The Best Mom Games Money Can Buy
Now that the holiday hype has passed, the start to 2021 is looking a little too much like 2020. As your mom* whiles away the winter weeks until the sun stays out past 4:30pm and the COVID-19 vaccine becomes wildly available, you may consider turning her into a capital g Gamer.
When the nightmare of 2020 hit the fan, I was saved once again by my lord and savior, Video Games. (If you’re reading this, then I guess you were, too.) As the “two-week suggested lockdown” turned into months, I often thought about my mom, stuck inside her house with none of her regular sociable, adventurous opportunities available to her.
I realized that I had an unprecedented opportunity to get my mom into my favorite pastime. I suggested games that weren’t gratuitously violent, had easy-to-understand mechanics, and could be played on her phone or tablet. (Consoles can be intimidating.)
During the pandemic, I’ve gradually turned my mom into a casual gamer. I love that journey for her, and I hope this list helps you guide a loved one on a similar adventure.
*Can be your mom, another maternal figure, paternal figure, really anyone over the age of 40 who says, “Don’t go so fast!” when you show them something on your phone.
Tips for Getting Your Mom Started on Video Games
- On your next phone or Zoom call, tell her about a video game you’ve been enjoying lately and why.
- Offer to buy the first one for her (especially if it’s one she can play on her phone). She might say, “It’s too expensive—don’t spend that on me!” Remind her that most legit mobile games are about $5, the same as a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha, and that she’ll enjoy this for a lot longer.
- If you’re with her, maybe even just go ahead and download it for her. Don’t let her talk herself out of it once she gets to the “confirm purchase” pop-up.
- Once she gets going on a game, ask her what she thinks and what she enjoys about it. She’ll love getting to talk to you about a new shared hobby.
Let’s dive into the list.
#1. For Moms Who’ve Done a Lot of Puzzles During Quarantine: Monument Valley 1 & 2
This game has been popular for years for a reason: it’s beautiful, has dreamy music, and has just enough of a plot (with mom vibes!) to keep a new gamer curious. Since the puzzles are challenging but solvable with straightforward touch controls, it’s a smooth choice for beginning gamers. Plus, chances are, your mom knows about M.C. Escher and she’ll think that’s pretty cool.
If your mom was one of those people who was literally on waitlists for puzzles during the pandemic, upgrade her to Monument Valley, and dangle the carrot of a sequel when she gets close to the end.
#2. For Moms Who Love Jane Austen: Regency Love
I’ll be honest: I was straight up obsessed with this game for a month. Regency Love is an interactive novel game that was made by three young Asian Australian women as a passion project a few years ago. The game echoes many themes and elements of classic Austen novels—a young woman of minor status whose main objectives in life are to become an “accomplished woman” (be good at the piano, do embroidery, ride a horse, etc.) so she can marry well.
Players navigate their character with a lot of freedom: They can choose responses in conversations, decide her social calendar, and allocate how she spends her time off. The mechanics are extremely easy to understand, and with multiple suitor paths and conversation choices, it’s very replayable. The game also has an expansion that’s worth it, especially since this game is super indie and it’s nice to support people who make games.
For moms, it resembles a form they’ve seen before (a book) with cultural hallmarks they’ll recognize, making the transition to gaming easier. My mom loved it.
- $4.99 on Apple Store; $5.99 expansion also recommended
#3. For Quirky, Good-Humored Moms: Donut County
You play a raccoon whose main job is delivering donuts who somehow accidentally destroys his whole town by creating giant holes that suck all the buildings down below the earth’s crust. It’s awesome. The mechanics are relatively easy to grasp, and each level adds a new element or skill to play around with.
For moms new to gaming, Donut County is a fun way to demonstrate what leveling up looks like. If your mom likes to spend a lot of time in Michael’s Art & Craft Supplies, she’ll appreciate how colorful and creative this game is—it just oozes a sense of, “Heck, let’s have some fun with it.”
In addition to being mechanically delightful, Donut County is exceptionally well written and designed, especially since it was made by just one guy. The humor will make your mom LOL for real and show her that gaming can be just as fun as making sourdough bread. Plays great on tablet.
#4. For Moms Who Live With Your Younger Brother: Overcooked! 1 & 2
The Overcooked! games are only on consoles, and since your mom prob doesn’t have her own, you or a sibling will likely need to share and help your mom get used to a controller. Overcooked!, played on couch co-op, is a great way to spice up those chilly winter days (especially during COVID).
Both the original and its sequel are full of warmth and good humor. Players cooperate together to prepare and serve meals in a restaurant environment, with each level providing a variety of zany elements. Moms will also “get” how cooking works, unlike some games on this list that may make them ask you, “Wait, what is this?”
Because there are lots of kitchen duties and roles, it’s easy to tell your mom, “You just cut vegetables,” and once she learns the mechanics, she knows her duty and can deliver on it to help bring the team to victory. Super replayable, and great to play a few levels, take a cookie break, and get right back in the virtual kitchen.
