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MMO Family: Log in to your kids' gaming interests

Lisa Poisso

MMO Family is your resource for leveling a gaming-specced family. From tips on balancing gaming with family life to finding age-appropriate niches for every family member, MMO Family offers you advice on MMO gaming of the family, by the family and for the family.

Are you leveling a pack of MMO gamers? Welcome to MMO Family, where we look at tips for families who love MMOs. Should you be keeping an eye on your kids while they game? (Yes!) How can you do that without seeming heavy-handed? (Stay tuned.) Are MMOs appropriate for young kids? (Sure!) Which ones? (Coming soon ...) What MMOs might your family enjoy playing all together? Should you be using parental control devices and tools? What are the best ways to quickly gauge the age-appropriateness of a game? There's a lot to cover when it comes to leveling a family of gamers, so let's breeze through the tutorial and tap our first topic.

As the parent of a young MMO player, your main strategy is to remain figuratively logged in to whatever they're doing. There's no AFKing when it comes to parenting. Every parent knows they need to get involved in their children's extracurricular hobbies. We want to know what they're doing, who they're with, whether they're safe, whether they're enjoying themselves, if what they're doing is a productive source of life lessons as well a good, old-fashioned fun ... What you might not have considered is that kids' gaming deserves the same level of scrutiny and support as, say, their karate classes or violin lessons. Whatever captivates your child's imagination should also attract your parental periscope.

We're not suggesting you plop down and dutifully watch every move as your child logs in to kill 10 rats (or pick 20 flowers or befriend 30 fairies or frag 50 enemies ...). Frankly, no gamer wants or needs a hall monitor. But young gamers do need your boundaries, your guidance, your feedback, your enthusiasm, your support – all the same things you'd bring to their piano recitals or baseball games.

Set the rules up front. Don't be the dodgy group leader who waits until time for the boss who drops the Vorpal Blade of Gaming Leetness before you start demanding that the trash go out now and laying down onerous homework rules. Set kids' time limits, gaming hours and other rules right from the start, including hard-and-fast consequences if the rules are broken. Setting clear expectations and taking care of the business before log-in keeps gaming something fun to talk about instead of a minefield of accusations and negotiations.

Give kids the strats for online safety. If kids aren't old enough to understand how to handle cyberbullying, abusive language or harassment online, they shouldn't be playing an MMO that exposes them to it. You shouldn't have to worry about your kids' safety while they're logged in - and neither should they. Choose games carefully, offer age-appropriate guidelines and then follow up to make sure they're being followed. Have you covered all these bases? If you haven't, we'll help - stay tuned to future MMO Family columns.

Be the GM who monitors a sampling of encounters. As the GM of your family, it's your job to know what's going on in their game worlds. Spend 15 minutes sitting with your kids (not hovering over their shoulder or hopping from one foot to another in the doorway) to watch the action. This isn't the time for chit-chat; save the questions for later. You don't have to position yourself as the evil traffic cop. Keep your interest personal and engaging. Once you're curled up on the couch together later or enjoying a snack in the kitchen, ask how they figured out how to beat that last boss or how they plan to tackle the quest line they're stuck on. They may not want to throw a virtual open house for you, but they'll recognize and appreciate your interest.

Respect their selection of games. Soccer Moms are to soccer players as MMOms should be to young MMO players: enthusiastic and supportive. But just as some parents aren't cut out to be the Little League coach or weekend batting practice partner, you may not be interested in hacking and slicing through Runescape or gardening in Hello Kitty Online. No matter - you can still show your support. Don't suck the wind out of kids' sails by knocking what they're playing or scoffing at their games (either to their faces or with other adults). Extend to their games the same respect you want them to show to yours ... even if fertilizing Hello Kitty apple trees isn't exactly your cup of tea.

Help your kids analyze their strats, both literally and figuratively. Parents don't think twice about the value of attending school events or sports practices, then talking with kids afterwards about how things are going. Guess what? The same principles apply to gaming. Here's another great reason to stop and really watch what's going on in your child's game.

Your child can't focus on what you're saying while he's trying to complete a boss encounter in game. Once she's logged out, though, you'll have a chance to casually remark on the rough language you saw scroll past in chat or ask how her guild's morale is holding up after a nasty series of wipes. This is your chance to inject perspective into her experience ... Use it wisely!

Help kids set gaming goals. That's right - MMOs can be a learning and growing experience for young people. Think about all the theorycrafting, all the achievements, all the strategy that's gone into your own gaming sessions. It's fertile ground for young minds. If you've spent time watching your kids play and talking about what they're doing, you'll be able to encourage their in-game accomplishments, plans and goals.

Make gaming a family-centered activity. One way to make sure gaming is seen as a valued family hobby is to play in a common family area. Don't let kids sequester themselves and their computers in a bedroom. Keep everything in a shared area: desktop computers, laptops and TV-based console games. (In fact, while they're not MMO-specific, you may want to consider handheld units "family property" and keep them all together in the family area, too. It's an easy way to cut down on struggles over sneaking handhelds into school or social activities.)

Another benefit of keeping gaming out in the open: you'll always be nearby to monitor the action. This is no different than keeping an eye on what kids are seeing on the internet or TV. You don't have to hover - but it's a good idea to make a periodic fly-by.

Accept that group invite. There are so many types of MMOs today that it's pretty easy to find something you'll enjoy playing, too. That's right: we're advising you to play the MMOs your kids are interested in. You may be more inclined to bring them into your own MMO of choice at some level - and that can be a good thing, too - but there's really nothing like bonding over something they're already enthusiastic about on their own.

Besides, playing in their game world of choice helps you connect with what they think is cool. You'll get a first-hand taste of the content they're doing and seeing. You don't have to trespass into the relationships they share with their friends. Create your own dynamic duo (or heck, a family guild!) to play once or twice a week. It's the in-game equivalent of all those picture books you read out loud when they were younger ... And it's an effective virtual method of carrying your parental relationship from pickup group member to trusted guildmate status.

We'll be covering many more specific strategies for leveling enthusiastic, well adjusted gamers in future editions of MMO Family.

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