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WoW, Casually: Playing with your preschooler


Robin Torres writes WoW, Casually for the player with limited playtime. Of course, you people with lots of playtime can read this too, but you may get annoyed by the fact that we are unashamed, even proud, of the fact that beating WoW isn't our highest priority. Take solace in the fact that your gear is better than ours, but if that doesn't work, remember that we outnumber you. Not that that's a threat, after all, we don't have time to do anything about it. But if WoW were a democracy, we'd win.

In the comments for Drama Mamas, Orkchop asked about tips for playing WoW with his 3 year old daughter. Since, as he put it, this is more of a Mama question than a drama question and I also have a 3 year old daughter, I thought I'd create a guide for playing WoW with preschoolers. Parents have limited playtime due to their family priorities -- not necessarily because they don't want to play as much as the more hardcore players. So mixing parental duties and leisure time is efficient as well as rewarding.

The question some of you may ask is, "Should children that young play video games?" And the answer is not just "yes", but "Yes!" At the beginning of this year, I spent some time working with getting my daughter comfortable with the computer, concentrating on mouse manipulation and keyboard movement while playing many of the free preschool-age video games out there. Within a week, she was reading words like "Play" and "Skip" and navigating through Nick Jr.'s site to her favorite radio station, which she listens to while playing with her toys. The freely available games on sites like PBS Kids have really improved many of her developmental skill sets and her computer skills are now better than most of her grandparents'. Of course, now I'm having to closely monitor her computing time, lest I be subjected to fart videos from YouTube... again.

But don't just take my word for it. Sesame Workshop highly recommends that children play video games for:

healthy behaviors, traditional skills like reading and math, and 21st-century strengths such as critical thinking, global learning, and programming design.

Yeah, those are the same people who educated most of us with Sesame Street. They are actively trying to get government and industry support for digital learning tools, while trying to counteract the negative stereotypes about video games.

I'm on record for thinking parents should play WoW with their older children. Preschoolers are different from Grade School age children, however, in that they cannot fully read, have different playstyles and have varying developmental needs. After much research and practice, I offer the following tips for incorporating WoW and other MMOs into your parental nurturing time. Note: I'll be using the pronoun "she" throughout this guide, but of course the same applies to boys, too.

Don't get a separate account
She's not really ready to progress a character by herself or alongside yours as of yet. That kind of structured play is not going to interest her and will only frustrate you. The time will come when you will be able to play your characters together, but that time is not now.

Character creation is fun
The Spawn loves to play dress up and creating characters is one of her favorite MMO related things, as well. The character creation in WoW is ok, but it really isn't as good as say, City of Heroes/Villains. You can let her play alone, making throwaway characters, for long periods of time. When it's time to create a character to play together, guide her in a direction that will make it fun for you, too. But let her pick the look herself. The Spawn wanted to play a character "with arrows", but was unwilling to compromise on the race -- it was Gnome or nothing. Thus, Itchee the Warlock (above) was born. Her first CoV Villain, pictured right, is completely her creation and named Moonbandage. I think I am going to start having her name my characters, too.

Teach the difference between right and wrong
Just because you are hanging with your prodigy, doesn't mean you have to stay away from the Death Knight starting quests. Nor do you have to avoid activities that involve killing cute fuzzy creatures (though I do try to use the word "defeat" instead of "kill"). Go ahead and play a villain and complete questionably immoral quests, just tell her what you are doing is wrong and only make-believe. Which leads us to...

Teach the difference between reality and fantasy
Contrary to what the alarmist thought-police of previous decades predicted, my generation did not grow up thinking that falls off of cliffs and explosions were survivable. We knew the difference between reality and fantasy. Make no mistake: this is a very valuable lesson. But I don't need to tell casual WoW players this. We play for fun and stress release, not to hone our homicidal skills. In WoW, death is not permanent. Our pets come back, the mobs we kill respawn and we are resurrected. We don't have Gnomes and Tauren and we can't ride around on dragons -- Azeroth is a make-believe playland. She probably already has a clear idea what is real and what is pretend, but playing fantasy games together will actually strengthen this.

Let her play alone
Playing alone allows her to exercise her imagination and gives her a healthy amount of control. Let her play on a level 30+ druid (shapechanging!) or a character with a flying mount and allow her minimally supervised free play. You might want to bank your gear in case of mishaps.

Play one character together
Just like the couple who overcomes adversity to play together or these cats, the two of you will probably have a great time controlling the same character together. The Spawn uses the keyboard and I use the mouse. We have an absolute blast defeating mobs and questing. Pro tip: Send your character bags and some gold when you are not playing together. Not being able to afford training and the run to the nearest mailbox is not stuff that is likely to hold her attention.

Be open to what is fun to her
Just like twigs, rocks and bugs can be endlessly distracting when taking walks with your preschooler, the things she finds entertaining in WoW are going to be unexpected and not always fun for you. The Spawn actually likes to sit down in between battles and refill mana. She worries that we'll not have enough water and makes sure that all trips to town involve restocking. I know. I don't get it either, but whatever floats her boat. Pro tip: Bank the starter outfits and all distinct, visible armor collected afterward for dress up sessions.

Keep it positive
Sometimes it's hard not to get frustrated due to running off of cliffs and avoidable deaths, but this isn't about progressing a character, it is about together time. This applies to couples playing together, too. Save any leveling aspirations for your non parenting playtime. Keep it happy and nurturing and you'll both have a better time.

Journal your time together
This actually surprised me during my "research". The Spawn enjoys looking at screenshots of her characters almost as much as she does the pictures of our recent Zoo visit. You can create a journal using a profile, add to your blog or just keep a folder of screenshots to look through periodically. Playing together or reminiscing about playing together -- it's all good.

Of course, you should also be making sure your child stays healthy and active. All parents know this. But adding WoW to your preschooler's indoor activities has benefits for both you and her. Sharing hobbies with your children has always been considered good parenting. The Spawn thinks yarn is pretty cool, but she's having a bit more fun with Itchee. And that's okay with me.
WoW, Casually is a column for those of us who are playtime-challenged. We've got your guides for choosing the best class, finding a casual guild, keeping your account safe and choosing the best addons for casual play. But wait there's more! If you have questions or tips about how to get the most out of your limited playtime, please send them to robin AT wow DOT com for a possible future column.

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