- Overcooked! 1: $16.99 on PlayStation, Xbox, or Steam; $19.99 on Switch
- Overcooked! 2: $24.99 on PlayStation, Xbox**, Steam, or Switch
**Also on Xbox Game Pass! (You don’t need to start with Overcooked! 1; this isn’t a BioWare game.)
Does your mom have the same console as you, but you’re not together? You can also play Overcooked! 2 online, but the logistics of getting a parent set up with that are often frustrating enough to ruin the mood, so be wary of doing this as a first choice.
#5. For Moms Who Like Their Own Space but Still Like Their Friends: Stardew Valley
This was the first game I bought my mom just for her, and she got way into it. For anyone who doesn’t know the spiritual successor to Harvest Moon, it’s essentially a small-town farm simulator where you can have a dog, grow crops, upgrade your house, and befriend townsfolk.
Independent moms will appreciate that the townies are funny and unique, but kept at a distance and not a bother. Because there’s no urgency in Stardew Valley, moms can take their time learning the game’s mechanics and interacting with characters they like. It’s a repetitive game, but there is understanding and joy in routine, especially for moms who are new to gaming.
Apparently my mom played the first year of the game barely talking to anyone (except Lionel, who she made a point to check on and feed every day), instead focused on her chickens and turnips. That made me smile.
#6. For Lovers of Late-Night Spooky History Channel TV Shows: Oxenfree
Love this one. It’s a clever, fully voiced game with a cool female protagonist. Oxenfree does a great job of incorporating dialogue and action, even with the controls just being click and tap. It plays more like an immersive television show, and moms will appreciate how clear its mechanics are.
Oxenfree is spooky without being icky, mysterious without being confusing, and funny without being silly. It’s on the longer side of games on this list, which makes it a nice choice for settling in on a cold wintry day or learning over the course of a quiet month. It does have a bit of replayability as well. This game plays smoothly on tablet and smartphone.
- Free to start on App Store and $4.99 on Google Play
- $9.99 on consoles (Xbox, PlayStation, Steam, Switch)
#7. For Moms Who Love(d) to Travel: 80 Days
Anyone who enjoys seeing new places and meeting new people has been really struggling in 2020. If your mom has missed the stress of packing a suitcase and buying flight tickets to explore a beautiful historic city and talk to randos, then get her 80 Days!
80 Days was made by Inkle, a company that essentially takes the concept of an interactive novel to a new level. (They also made Sorcery!, which is fun for people who like to play D&D but don’t have—or want—a group.)
I’ve been replaying 80 Days on airplanes on my tablet since it came out in 2014, and it’s still fun. It is a visually gorgeous and exciting retelling of the classic book Around the World in Eighty Days. As the aptly named executive assistant/butler Passepartout, you manage the travel itinerary, uncover international intrigue, talk to sentient robots (there’s a lite steampunk vibe), and exchange trinkets for better passage.
The only thing to note is that there’s a ticking clock at every juncture to create urgency for making a decision on how to best spend your time and/or select the next travel step. While designed to make the overarching plot feel more urgent, it may stress some moms out.
This one’s next on my mom’s to-play list.
Bonus: #8. For Moms Who Might Game but Are a Bit Tech-Phobic: Hunt a Killer
While not a video game, a subscription to Hunt a Killer was a great “gamer” birthday gift for my mom. It’s a murder mystery in a box, and while it can be played by multiple people, my mom did it by herself. She would set aside an afternoon, make tea, and unpack a HAK box on the dining room table (reminding me of my own Saturday morning ritual to wake up early, make coffee, and game without interruption).
Each box comes with paper evidence, knick-knacks, and clues, with a goal to solve at the end of each box. By the end of the subscription, you’ll have solved the mystery. I bought my mom the first two boxes as a gift, not knowing if she’d be into it, and she liked it so much that she took over and paid for the rest of it on her own. She loved the first season and especially delighted in the setting, a theater in the 1920s, which gave all of the items a gorgeous art deco vibe.
The best price-point options are their subscription or in-one-sitting “premium” boxes (there’s lots of promo codes floating around the internet, too). For moms who are a little gun-shy about using their phone for anything other than phone calls and social media, try Hunt a Killer. Or if they just really like murder mysteries, that’s cool too. If you’re apart during the pandemic, you can also order yourself a set so you can play “with” her.
- One cycle of a subscription set runs for six boxes (i.e., six months), so it goes for $165 when prepaid or $30 month to month.
- Premium one-time sets run about $100 each.
A Quick Note in Favor of the Above List
When deciding your mom’s first game, think carefully about the concepts in the games you’re sharing with her. The first game I bought for my mom was Life Is Strange. I thought, hey, an interactive story with great music and beautiful art and a “rewind” function? No combat? Perfect!
What I failed to realize was that she would be incredibly stressed out and worried about young women in danger, projecting all the fears for her daughters (i.e., me) onto protagonists Max and Chloe. She ultimately could not get more than halfway through the game. I backtracked hard and went with #5 on this list next, with much better results! (For the record, I love Life is Strange and Life is Strange 2 but recognize they’re not for everyone!)
Did you evolve your mom into a gamer? Please let me know if you get your mom into any of these games and/or if you have other suggestions! Mama’s gotta game.