A local Philadelphia news station covered this story yesterday about the dangers of MMO addiction. It is a more responsible article than most because it quotes an actual psychologist as saying that most people have no problem playing WoW, just the people who have problems dealing with reality. On a related note, the always delightful Jack Thompson seems to have sent out another letter, this one to Microsoft, about Halo 3 being marketed to underage gamers. I'm not going to get into a discussion about the merits of Jack's case (cough media slut cough) or the impossible task of marketing to 17 year olds, but not 16 year olds. I also don't want to belittle addiction. Addiction is a real and horrible thing that ruins more lives than just the addict's, whether the addiction is WoW or alcohol or whatever. Often addicts will move from one addiction to another, unable to cope with life without a crutch. I, unfortunately, know somebody like this.
The problem I have with the Internet Addiction news story, all news stories like it and everything having to do with Mr. Virtual Ambulance Chaser is the fact that it is "news" that children don't do well when they are electronically babysat. Well, duh.
More on this topic and some solutions after the jump.
I watched this video about WoW addiction in Australia and had the same reaction. The mother is distraught that her son is playing WoW for 16 hours a day. Who gave him his computer? Who pays for his WoW account? Who pays for his internet access? As long as he is her child, living under her roof, she has the power to help him with his addiction and his lack of balance. (Or at least she could help him improve his gear. How is he playing 15 hours a day and still wearing tier 0 on his pally?)
I have a daughter who is far too young to play video games... yet. But she does enjoy television. I put her in front of some educational shows or some pure entertainment fluff while she's eating a snack and it allows me to get things done. So I do understand the lure of letting electronic entertainment "babysit" your child so that you can accomplish other things. And maybe you have to work a lot or have many other children or share custody or something else happens out of your control and the next thing you know, Johnny is a WoW addict. Instead of running to the local news station or writing your congressperson, I have some solutions to turn this from a problem to a parenting opportunity.
1. Discipline: Every child needs discipline. I don't mean pull out your belt or have him get a switch. In order to graduate college and keep a clean living space, your child needs to learn how to balance study, chores and play. Have Johnny complete his homework (under your supervision) and do a chore or two every night before being rewarded with WoW playtime.
2. Creativity: Unless Johnny is a roleplayer, he probably isn't getting too much of a creative outlet while playing WoW. Has he expressed interest in writing? Encourage him to blog about his character's exploits or give class advice on a regular basis. Is he a budding artist? Have him post a weekly WoW related comic or create some WoW fan art. Johnny can also stitch or create a mod or animate a musical comedy ... the possibilities are endless.
3. Ethics and Social Interaction: If you play WoW with Johnny, you can make sure he knows the difference between right and wrong. If he's a ninjalooting, verbally harassing, email scamming kind of a kid, you have your work cut out for you. But, as in real life, you can make sure that he is hanging out with ethical, responsible, considerate friends -- like an adult-run guild who doesn't put up with bad behavior -- which is much better than hanging around with a lot of potential "friends" from school.
4. Bonding: Playing WoW regularly with Johnny can help the two of you grow closer together. Not every story can be this inspiring, but time spent working on common goals -- even purely entertaining ones -- can make a family closer.
While you are spending more time with your child, if you discover that he does have a problem coping with reality or your restrictions on his addiction have made him become violent, please seek professional help immediately. Playing WoW may have highlighted a problem he is going to have to deal with in order to function after he leaves the nest.
Just remember that no matter how many mistakes you make, Blizzard will never make a better parent for your child and neither will Jack, no matter how many letters he writes.
Robin Torres juggles one level 70 Tauren Druid, multiple alts across multiple servers, two cats, one toddler, one loot-addicted husband and a yarn dependency. After years of attempting to balance MMOs with real life, Robin lightheartedly shares the wisdom gleaned from her experiences. If you would like to ask Robin's advice, please email Robin.Torres@weblogsinc.com for a possible future column.