Many people wrongly assume that media designed for children lacks depth or value. However, some of the cleverest references in pop culture originate from movies and TV shows aimed at younger audiences. Therefore, it is unwise to dismiss games created for children, especially those that stand out as some of the best experiences available to players.
That being said, certain games for children may contain darker themes and aesthetics that could catch adults off-guard. While some kids may overlook these moments, others might remember them long after completing the game, having been exposed to content that they were not warned about.
Children’s Games With Dark Themes
Below are eight games for children that feature darker elements:
8. Among Us
Among Us became a global sensation during the pandemic, with its simple yet captivating gameplay loop where players must uncover an impostor within a space crew. However, the manner in which the impostor kills everyone can be quite disturbing, revealing him as an Eldritch nightmare at times. Additionally, the game sets a dangerous precedent by potentially leading kids to fall into the trap of mob mentality and vote off innocent players.
Undertale appears to be a cheerful game, but it is actually a subversion of RPG tropes. Players may not even realize that they are killing innocents, especially during the Genocide run. The game’s charm is a major draw, but kids who experience the darker side of this game may have their hearts broken as their favorite characters die.
Earthbound is a unique JRPG that stands out as one of the greatest games ever made. The game explores some pretty dark themes, with the existence of Giygas being downright nightmarish.
Psychonauts deals with players exploring the minds and psyches of individuals, which has some very dark implications. The game does an excellent job of showing how memories work, with traumatic ones being permanently etched in people’s minds.
Pokemon’s theme of animal fighting is glossed over, but it raises questions about how these creatures are happy in confined spaces and why young kids are sent out into the world to become Pokemon Masters. The Lavender Town theme is also notoriously disturbing.
3. Ecco The Dolphin
Ecco the Dolphin’s cute aesthetic belies the true threat of the Vortex alien race, which invades Earth’s waters every 500 years to harvest food. The Vortex Queen is one of the scariest final bosses in video games.
Braid is an indie game that combines puzzles, platforming, and time powers. The plot twist at the end of the game reveals that the player was the villain all along, challenging the notion of heroism in video games.
1. Hello Neighbor
Hello Neighbor markets itself as a horror game for kids, where players infiltrate a neighbor’s house to retrieve their ball. However, the game takes a dark turn when the neighbor chases and imprisons the player, leading to severe PTSD. The second half of the game is a nightmarish exploration of the neighbor’s house as players try to help a traumatized child.
In summary, games for children can contain darker themes that may catch adults off-guard. However, these games can still provide rewarding experiences for players.
Many people have the rather unfair notion that media that exists for children can’t be deep or rewarding to experience in any way. If anything, a large number of clever references in pop culture stem from movies and TV shows that were meant to appeal to a younger demographic. So, any game that’s apparently made for children shouldn’t be written off, especially if these titles stand in their own right as some of the best experiences players can enjoy.
That being said, even adults may be caught off-guard by some games for children that feature way darker aesthetics than they ideally should. While these moments may be ignored by some kids, there are others who will remember these instances long after they’ve finished playing through an experience that didn’t really warn them of any dark or disturbing elements.
8 Among Us
Among Us is a game that took over the world by storm during the pandemic. The social mechanics as players try to weed out an impostor within the ranks of a space crew makes for a simple yet tantalizing gameplay loop that is simple to understand and infinitely entertaining.
However, there’s something rather dark about the manner in which the impostor kills everyone, clearly revealing himself to be something of an Eldritch nightmare at times. The fact that kids can potentially fall into the trap of mob mentality and vote off innocents sets a dangerous precedent as well.
Undertale seems like the cheeriest game in the world, and anyone who boots up the game will never suspect that Flowey is actually a tyrant and a murderous villain. The entire game is also a subversion of RPG tropes, and kids who don’t grasp these intricacies won’t even know they’re killing innocents!
Then there’s the Genocide run, which pretty much speaks for itself. While Undertale‘s charm is a huge takeaway from this experience, kids who experience the darker side of this game will genuinely have their hearts broken as their favorite characters die all around them.
Earthbound is one of the most unique JRPGs around, released at a time when this genre focused on epic plots and high fantasy settings. The idea of playing a game where players just explore a regular world just wasn’t interesting at the time.
However, people are well-aware now that Earthbound was way ahead of its time and still stands strong as one of the greatest games ever made. The game touched upon some pretty dark themes, with the existence of Giygas itself being downright nightmarish.
It’s only a given that a game that deals with players exploring the minds and psyches of individuals would have very dark implications. Such is the case with Psychonautseven if the title has a more lighthearted approach when it comes to how people’s minds are structured.
However, the game does a great job of showing just how memories work, with the more traumatic ones being permanently etched in the minds of people no matter how hard to try to forget them. Milla is a great example of this — she seems like a person who’s pretty calm and in control, but players can access a hidden memory that details a tragic story of how Milla ran an orphanage, only for it to burn down in her absence as her psychic mind could hear her children’s pain as they were burned alive.
It’s no secret that dogfighting is illegal, which in itself gives Pokemon a pretty dark theme that is glossed over like nothing. However, that’s just a drop in the ocean of Pokemon‘s disturbing nature, which has been dissected by fans time and time again.
Do people eat Pokemon? How are these creatures happy in a confined space? Why are young kids thrown out into the world at a tender age just to be a Pokemon Master? And perhaps the most important question of them all — why is Lavender Town so disturbing?
3 Ecco The Dolphin
Ecco the Dolphin is one of the more underrated action-adventure games around, with its cute aesthetic lulling many kids into a false sense of security. However, it’s only after players go through the game that they realize what the true threat is.
It turns out that an alien race called the Vortex invades the waters of Earth every 500 years to harvest food. The idea of alien life invading Earth is pretty bad as is… and then players face off against the Vortex Queen, who is easily one of the scariest final bosses in video games.
Braid is one of the many games that catapulted indie gaming to new heights. The combination of puzzles, platforming, and time powers made for a great time, even if the story itself felt rather generic… at first.
It’s only at the end of the game that the player realizes a key thing — they were the villain all along! It’s a plot twist that challenges how heroism work in video games… and is also a development that can be really disturbing for a kid who unwittingly tried to kidnap a princess!
1 Hello Neighbor
Suffice it to say, any horror game that markets itself towards kids is bound to be disturbing for a whole host of reasons. Such is the case with Hello Neighbora game where players infiltrate a neighbor’s house to get their ball back, only to start a chain of events that shapes their entire adulthood.
After being chased around and straight-up imprisoned by the neighbor, the protagonist develops severe PTSD. The second half of the game is pretty much a fever dream where players explore a nightmarish version of the neighbor’s house as they strive to help a traumatized kid get a new chance at living a normal life.
More: The Best Educational Video Games For Children