ownership over their choices? I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to

Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on FacebookTwitterInstagramand Youtube.


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