Kids on the internet is (or at least should be) a pretty scary thing for parents. There are predators, perverts or people with questionable ideas that you just don't want to expose your children to. I find it odd, therefore, that so many parents let their elementary school age children play WoW unsupervised. They must see it as an electronic babysitter like television or single player video games rather than what it really is: having your child be babysat by 9 million potential weirdos. These children attempt to get much needed guidance and attention from whatever stranger happens to be nearby. But players don't know how old unknown, needy players are -- they just see them as a nuisance and verbally abuse them accordingly.
More than just exposing children to negative influences, these parents are missing out on a great opportunity to teach their children some very important life lessons. Children go to school to get educated, but they are supposed to learn their values at home. I believe that playing WoW with your children can be a great way to instill them with some very basic yet important values. My daughter is not even preschool age yet, but when she is ready, I plan to play WoW with her -- probably after playing Toontown and maybe CoH first(there's no death, just defeat). I will play MMOs with her because I've seen the result of parents actively playing MMOs with their children. For example, there was Bigmo.
I met Bigmo playing EQ several years ago. He played a Dwarf somethingorother and we ended up in the same area killing stuff together. He was respectful, followed instructions and was focused: an unusually good PUG. He also wasn't very skilled in his class, but we were pretty low level so that wasn't uncommon. There was that lovely extensive downtime in EQ, waiting for spawns and to regen, so we ended up chatting. I was surprised to discover he was somewhere between 8 and 10 years old (I forget exactly how old). His typing was good and his spelling wasn't too bad (I've seen much worse in adults) and there was no leetspeak. He didn't volunteer any other personal information about himself -- though he did say that while he was sometimes allowed to play by himself, he often played with his father. He showed me his most cherished (virtual) possession: the sword (not too uber) that he had acquired when hunting with his dad. Over a few months, we often hunted together. Sure, I couldn't say naughty stuff in front of him, but I never felt like I was babysitting.
I never met Bigmo's father, online or elsewhere, but he had obviously succeeded in at least some aspects of parenting. If Bigmo has all those characteristics online, he probably exhibits them offline -- since we all know that the anonymity of the internet usually brings out the worst in people (link is not so child-friendly). I think that one way he succeeded was by teaching and reinforcing values during their online play. With directed, supervised and cooperative play in WoW, there are many values and skills you can instill in your child:
Good manners are a great social skill that can make many real life interactions with people much easier for your entire life. I'm not talking about using the right fork or what side of the sidewalk the guy is supposed to walk on -- but simple, basic manners like saying "please" and "thank you" cannot be taught too early. Azeroth is a great place for your budding etiquette expert to practice his manners. And I think I speak for most educated adults who play WoW when I say that we would all prefer that the word "please" be typed out.
As a parent, your child looks to you for necessities and rewards, but you know that other adults are not responsible for providing for or teaching your child. In WoW, your child is going to meet many strangers. He needs to know that they don't have to help him or even be nice to him. If they do decide to help your child, he needs to respect their time and appreciate their efforts. You can teach him to speak to the strangers in WoW as you would want him to speak to people who help us in real life.
Computers are used in schools and in almost every job existing. While you do want to make sure that your child gets plenty of exercise and fresh air, using WoW is a great way to have your child practice keyboard and mouse use in the evenings or on rainy days.
I am constantly amazed in the real world how difficult it is for so many adults to follow simple instructions. I think people, particularly supervisors, in all types of businesses can empathize with me on this. Finding an employee or trainee who can actually follow the steps that are plainly displayed or easily accessed is not as easy as you would think. I really don't know how schools are missing the mark on this one. You would think that this is the type of skill they would be good at teaching. Regardless, quests in WoW are particularly good for teaching this important skill. Have your child read the quest himself, figure out where to go on the map and lead the way there. You can have him be the leader and tell you what you need to accomplish and where you need to turn it in. The quests in the noobie areas (dare I say, the Human beginning area in particular?) are designed to introduce new players to questing in general and the types of quests that will be seen throughout the game. Starting characters from scratch and having your child lead the way (with guidance and hints) will be great for his learning how to follow instructions.
Working together toward virtual goals is practice for working with non-family members. Healing each other, taunting, crowd control, buffing -- these all teach cooperation. Even if you never let your child group with strangers, he is still learning how to work with others by playing with you.
Ok, this is a pet peeve. I am disturbed by the trend in both real life and WoW of people believing they are entitled to things for little or no effort. (Thank you reader Delta, who commented on last week's column, for inspiring this part.) As much as I complain about the grind and downtime in EQ, there was a real sense of achievement to each level, let alone the rare gear. In WoW, as much fun as I had getting from 60 to 70 in BC, it was over too quickly. I didn't really feel like I had achieved anything special. Even though WoW is much easier than most of the other MMOs I've played, there are still ways to give your child a sense of achievement. Don't run him through instances. Don't twink him out (though some bags and a gold piece wouldn't be so bad to ease the pain of noobness). Have him shop for gear he wants in places like WoWHead, figure out how to get it together and then do the work together. A sense of personal achievement and the knowledge that good things must be earned is imperative for succeeding at school, work and play. After all, there is no in-game or real life prize for "Best Forum Whiner"... yet.
Independence, Problem Solving, Self Esteem, Preparedness:
When you think your child is ready, and after teaching him some important safety tips, letting him play by himself (with some periodic, over the shoulder supervision) is a great way to have him learn many important things. He needs to learn about self sufficiency, figuring out problems, having the right supplies and tools, etc. Once you've shown him all of the basics, going out and doing it himself is a great way to reinforce everything he's learned. WoW is a gentle place for venturing out at a tender age because there is no real penalty for dying. Short of accidentally deleting his gear, all mistakes can be fixed. Be there for him in case of extreme frustration, but otherwise let him muddle through for himself. I do recommend having someone young or new to MMOs level up on a PVE server, however. Getting ganked repeatedly is demoralizing for players of all ages.
Of course, you should be teaching your children the values you want them to have outside of video games, as well. But parenting is a difficult, full-time job with lots of unpaid overtime. If you are reading this, you probably play WoW anyway, so why not combine your hobby with your parenting duties? I look forward to the time when I can play MMOs with my daughter and, if I do a good job, maybe she'll be as much fun for other people to quest with as Bigmo was for me.
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 or if you have a story you wish to share, please email Robin.Torres AT weblogsinc DOT com for a possible future column.