Should little kids play World of Warcraft? Players and non-players, parents and childless alike seem to relish pontificating. Ultimately, it all comes down to active parenting -- you have to judge whether your child's development and personality are suited for a dunk in the waters of a massively multiplayer world, and you have to stay plugged in, yourself.
For WoW player Tsiva, mother of an 8-year-old with Asperger Syndrome, the decision to bring her son into the game has paid off. "It's helped with his reading, counting, confidence, motor skills and it's provided him with a heck of an incentive to work hard outside of the game," she reports. Tsiva's been blogging since last summer about her son's adventures in Azeroth, in the hopes that their experience will enlighten other players and spread awareness of the ways playing games like World of Warcraft can be a positive force for many children, including those with disabilities.
Main character Tsiva
Realm US Sentinels-H
Thomas' main character Merve
Realm US Sentinels-H
15 Minutes of Fame: Tell us a little about Thomas' challenges and needs.
Tsiva: Thomas has Asperger Syndrome, which is considered a high-functioning form of autism. He also has ADHD and a receptive learning disorder. He was very hyper and rambunctious from the time he was a toddler and he didn't start talking until he was about 4 years old. I knew something other than his initial diagnosis, ADHD, was the problem but I couldn't put my finger on it. We had a lot of testing done on him, but it wasn't until he started exhibiting some tell-tale signs (making loud, bizarre noises compulsively) that it clicked in my head as to what it might be. My brother also has Asperger's, and when Thomas started making those same odd noises, I was fairly certain Thomas had the same thing. I had to raise some hell to get the testing done, but upon being tested, the specialist said that Thomas is a classic Asperger kid.
Since we got that diagnosis, Thomas was placed in a special needs class at a new school and he's getting the specialized teaching he needs. It was incredible to see him go from failing academically, depressed and destructive, and socially withdrawn to thriving academically (reading and writing, to boot!), self-confident and happy, and capable of interacting with other people in a more normal way.
What first gave you the idea of starting him in WoW?
Thomas has spent a lot of time at my side, just watching me play. I'm not sure why I did it, but while I was farming mobs in Netherstorm, I prompted him to start counting. And count he did. I was a little surprised at how well he was doing and it occurred to me that without killing the fun inherent in the game, I could get him to play the game and use it as a learning medium.
How do you see his gameplay helping him?
It seems like it's helped him in a multitude of ways. I've noticed some improvement with his eye-hand coordination. It's also helped with his counting and subtraction. As he progresses through quests that require him to get a set amount of items, he has to look at the numbers and figure out how many he's gotten and how many more he needs.
How has his gameplay evolved since he began playing?
Well, he started out very slowly. He has problems with his motor skills, so at first, he was very slow when it came to moving his toon around and fighting mobs. Now, he moves his toon around and fights very fluidly. He also no longer mindlessly just spams certain moves. It took a while to get him to understand that sometimes it's good to go on the offensive and sometimes you need to stop and quickly heal yourself or others with you. (His main is a druid.) Lastly, his communication skills are a lot better, so he's been able to reply to others in-game.
And now you're playing along with him. How has that changed things?
Well, it's made me appreciate how easily I can do stuff in game. For Merve, he's making great progress and he's learning a lot, but a lot of the in-game stuff doesn't necessarily come easily to him. I have to work with him on certain things and coach him. It's frustrating for us both, but rewarding when he gets new achievements, does new things and gets really stoked about it. I've also had to cut back some of my own personal play time to accommodate running him through dungeons and helping out in game when he needs it. It's worth it, though. ;)
What restrictions and limitations do you place on his gameplay?
Well, I let him play for 30 minutes to an hour most nights, plus or minus. If it's not a school night, I'll sometimes let him play longer. I'm sure he'd play a lot longer if I let him, but I prefer he goes outside to play and do things other than WoW.
In game, he's not allowed to group or chat with players he doesn't know. His communication skills in game are still rather limited. He can read quite a bit, but he has a hard time typing up responses. He has to abide by a no-whisper, no-group, no-trade and no-target rule to avoid him pestering people who don't know him and don't know his communication limitations.
I've had some people wonder what the point of him playing in an MMO is when he can't interact much with other players. Even without the interaction, though, he still manages to have a good time -- and to me, that's the entire point.
What's his favorite in-game activity?
He likes to fish and farm mobs. He gets really excited when I take him into dungeons, but if he had his way, I think he'd be more than happy to wander Azeroth, killing mobs along the way.
What is his behavior like now?
Thomas takes medication for his compulsiveness. There are some things, though, that medication can't fix. He is still, to a degree, more impulsive than a typical kid, even with his medication. He has a hard time focusing. He doesn't pick up on "normal kid" things. There's a lot of stuff kids pick up without being taught. Those sort of things we have to make it a point to teach him, and it's not always easy.
He also views things in a totally different way from other people. He simply does not relate the same way. He's very obsessive. He likes to hoard things. He's often noticeably anxious in social situations and will cling to you if you don't get onto him. And he doesn't have a sense of what's right and wrong socially, like most people do. It leads to some awkward situations. Mind you, he's doing so much better than he was before. But it can still be very stressful dealing with his issues.
He's working on reading comprehension, grammar and math. His teacher is also teaching him social skills that he didn't pick up like non-autistic kids do. I've seen him do things this year that a couple of years ago, I wasn't confident he'd ever be able to do. It's been within the last half year that he's really started to read and write well.
What about your own main character?
Casual raider, altaholic, PvPer ... I really like to mix it up. I raid a couple nights each week and spend the rest of my time either PvPing, chatting with friends or working on alts. I also find myself going off after certain objectives (achievements, mounts, etc.) when the mood strikes me. I have two level 80 priests, Tsiva being my second but more progressed priest. I main tank-heal with her for a casual 10-man raid group that I absolutely love. I also PvP quite a bit. I enjoy being that annoying disc priest who's a pain to kill.
How did you get into WoW?
My husband and I wanted an inexpensive way to spend time together. We figured 30 bucks a month for the two of us would be a lot less costly than going out every weekend. So, we got a couple of trial discs at a local Best Buy, were immediately hooked and the rest is history.
Follow the continuing adventures of Tsiva and Merve at Running With Merve. Read more about combining families with gaming in MMO Family at our sister publication, Massively.
15 Minutes is LFM
- Are you an ICC raider over the age of 60?
- Do you play WoW across the miles with one or more generations or layers of your extended family, as a way to keep in touch?
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