Common Sense


Games That Build Social and Emotional Skills

Students who are in tune with their emotions -- and the emotions of others -- are better equipped for the ups and downs of school and life. They'll be able to navigate challenges more effectively and earn the trust and respect of their peers. They can better cope with difficult emotional situations and even act as mediators. One day, they may even use those perspective-taking skills to become better parents, colleagues, or leaders.

Classrooms are an ideal place to model and practice social and emotional (SEL) skills, and educational games are a perfect match for SEL. Learning games allow students to inhabit worlds and points-of-view and test out approaches to life in a safe environment where taking risks is encouraged. The SEL games we've curated on this list will help students expand their worldviews, understand the needs of others, identify and reflect on their own feelings, and gain a more rounded view of themselves. Some are quick experiences focused on particular struggles or skills, while others are more in-depth and aimed at broader coverage of SEL competencies. 

For more social and emotional learning resources, please visit our SEL in Digital Life Resource Center.

Continue reading

Top Picks


PrintPrint | Save as PDF

Avokiddo Emotions

Hilarious animals help kids identify emotions

Bottom line: This silly animal app is a fun way to teach kids about emotions and creativity.

Daniel Tiger's Grr-ific Feelings

Songs and activities help kids express, recognize, understand emotions

Bottom line: Daniel Tiger and his friends present excellent examples for kids who are just learning healthy emotional expression.

Dr. Panda & Toto's Treehouse

Open play encourages empathy, critical thinking, imagination, wonder

Bottom line: Toto's Treehouse invites kids to play and explore -- just the way they learn best.

Four little corners

Simple story about shapes showcases problem-solving and inclusion

Bottom line: This cute little story could be a nice launching pad for big discussions about friendship, tolerance, and acceptance.

Wee You-Things

Kids join the story celebrating uniqueness -- including their own

Bottom line: Wee You-Things may not be a book that kids revisit many times, but the message is powerful.


Brief bursts of physical exercise add classroom fun, build brainpower

Bottom line: In a genre of its own, GoNoodle is a ready-to-go, classroom-friendly exercise program that challenges students to get moving.

Zoo U

Research-based social game has terrific assessment potential

Bottom line: A powerful and focused social problem-solving game designed to reach kids who need direct instruction.

Hall of Heroes

Responsive game helps students prepare for transition to middle school

Bottom line: Wonderful and fun social-interaction game designed to teach cooperation and friendship skills needed for middle school and beyond.

Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are

Appealing graphic novel teaches relatable tween lessons

Bottom line: A compelling read for tweens and teens looking for guidance and understanding of common social situations.


Gorgeous, moving adventure -- a jewel of social and emotional learning

Bottom line: Journey is a must-play experience and a shining beacon of the good that games can do.

Never Alone: Ki Edition

Illuminating native Alaskan folktale supports SEL skills

Bottom line: A beautiful achievement developed in cooperation with indigenous folk that offers players valuable SEL skill building and a respectful window into Inupiat culture, ways of life, traditions, and stories.


An avant-garde journey of group dynamics sparks discussion

Bottom line: An unusual app that will confuse and entertain classrooms, generating discussion on a number of societal and philosophical topics.

Papo & Yo

Powerful tale of alcoholism uses puzzles and metaphor to build empathy

Bottom line: A beautiful game that's sure to build students' empathy skills and provoke deep conversations about alcoholism and abuse as well as metaphor.

Thomas Was Alone

Story-driven puzzle game teaches students to value their differences and help one another

Bottom line: This unexpectedly thoughtful and emotional puzzler could offer valuable lessons about friendship and empathy to kids experiencing trouble socializing.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Unique cooperative adventure with lasting social and emotional impact

Bottom line: With good support, an extremely powerful game to build empathy.

Common Sense Selection

East of the Rockies

AR experience offers moving insight into tragic history of internment

Bottom line: Culturally rich and emotionally moving, with purposeful opportunities for interactivity.


Provocative, first-person look at poverty builds empathy

Bottom line: It'll need some scaffolding, but for students ready for the subject matter it's a great -- if sobering -- way to illustrate to students the daily realities and struggles of poverty in America.

Attentat 1942

Emotional WWII game deftly explores the stories of survivors

Bottom line: An absorbing experience that'll motivate students to piece together a family's story of survival during Nazi occupation.

Bury Me, My Love

Moving portrayal of the dangers and uncertainty of a Syrian refugee

Bottom line: It effectively connects students with the harrowing journey of a Syrian refugee, even though some of the interactive elements are underwhelming.

Gone Home

Compelling narrative game fosters empathy, self-reflection

Bottom line: If you're searching for a unique way to analyze storytelling from a social and emotional angle, look no further.

Liyla and the Shadows of War

Stark, arresting game offers emotional perspective on war's human toll

Bottom line: The short length and powerful themes make this an effective way to help students consider the brutal effects of war on families.

Papers, Please

Mature immigration game forces tough ethical choices

Bottom line: It's a provocative simulation about ethics and immigration that could spark debate but might be tough to implement.

Please Knock on My Door

Effective and affecting game about dealing with depression

Bottom line: A slow-paced SEL game for helping students understand the nuances of managing mental health.


Students consider their priorities in empathy-building simulation

Bottom line: A useful, if a bit repetitive, game to help high school students plan for the future and gauge how their choices impact many areas of well-being.

This War of Mine

Strategy game offers superb, mature take on war and civilian survival

Bottom line: A stark portrayal of civilian life in a war-torn city that requires strategic thinking and invites repeated plays.


Philosophical game invites students to ponder everything's existence

Bottom line: Meaningful and humbling take on interconnectedness, but in that existential sort of way that's highly individual and potentially hit or miss.


Incredibly relatable story about navigating adult love and life

Bottom line: This heartwarming game helps kids empathize with the highs and lows of romantic relationships.

Get tips for using these tools in the classroom

See related resources