Almost every video game requires some sort of critical thinking (definitely more than spending the same amount of time watching TV). I’m not saying that solely playing video games will make you a super-genius… but I’m not,not saying that either.
We’ll get the obvious one out of the way first. I’m going to assume that you’ve at least heard of Minecraft, even if you haven’t found yourself exploring the game personally yet. A quick search on YouTube yields an incredible amount of tutorials on how to create humongous structures, and the most creative people have designed actual games-within-the-game, such as Pacman. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before Minecraft becomes our reality a la The Matrix.
At first glance, Terraria is a Minecraft clone translated into 2 dimensions (think Super Mario World graphics), but it’s so much more. The game requires you to build structures to support NPCs (non-playable characters, but if you’re reading this I imagine you know that) that help you in your quest in various ways, and it’s almost impossible to progress in the game without doing so. The power-ups and armor builds that players can create as they move forward in Terraria are absolutely mind-blowing. Like Minecraft, Terraria requires either outside research, or an incredible amount of trial-and-error creativity.
3. Little Big Planet
The Little Big Planet series is a side-scroller that transcends the side-scrolling genre. On the surface, the idea is to go from left to right and get to the end of the level. The charm of LPB is in completing in-level puzzles in order to find hidden stickers that are used to unlock various other rewards and puzzles throughout the game. Users can also create their own levels, and much like Minecraft, this is limited only by the player’s imagination. People have actually recreated other famous games (such as the original Legend of Zelda) within the level creator in Little Big Planet. C’mon now!
4. Big Brain Academy
With versions available for the DS and Wii, Big Brain Academy consists of various games that focus on a variety of mental skills: Think, Analyze, Compute, Identify, and Memorize. With numerous exercises available for each skill set, players have a variety of ways to keep their mind fresh on a daily basis. You can also play against multiple friends on the Wii for bragging rights of most mentally with-it.
5. Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing is possibly the most relaxing game on the list (except of course doing those lousy chores for Tom Nook). At any rate, you can’t fail playing Animal Crossing. You simply walk around your town visiting NPCs and trading items to add to your home. You can fish, dig for treasure, and visit other (real) players’ cities as well. When you complete tasks for Tom Nook, your home grows in size, allowing for more decorating. Though it’s a circular process that pretty much never ends, there’s a ton of variation within the game that allows for creativity and replay value.
Get deep enough into Scribblenauts, and you might accidentally reset the universe. The game allows you to create anything you can describe and use it to solve puzzles within each stage. You can create a psychedelic rabid tyrannosaurus, a crazed purple monkey, or even a time machine. The designers of Scribblenauts anticipated almost everything the player would think of, and the amount of “easter eggs” within the game is inexhaustible. The hardest part of the game is not looking anything up and just expanding your mind to think of different creations you could invent.
SimCity has been a mainstay for creativity since 1989. Players create their own city—everything from building zones to utilities like power plants and water pumps. You also have to manage money correctly by raising and lowering taxes based on the needs of your city (and not spending too much on a statue of yourself or something). With SimCity, you’ll never build the same town twice; there’s always something to improve, and again, the game is limited only by your creativity.
In Portal, players use a special gun to create… portals… that let the character teleport from one area to another. It sounds simple, but trust me: it’s not. You have to anticipate the chain reaction your next move will have, and respond quickly to changes in your environment. While there is definitely an optimal solution to each puzzle, there are so many options for each puzzle that figuring out the best way is a long trial-and-error process. And besides the creative thought it takes to get to the end, the final boss is one of the best in any video game you’ll ever play.
9. The Sims
The Sims is one of the most popular casual PC games out there. If you’ve never played it (which is doubtful), in The Sims, you take control of a person’s life. You make every decision for your Sim, from when he’ll use the bathroom, to who he marries, to what career he jumps into, and everything in between. You can also create the mansion he lives in, and all of its furnishings. You can also think of creative ways to torture your Sim, but don’t judge me by that suggestion; everyone’s done it at one point…
Okay, Tetris. I see you. I didn’t forget you. The original puzzle game, Tetris requires quick decisions, on-the-fly planning, and creative thought. I’m not even going to explain how to play Tetris, because if you got this far in the article, I would bet my life that you’ve played it before. Tell me that after a long session of Tetris, you couldn’t rearrange your furniture or the food in your pantry to make them fit perfectly. You can’t. End of story.