So there I was, sitting pretty with three of my four little red pegs at home, and the last one just a few spots away from the safe zone. No one else was even close, and I felt confident that victory was at hand. On my next turn, I drew a four, which actually means I had to move backwards four squares -- a minor setback, and I perceived it as just a delay in winning. Next turn, I got an 11, which was a nice card, except I was only about seven or eight spaces away, and it's all or nothing. My little red peg had stalled out this turn, but I was still way ahead. And then everything changed for the worse -- someone pulled a Sorry! card, and since my piece was closest to home, it had a big target over its head. Back to the start it went, and I spent the next dozen or so turns trying to get the right card to get back on the board. My victory had evaporated, and I don't recall much about who won, but I do recall something about a flying game board and pieces going every which way.
Looking back, I have to wonder why so many kids games are games of chance. We teach our kids the importance of rules and fairness in life, and then we sit them down in front of a game for which the rules really aren't that fair. It's like giving them a plateful of their favorite foods for cleaning their room and then pulling half of it away right afterwards. It's a difficult concept to tackle at a young age, and it's no wonder that kids get frustrated at some of the classic board games. Yahtzee, Parcheesi, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders -- they're all based on chance. Yes, you can control your destiny to some point, but with the board games in particular, a lot of it is out of your hands and in the hands of the deck (or the dice). Even in card games, like Poker or Pinochle, you have a little more of a say in what to hold and what to play, but if you are dealt a bad hand, you could essentially be out before the round even begins.
Earn it to wear it
What's really interesting about MMOs, and kid-friendly MMOs in particular, is that they're as close it comes to the idea of an equal-opportunity society. Everyone starts out the same and has the same opportunities to accomplish things in game. There's no discrimination based on age, gender, or race because everyone is cloaked by an avatar. Furthermore, MMOs introduce the idea that if you want something, you have to earn it. If you want a sparkly sword, you have to adventure out and defeat the evil wizard. If you want a jet pack, you have to win a certain number of minigames. Kids might fail along the way, but at least they know that when they do finally accomplish the task, they will earn the reward. It's not unlike a parent telling a child that if she wants to buy that shiny new toy, she needs to earn it by doing chores or saving up an allowance.
My son recently wanted a really cool-looking staff from Free Realms
, and I explained that it was a reward for completing various levels of the Tower Defense minigame. He wanted to learn how to play, and each night, he'd play a game or two, slowly working his way through all the difficulty levels. Through trial and error, he learned which defenders were most effective in which spots, and he also learned to be patient, save points, and upgrade his defenses. When he finally finished, he was proud of the staff that he earned, but I also think he was proud that he mastered the game on his own, and he had fun along the way. Granted, the idea that you need to earn your rewards has been muddled a bit by the introduction of microtransactions, but in general, there are plenty of MMOs for kids that provide fun goals and fun opportunities to get there.
Now, don't get me wrong -- I'm not trying to say that kid-friendly MMOs are better
than classic board games of chance, but I do think there's a place for both during family game time. Life isn't always fair, and games of chance help teach that important lesson (not to mention that making mommy sit behind a blockade for the duration of the game is hilarious fun). But at a young age, it's hard for a child to understand that concept, and it can be frustrating to get your piece right up to the finish line only to have victory snatched away because of an unlucky dice roll. MMOs help balance that out a bit by showing that patience, practice, and playing well do have their rewards in the end. Each has a role in helping kids learn the rules of life, and it's nice to see that more and more families are choosing both types of games (in moderation, of course!).
The MMO Family column is devoted to common issues with families and gaming. Every other week, Karen looks at current trends and ways to balance family life and play. She also shares her impressions of MMO titles to highlight which ones are child-friendly and which ones offer great gaming experiences for young and old alike. You are welcome to send feedback or Wonka Bars to email@example.com.