Should kids be allowed in guilds? Are there any benefits to sharing a tag with your children, or are they better off staying unguilded?
The benefits of guilding early
There are several great reasons to have your children join your guild, and probably the most important one is that it helps with logistics. It's much more enjoyable to group up and get stuff done in game with your children if both of you have access to the same amenities, crafting stations, and buffs that guilds can provide. But while it makes life easier, it's not the only reason sharing a guild tag is beneficial, and in fact, on its own, it's not reason enough to warrant one.
One of the best things about having your children join your guild is that it gives you a way to ease them into the social component of online gaming and allows you to guide and shape their behavior. I'm sure every gamer has a story about being in a PUG with some kid who was tactless, selfish, and unable to work as part of a team. Now, while it's entirely possible that those kids were modeling the behavior of their gamer parents, there's a good chance that they're acting that way simply because they were left to their own devices and don't know any better. Gaming has a dichotomy of etiquette: There are the dos and don'ts of gaming culture, and there's the larger social interaction that is no different than in the real world. By sharing the guild experience with our kids, we have a chance to shape a mature gamer -- and a mature young adult.
What comes first, the guildie or the kid?
Sharing a guild tag can be a great experience, but it has to be weighed against the larger interests of the guild itself. It's one thing to be playing a kid-friendly game, where guilds generally will be suited toward a more family-friendly atmosphere. But it's gets a lot more complicated in guilds where things are run by and for grown-ups. Even guilds that call themselves "family-friendly" might be tolerant of adults with family responsibilities but might not necessarily want those "family responsibilities" seeing guild chat or tagging along in groups and raids.
One tip I often advise guild leaders to follow is to be clear in who they are as a leader and what type of guild they want to run. That guild vision has to trump all because members sign on assuming a certain atmosphere and a certain set of ground rules. It's not always feasible to take a guild and suddenly shape it to be inclusive to young gamers. In fact, the traditionally accepted recruitment policy of "FnF" (friends and family) can be a potential source of major drama because those friends and family members might have completely different playstyles from the members themselves.
If a guild has an atmosphere that can accommodate children, great. But if it comes down to the health of the guild versus tagging young family members, the guild has to come first.
Even if your guild is fine with having your children in the guild, it's best to keep your kids out of vent, and it's not even because of the fear of that "internet boogeyman." Voice chat is faster and more fluid than typed chat, and because of that, there's a greater chance for someone to slip and say something that isn't kid-friendly. In vent, people tend to let their hair down and unwind, and that's sometimes hard to do when there are young ears tuning in. I have to admit, it's entirely too cute to hear children of our guildmates pop in for a quick hello, and I still laugh about the time a former guild leader put his young daughter on to scold us for taking too long to gather for a raid. The occasional sounds of guildmates' children are a nice reminder that we're more than just our avatars, but when it starts to sound like a Barney episode in voice chat, there might be a problem. It's probably best for all to be happy with the tag and hold off on sticking kids into voice chat.
You gotta keep them separated?
In the past, I've compared family gaming to the old family game night, and I think it's a good way of approaching game time with your kids. If you think of it as an activity, you'll put into perspective gaming's place in your overall family schedule, and it won't crowd out other important activities like sports, music, or reading. Perhaps, though, we should consider family game time as separate from guild game time. We shoot hoops with our kids, for example, but we don't bring our young kids along to participate in our adult basketball league.
Let's face it: When you're in game with both your guildmates and your kids, it's usually the grown-ups who control where to go and what to do. By setting aside time to game exclusively with our families, we can devote our attention to playing with them and even let them be the ones in charge, without the outside activity and distraction that comes from being in a guild. Of course, that means reducing our "adult" game time to accommodate family time, but the trade-off is considerable. You'll be able to keep tabs on your child's activity in game, and you'll both be able to learn from each other, problem solve together, and hopefully, have fun at the same time.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.