When we talk about educational games, we tend to focus on products that are strictly tuned to teach or apply a specific skill. But what about the educational value of exploring mature situations? What label do we give to media that isn’t strictly focused on learning, but still manages to help us grow by challenging how we react to different people, ideas and situations?

Nate Ewert-Krocker‘s recent piece in Paste on Dontnod’s Life is Strangeis a nice spotlight on the importance of these kinds of games. Experiences that are mature not necessarily for their violence or sexuality, but for the ways in which they actually inform the process of growing. It’s notable that while literature and film have huge libraries targeted at young adults and teens, the breadth of games for people in this critical age of development is relatively limited. It’s kind of a catch-22: we live in an industry dominated by mature experiences, but pay shockingly little attention to creating things that might actually help young people process them in a healthy way.

I think there’s a fascinating thought experiment buried in here: if you were 13 today, what would you be playing? Which modern games and storylines would speak to your tastes as a young adult? What would you even be allowed to play? What games would you have missed out on because they weren’t ‘viable’ at the precise time you happened to be developing? How would all of those factors shape your growth as a player and a person?

I’m personally struggling to answer many of these questions. It’s strange, but young adult themes aren’t always the most appealing to explore when you’re a kid. On some level, I identify more with young adult characters and themes as an adult than I ever could at that age (perhaps that isn’t surprising given how popular young adult books and films are with adults). I hope that if I was 13 today, I’d be adventurous enough in this open gaming landscape to try new things that challenge my sense of self and the world – but I wish I was more confident in that.