The newbie levels. The first months are the only period of childhood when some parents might prefer staying completely AFK. For most gaming parents, however, dipping into a game that's easy and immersive can be an emotional lifesaver.
The toddler and preschool years.
- Limit raids and instances. This is where you set the baseline expectation that will hold true for the rest of your parenting life: no raids or instances unless the other parent is "on duty" or you can be 99% certain that your child will not need you.
- Try a different game or character. It's too frustrating trying to accomplish your usual goals in the snippets of time available to the new parent. If you want to keep in touch with the rest of the gang, create a new character to chat with while you level casually. Better still, try a game that's specifically designed to be played in short bursts. Kids' MMOs and free-to-plays can be great choices.
- Never underestimate the value of sleep. If your newborn is asleep, you probably should be, too.
Once your child is settled enough to sleep predictably at night (or if he's also a great napper), you're golden.
The childhood years.
- Best practice for parents: No gaming while you care for young children. That means no sneaking in a little bit of farming; no dashing through a quick delivery mission. You're not with your children if you're in a virtual world at the same time. Frustrating? It can feel that way when it's happening ... But this time in your child's life will be gone before you know it. Be here now. You won't regret it.
- Naptime seems like a great time for gaming, but try to keep your enthusiasm on a leash. All good naps must come to an end. Make sure yours doesn't end two bosses short of the end of the instance. It's best to stick to casual content during naps.
- With a reliable night-time sleeper, you're good to go. Nothing beats "getting away" while being right there at home while the kids are tucked into bed.
- Look for a family-friendly guild who'll understand the occasional "AFK, kid awake."
- If interruptions become too frequent and unpredictable, don't frustrate yourself and your fellow players by attempting group-oriented content. Scale back until you can count on an uninterrupted stretch of time.
- It's not too early for your kids to game, too! Try letting them "help" you play from time to time, or investigate games you can play together.
When your kids grow old enough to play outside by themselves or spend time away from your direct supervision, you gain more freedom as well. Here's where you can work in those quick auction house checks and Fed Ex missions.
The tween and teen years.
- Don't get tempted to get over-involved in your game content. School-aged kids may spend entire afternoons without wanting more than a snack and a hug -- until that day that's nothing but one interruption after another.
- If your kids are older, you may be able to tackle group content or focused activity when they're awake. Guard against becoming a keyboard-bound lump in the other room. If the kids are up, it's your job to stay available and involved.
- The childhood years are a great time to game together as a family. It's also a golden era for MMOs made especially for kids -- check out our continuing "Parents Guide to X" series.
As your children become more mature and aware of what's going on around them, be conscious of any disparities between what you say
about gaming and what you do
- Do you neglect other family members or responsibilities in order to game?
- Do you cheat, gank or indulge in inappropriate behavior online? Your kids are watching, guaranteed.
- Don't play games you wouldn't want them playing (M ratings, for example) when they're around.
No matter how you decide to blend gaming with your own family, remember: An effective parent is an available parent. You are not available if you're raiding or grouped with others in any encounter you cannot step away from. Yes, you're technically "at home" -- but being immersed in a game isn't the same as being emotionally present for your kids.
Can your kids drift up to watch you without being snapped at for interrupting? Are you free at times when they might like to chat about the day's events, a problem at school or a sticky situation with a friend? Do they crave more time to do things together, rather than simply being in the same room while pursuing separate activities? It's true that the family that plays together, stays together. Make sure you get plenty of playtime together in the real world, too.