Steam is famous among PC gamers not just for the plethora of great games (and the insanity-inducing sales events), but also for bringing communities together and encouraging gaming parties between old and new friends. The added benefit of this community focused service is the value it brings into the home of gaming families.
At ages 9, 13, and 14, all three of my boys have their own Steam account (of sorts) and regularly log on together and play on the same server. Add my wife’s Steam account, even with the decided lack of non-puzzle games, and we are entirely Steam powered. Our game nights are often filled with playful shouting from room to room accompanied with squeals of delight at defeated bosses or rare treasure drops. We love our board game nights, but when we play together on Steam… stuff gets real. Once you game as a family in Steam, you might not look at your consoles the same ever again.
Before I go further, let me address the idea of children on Steam:
Number one, I do not advocate any online service as a ‘virtual babysitter.’ Your children want to interact with YOU, not the computer. But they also love fun video games. In-home social gaming is a great way to combine the two so long as you remember that the core objective is to connect with your loved ones. Have fun, play hard, but know when to put the wireless mouse back on the recharging stand.
Number two, I do not advocate ignoring the ESRB rating system when considering game purchases for children. The ratings are their FOR PARENTS. Pay attention to them and know exactly to what your darling children’s eyes are exposed. Having established that…
If little Billy or Sally has been eyeing your games and tugging at your pants leg to give them a turn, now is a perfect time to embrace Steam’s Family Account Sharing. This is a new feature that allows you to lock out certain games or abilities in your account and give younger gamers free access to any game in your Steam library. Originally, if you wanted to let someone play your game, you had to log them into your account. Then if you get pulled away, or do not keep an eye on the critter on your computer, the next time you log in you could find a few new games charged to your credit card or a few messages from PonyLovrrz18 asking ‘y u leev so soon? Wats ur email? Can I have some of ur trading cards?’.
But now, Family Sharing allows your youngins to play your games to their hearts content while you breath easy knowing they can’t do any real damage. The service is new, so there still may be some bugs. For complete safety, I suggest removing any attached credit card from your account before trying. Even so, beats buying the same game twice for their account.
But gaming together as a family is a completely different and unique experience. For pure multi-player madness, the greatest feature in Steam is the Big Picture Mode. This is my favorite feature in Steam: attach your computer to any HDTV via a DMI cable, add a Microsoft Xbox wireless controller (or two) and then click Big Picture in the upper right. BOOM! Instant Steam Machine! The Steam interface converts to a controller-enabled, TV-friendly interface with large wide controls and easy to read menus and text. Steam also goes the extra step and allows you to filter out games that are not controller-enabled (and thus, do not work well in Big Picture Mode). Everything works the same; store, library, friends… only in a big screen mode.
(My favorite response: “Nah. We play PC. Much better.”)
Once you are in Big Picture Mode, many games become excellent console alternatives. Besides the few I mentioned above, some of the most popular ‘local co-op’ games include Trine 2, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, Laura Croft and the Guardian of Light, Gatling Gears, AirMech, many of the Lego franchise games, and many MANY more.
If you don’t have an official XBox wireless controller, don’t worry. Many of the mid-to-low budget controllers work just as well, although you may need to spend a little time adjusting button mappings.