“Roblox is a super compelling example of what game developers call a ‘sandbox game’ where players have easy-to-use tools and the freedom to create things and set their own goals,” Dr. Mimi Ito, a University of California, Irvine professor with an expertise in gaming and social media, tells Romper. “On top of the creative component, Roblox is also a social platform where children can connect with players and creators who share their interests, give constant feedback, and fuel their learning.”
Until this past year (and everything that came with it), my kids didn’t spend a ton of time playing games on tablets and phones. They mainly stuck to Playstation games, and Minecraft was a huge hit. However, now that playing on their iPads provides a much-needed break from online schoolwork, Roblox has become their go-to building game of choice. Available to play on tablets, smartphones, PCs, and Xbox gaming systems, Roblox was first released in 2005 and sees about 36.2 million players daily, according to the video game statistics website Video Game Stats.
Much like building with LEGOs, Roblox offers an entire world of endless building possibilities for kids. They can create, destroy, and re-build until their heart’s content. But unlike building things in real life where kids are limited only by their own imaginations and the tools available to them, Roblox offers kids the opportunity to play and build within worlds and games imagined by others.
“When you see a child doing imaginative play, Roblox gives that same stimulus of endless imagination and exploration,” Jeff Ward, founder of Coder Kids, tells Romper. “The main difference with Roblox versus imaginative play is that there are endless possibilities, and instead of having to come up with stuff on your own, you get it given to you in pre-built mini-games.”
Within Roblox, players can engage in games with others, so there is a social aspect of the game that really helps keep kids connected and playing with their friends. Although this definitely requires monitoring on the parent’s part to make sure that kids are safe playing with others, it opens up an entirely new avenue by which kids can socialize. While Roblox has options for single-player gameplay as well, the multi-player mode seems to be a big draw for older kids especially.
“In a digitally networked world, the ability to make things, work with others, and develop a positive online reputation and connections is critically important,” Ito says. “Roblox offers children training wheels to explore a digitally networked world in a moderated, family-friendly environment before leaping to more adult-centered social media platforms and digital content.”
The ability to play mini-games within a game is another draw to Roblox specifically. “Some games are definitely more beneficial than others. Some require teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and persistence. Others are pretty mindless,” Ward says. “If you really want your child to get the most benefit from playing Roblox, I would recommend observing the games they play, or playing with them, to see which ones are beneficial and which are not.”
Another benefit to game play, Ward points out, is that eventually kids can start learning coding to build their own game. “This is a lot of work and very beneficial in many ways, but definitely an advanced skill,” he explains.
Because adults also play Roblox, not every game within Roblox is kid-friendly. Some popular games, like Jailbreak, are built around more mature subjects, like how to escape from jail and go on a crime spree. Other games however do offer more kid-friendly content, so it’s not hard to find age-appropriate games within the app itself, but parental monitoring is key. Ito says that one of the reasons she started the non-profit Connected Camps was to offer parents who have not grown up with this type of social gaming the opportunity to be mentored by college and high school gaming enthusiasts to learn more.
“Sandbox games are open-ended by nature, so that means there’s huge variability in how children engage. We see many, if not most, children using these platforms for relatively basic forms of play without engaging in most of the creative elements,” Ito says. “We also see some children turning into online trolls or just not knowing how to be a good online citizen. Just like parents, teachers, and coaches monitor and guide a real-life playground or little league game, children need to have mentorship in digital social spaces.”
Depending on what you have time for, Ito recommends that parents engage with and support their kids who play Roblox. “Like board games or sports, digital games and platforms are great for family bonding, and Roblox has many different options,” she says. Even if you don’t play yourself, encouraging your kids in their gameplay can be just as supportive. “You may not understand or fully appreciate their passion for Roblox or Minecraft, but you can still support activities, encourage good gamesmanship, and celebrate their wins and achievements.”
Dr. Mimi Ito, Professor in Residence and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at the University of California, Irvine, Co-founder Connected Camps
Jeff Ward, founder of Coder Kids