By now, most of us know somebody or have at least heard of somebody in an extended family that stays close by gaming together. Fact is, we can't really think of a better way to strengthen family ties across the miles. We all know that common interests are the mortar in a thriving relationship, and we know that kids open up with long-distance relatives most easily when the pressure's not on them to conversationally "perform." When you game with family across the miles, you share a real-time hobby with all the attendant chatter, enthusiasm and companionship that naturally comes along.
Meet Golis, aka Blaine Sundrud. The 40-year-old traveling sales engineer spends a huge portion of his life on the road -- so he's turned to WoW to help keep in touch with his teenage son. "We have been able to use our time in game to eliminate the fact that I am in a hotel in Florida while he is still home in Utah," he explains. "We get on a phone call (hooray for free long-distance) and can just talk and fool around for the evening."
The family connection doesn't end there. "Combine that with the fact that my parents (who live in Pennsylvania) play on the same server (both of them)," Golis continues. "While they are not the WoW addicts that my son and I are, we can usually count on a couple times a month conferencing them in on our call, and the four of us can go instancing, fishing, or just generally looking at the scenery. Due to the cost of travel, my son probably sees his grandparents in person once a year. Thanks to WoW, he has been able to get to know and play with them as if they just lived over the river and through the woods."
Main characters Golis (dwarf warrior on sabbatical in an Ironforge bar), Golane (draenei shadow priest)
Guild < Crusadoken>
Realm Shadow Council
Son's character Retnbarb (human paladin)
Parents' characters Mossrag (night elf hunter), Ranath (night elf balance druid)
15 Minutes of Fame: Tell us a little about what you do and the kind of schedule that keeps you away from your son.
Golis: I am a classic road warrior for my work. I am the product manager and sales engineer for Digital Technology International, a news media software company. On any given month, I spend two to three weeks away from home living in hotels around the country, so I can give live demonstrations of our software. Newspapers are incredibly complex to produce every day, and the software has to be up to the task. As such, sales cycles can last for months or years.
I have been doing this job for the last 12 years, or more specifically, since right before my son began kindergarten. The travel is severe if you add it up over the years. Think about how annoyed (disappointed? angry?) you would be if your parent or parenting figure missed your band concert (football game, Easter dinner). Now multiply that over the entire school career. I try to block out critical days like birthdays and such ...
Retnbarb: Yeah, Dad, you missed a bunch of birthdays as well.
Golis: True. As you can see, sometimes a crisis happens and they put me on a plane to New York or Topeka or Montreal, and I have to find some other way to stay connected with my boy.
Retnbarb: Not really a kid anymore, Dad.
Golis: Did I mention he was a junior already? So phone calls are good. Email is good. But those just aren't the same as hanging out in the backyard building a birdhouse. There has to be interaction beyond just, "So how are your classes going?" if you are going to be an effective parent. So while I am on the road, we use WoW as a way to keep in touch -- to stay connected at least.
Golis: I started WoW right at the launch of The Burning Crusade. I came from EverQuest and Everquest II (and even further back, Asheron's Call). From the time I was in middle school in the late '70s, we had computers in our home ... which for me, meant gaming.
Ranath: Now hold on there, you used it for school work as well.
Golis: True. But going back to your question about gaming. It was always something that I remember in some form, even back in the early '80s. I remember watching my dad get on those bulletin board storytelling sites on his 2400 baud dial-up modem (not 24k, 2400).
Mossrag: That's right. Back in my day we had to squeeze each bit by hand through the modems and transcribe them using ticker tape ... and we liked it! In all seriousness, the ability to share a story across this new medium where you only knew other people by their writing was liberating. It was a new way of communicating.
Golis: So my parents were actually into multiplayer gaming long before I ever really got into it. In fact, they brought me into each one of the MMORPGs that I signed up for. I actually avoided WoW initially because the perception was "cute, but no depth." My dad wanted to show me around Azeroth, so he finally broke down and bought me my own copy and a 60-day card for Christmas. I figured, hey, free game, why not try it? After all, remember I had a lot of time to kill in hotel rooms with nothing but ESPN at the time. Warcraft had the advantage of being playable on my laptop, even with the bad connections available at hotels back then.
What about your son -- when did he start playing with you?
Golis: I actually had to pry the game out of his fingers. Once he saw that I had an account and he was allowed to make his own character, he jumped right on and made his own toon on my account. He would borrow my laptop when I wasn't using it and made some good headway with it. He made a Forsaken warlock, which, while cool, meant that while his grandparents were online they couldn't play together.
Mossrag: Yep, I tried playing Horde and just couldn't get past level 10 on any of them.
Golis: That's where it began to dawn on me that the game could be a tool beyond just the obvious fun part. I live out in Utah, and my parents live in Pennsylvania. This means that they only get to come out here once or twice a year if they are lucky. I never really got to know my own grandparents for the same reason of them living so far away, and I want my kids to be able to know my parents as people, not just pictures on a wall. By having play time with the grandparents, they become much more real. Even though it is masked by the pixels, who says it isn't any more real than playing scrabble at the kitchen table?
So I got Retnbarb his own account and transferred his paladin to this new account for Christmas a few years back. Since then, we have all four been able to be online and playing at the same time, no matter where we were.
