Each week, Robin Torres contributes Gamer Interrupted, a column about balancing real life with MMOs.

There is an interesting article over at Channel Massive that states in very strong terms that "You can be a great parent or a great gamer but you can't be both." He defines a "great gamer" as someone who is in a hardcore raiding guild in WoW or a top level ranked PvPer. He compares gaming to other activities which parents indulge in to escape familial responsibilities. He also claims that these "great gamers" play more in their MMO of choice than the average person watches TV and that watching TV is more conducive to parenting than "hardcore" gaming is. He breaks down the hours that must be required to be a "great gamer" and that leave no time for being a great or even good parent, spouse, billpayer, etc.

Hi, my name is Robin Torres and this is the new home for my column about having a successful MMO life while still having a successful real life -- formerly Azeroth Interrupted on WoW Insider. I have a hard time with many of the opinions put forth by the article mentioned. I don't like the definition of "great gamer". I disagree with the playtime required to maintain a "great gamer" status. And I really dislike the judgmental tone directed at anyone who seems to be trying to achieve the balance of "hardcore" MMO gaming and living an otherwise successful life.

You can be a successful gamer who achieves major goals in-game and be a great parent and a great spouse and a breadwinner, etc. It's hard, but it is possible. Sure there are a lot of people who are trying and failing -- though I bet with the right attitude and priorities, they get better at it. And yes, there are some people who purposely play too much to escape their real life responsibilities -- but they are not necessarily hardcore raiders. These people can just as easily be leveling multiple alts or participating in extensive roleplay and are just doing anything in-game to avoid spending time dealing with family. Or they could be meticulously grooming their lawn, as the article says. But just as an immaculate lawn is not necessarily the sign of a bad family life inside the home, nor is membership in a successful raiding guild an indicator that family is being neglected.

This is a very controversial topic. The last time I posited that "Raiders have real lives, too", I woke up to a mailbox full of flaming comments. So I am wearing my fire resistant gear in case of a similar reaction. The fact that successful Raiders can live successful real lives at the same time does not mean that all other players are noobs. Nor does it invalidate the choices of those people who don't choose to raid. Everyone has different situations that make balancing leisure activities with real life challenging. And everyone has different goals for their gaming time.

So, let's talk about what a "great gamer" is. A hardcore raider whose guild accomplishes server firsts certainly falls under that category. Also, players who collect top PvP titles could be considered "great" as are players who collect all of the badges in a game. But what about the guy who leveled a warrior in WoW to 70 with no armor or weapons? Or the players who consistently hold fun events on their servers in their favorite MMO? I think those gamers are pretty great. I guess being some kinds of great gamers are considered easier than others. Raiding, particularly in WoW, definitely has the reputation of being extremely time consuming.

The fact is that successful raiders -- those who beat the endgame raids before the next ones are introduced -- often spend less time playing than those who are not raiding or haven't been as successful. When my husband left his friendly and fun but slow-to-get-through-WoW-raid-content guild to join one of the server's best raiding guilds, his playtime dropped drastically. Instead of spending 8 hours on a Sunday trying to get through Molten Core with a bunch of disorganized but fun to be around people, he was getting MC done in 3 hours on a Friday night (also with people who were fun to be around) and had his weekends free from guild requirements. How do they do it? They use a lot of real life skills to manage their play time as well as some interesting strategies to conquer new content. Ciderhelm at Tankspot wrote an excellent article describing how the top guilds spend their playtime with pretty graphs and enlightening examples.

Not everyone wants to be a great gamer by any definition. But of course, you want to spend as much time enjoying your MMO as possible while still taking care of your real life responsibilities. If you are a spouse and parent and want to maximize your leisure gaming time, it can be done using similar techniques that the successful endgame WoW raiders use -- which are really just some basic real world project management skills. I'll translate them to non-business terms:

Plan your non-leisure time: You don't have to block it out on a schedule, but you do need to make sure that all work, errands, meals, etc. are going to be accomplished in order for you to earn your leisure time. Captain Obvious says you are not being a great anything if the refrigerator is empty and your rent is past due. But also, if real life is well taken care of, then it's much less likely to interrupt your game time.

Schedule family time: Scheduling specific time with your family that you show up for without fail is extremely important -- daily if your work schedule permits, but weekends will do. Active, fresh air activities are the best for counteracting all of that sedentary gaming you want to do. But watching Nerd Night with your teens would be a good activity, too. And if they're old enough, there are a lot more benefits than you are probably aware of to playing your favorite MMO with your children.

Schedule your game time: Consult your children's schedule as well as your spouse's. The best time is when your children are asleep, but you can arrange daytime playing with your spouse's consent and cooperation. Post your MMO time schedule where everyone can see it, so the rest of the family knows you are unavailable except for emergencies -- just like if you were in a bowling league, only more accessible.

Do not play outside your schedule: Your family will be much more likely to respect your game time if you respect non-game time.

Plan your in-game activities: When you have some free thinking time, say during a commute, make some decisions about how you are going to spend your precious MMO time. Which MMO will you play? Which character? Where will you hunt? You get the idea. If you decide these things ahead of time, you can get straight to playing.

Respect your spouse's leisure time: This is a biggie. That game time schedule you made? Your spouse's leisure time must be equal to yours. I don't care if you do consider yourself the main breadwinner. Stay-at-home parents do not get the leisure time they need during the day, so don't suggest that time spent watching the Backyardigans with the kids should be equal to a half-hour of wearing a cape and tights. Of course, if your spouse is a gamer, too, you're in luck. Playtime when kids go to bed can also be together time. And if the kids are at a low maintenance age and one of you keeps an ear outside of the headphones, you both can even do Task Forces or raids together at night.

Regardless of your "great gamer" status, it is possible to spend your leisure hours playing video games while still being at least a good if not great parent and spouse. You are also more likely to be "great" to your family if your relaxation needs are being met. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some Hellgate: London time scheduled before bed.

Robin Torres juggles multiple characters across multiple MMOs, two cats, one preschooler, 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.

This article was originally published on Massively.
Today in Second Life, Tuesday 13 November, 2007