How often are you able to meet up with your son online?
Golis: We get the chance to meet up about two or three times a week if things work out well. With homework and schedules, sometimes we miss each other completely, but if I know I am going to be gone for a long stretch, we make it a point to set a night when we will both be on.
Golis: This is a harder one. They tend to overbook themselves. You know how old people are these days, just go go go and no time left for family. You would think they would get their priorities straight. Their schedule makes getting all four of us online at the same time a bit of a treat. Each time Retnbarb and I get online together, the first thing he will ask is if the grandparents are going to get online as well. So we place a call to them to see if we can con them into logging in.
Do you use voice comms when you play?
Golis: Here is where traveling for a living actually pays off. My work pays for my phone, which includes unlimited long distance and three-way calling. When Retnbarb and I are online, I just call his cell directly, we both put on headsets and off we go. If I can convince Mossrag and Ranath to drop their annoying real-life grinding and get serious, then I just conference them in. My phone does all the work and it is free for them.
This is a huge difference from Vent or other IP-based comm, because we don't have to worry about stepping over each other's voice, we get to just chat. It means that half the time we can just catch up with each other at the same time we wander the landscapes.
Do you have any advice for other parents who travel for business and might want to use WoW to stay in touch with family?
Golis: You have to set realistic goals and expectations. Just because you are sitting in a hotel room with nothing to do doesn't mean that your kid is sitting in her bedroom with nothing to do. In fact, hopefully, that will not be the case at all.
The rules to make the most of family time match a lot of what we hear from the Drama Mamas when it comes to husband/wife time -- but in my case, there is a notable exception. We tried making characters that stayed the same level together and only played when all four of us were online at the same time. We made four draenei that went through the entire opening zones up to level 24 or something. However, once we cleared the final zone and were left to move back to the rest of the vanilla world, my parents lost interest in those characters because they had already seen those zones.
Having the phone makes a lot of big difference. I would imagine that if you are trying to connect more than a few locations that you would need to go to something like Vent, but those are more task-oriented rather than idle banter.
Don't worry about the hardware. I have found that most laptops will work just fine and the hotels all have internet that is either free or your business is paying for anyway. Remember that you will not be able to be raiding at a top level in a hotel, anyway, due to the unpredictability of the internet service, so plan on being casual while you are away. Just make the time to be online if you know your kid is going to be there instead of just turning on the a baseball game.
What in-game activities do you find you enjoy most as a father-son duo? How would you characterize your playstyle?
Golis: Retnbarb and I do pretty well doing 5-mans and battlegrounds together. Especially now when 5-mans are ROFLstomp easy, having a poor connection does not prevent me from doing my part. If I find that my latency is over 500 (and sometimes I have seen it over 2,500) I will avoid doing any instancing just to be kind to the other players. When that is the case, just doing dailies or even independent play while chatting is about all the connection will allow.
Do not try to be on an arena team with your kid or be in a serious progression guild with your kid. The stress those environments cause is hard enough when players are equals (or at least perceived as such). Throw a parent-child relationship in there and disaster is sure to follow. By making sure that you only group together when things are not "serious biznis," you avoid adding drama to your teenager's life. This is not to say you can't go raiding together or do other endgame content -- just don't expect top performance unless both of you are at the top of your game. Discovering that you are not both at the same level while your kid is trying to hold on to his 2,900 rating is not a good thing.
Of course, my own gameplay is casual just out of necessity. My warrior Golis is right now spending most of his time asleep in the Ironforge Inn. Tanking in the world of "go go go" got to be too much of a headache. I play my shadow priest Golane as my main raiding toon now, but he has only been all the way to Arthas once. You can't be a part of a permanent raid team if you have no idea if you will be online during the week. As such, I have really enjoyed the new LFG tools. Not only do they help with the instances, but they have allowed my son and I to get geared enough to participate in raids that are looking for a couple extras on their off night.
Do you and your son play separately when you're not together, or do you have different characters that you play separately?
Golis: Actually, the majority of the time we play separately. As we mentioned, there are no longer any reserved characters we keep that we only play together. The important thing in our interactions has been to connect on the human side. Which characters we bring out is often situational at this point.
Golis: As I said, my parents are here for storyline. They take things slow with an attention to detail. If we are all on together, the priority is to get them to a key storyline point so they can experience a new thread. ust last month, we finally got them to the Wrathgate event. I was worried they would miss it as it is about to go away, but to get them to such a key climax point in the game was a real treat.
Mossrag: Golis and Retnbarb are much more experienced in the game. When they are on, they help shepherd and protect us as we explore new areas. We get to play more fast and loose when we are all together because they provide the bodyguards to roll through those areas. However, when it is just Ranath and I in a new area, the two of us make a pretty crafty "soloing" pair in tough areas.
Are you all four planning to purchase the expansion? Any plans for new races or characters?
Golis: Yep, all four of us are going to buy into Cataclysm. I will probably be up on it right away Day One getting a worgen lock up through the ranks.
Mossrag: We will be getting the expansion as well, but we have no current plans for new characters at the moment. We still have five levels to go just to finish the Northrend chains. But the expansion will be good to have so we can be part of the new events.
Read more about families who game together and using games to stay connected over the miles at WoW Insider's sister site, Massively.
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.