Children and MMOs
Date: 09-10-2009 Views:
KeyWords: childre, mmo, Cecil Adkins, game, kids, MMORPG
- Summary: If you're a parent and you spend a lot of time playing MMOs, your child will inevitably become interested in them as well. There is a lot to be said about balancing quality time with your family with work and an active MMO life so that your kids don't feel neglected, but that's beyond the scope of this article. Not that I won't get around to writing about that, because I probably will, but it's not what I want to talk about this time.
|Children and MMOs|
By Cecil Adkins
Cecil Adkins is a fiction writer and covers MMORPGs for Examiner.com. He is an active player of City of Heroes, World of Warcraft, and several other MMOs. He can be found on the web at www.ceciladkins.com.
If you're a parent and you spend a lot of time playing MMOs, your child will inevitably become interested in them as well. There is a lot to be said about balancing quality time with your family with work and an active MMO life so that your kids don't feel neglected, but that's beyond the scope of this article. Not that I won't get around to writing about that, because I probably will, but it's not what I want to talk about this time.
So how do you handle it when your little tyke decides he or she wants to get involved in online gaming? There are a few different ways, and it all comes down to the age and maturity level of your child and your own personal parenting style. If your child is a teenager, they can probably handle most any game out there. If they're younger than that, though, some precautions should be taken.
Make them stick to Mario. If you feel your child is too young or immature, or you just don't feel comfortable exposing them to potential risk factors (more on that in a bit), then you should probably discourage their interests in MMOs until you feel they're ready for the experience. There isn't exactly a shortage of good offline games for kids, and MMOs will be around when they're old enough to handle and appreciate them. I'm of the opinion, though, that there are also plenty of MMOs that are easy enough for kids and pre-teens to pick up and play, and many of these offer safety features to protect your child from online risks. In other words, if a child expresses interest in MMOs, then I say go with either of the next two options.
Let them play an MMO geared towards young kids or preteens. There are plenty out there, and most of them are free, or almost free, to play. MMOs made for kids tendto have limited chat systems, which goes a long way towards preventing bad people from interacting with your child. There are MMOs based on popular children's entertainment properties, such as Cartoon Network's FusionFall and Disney's Toontown Online, as well as those that are like kid-versions of World of Warcraft (KingsIsle Entertainment's Wizard 101 and Sony's Free Realms).
Let them play your MMOs with you. This might be a tough decision for a lot of parents. Once you leave the realm of made-for-kids MMOs, you also open your child up to the aforementioned potential risk factors. Also, full-featured MMOs made for adults are a lot more complex than the ones aimed at children, so you need to consider whether or not your child can grasp all of the game mechanics necessary to play. If you've got a younger child (say, under the age of 10 or so), I wouldn't recommend letting them play too much without being there with them. The best scenario would be to have two game accounts and be able to actually play the game alongside them, showing them the ropes and being there to ensure their online safety.
If you decide to let your child make the leap from offline games to MMOs, you do need to be prepared to limit their exposure to undesirable activities. You may be concerned because you've read about pedophiles who use virtual gathering spaces to seek out potential victims. Or you may just want to make sure they don't get exposed to certain conversations that can take place between adults. So, how do you make sure nothing bad happens?
Monitor their activity. As stated above, the ideal thing would be to be able to play alongside them in the game. That's not always practical, of course. Maybe you don't have more than one computer, or can't afford a separate game account just for your child. But even if you can't be in-game with them, at least be in the room with them while they play, or check on them periodically.
Set chat limitations. The made-for-kids MMOs tend to have really good chat features that protect children built right in. For example, Wizard 101 features a tiered chat system, the lowest tier of which is based on a menu-driven chat (i.e., players must select pre-made chat messages from a menu). Players using this menu-driven chat can only see chat from other players using the same type of chat. This ensures that someone can't strike up an inappropriate conversation with your child. In "regular" MMOs, i.e., ones not necessarily aimed at children, you can still usually manually limit the chat by turning off display of various chat channels. City of Heroes, for one, allows you to block every type of chat in the game, including local and broadcast messages and private tells (or whispers).
I don't mean to make it sound like you need to be overly restrictive when letting your child play MMOs. It can be a very rewarding experience for both you and your child, but you do need to take steps to make sure they're not exposed to the Internet's seedier population or even some normal adult conversations between perfectly innocent people.
On the other hand, making friends and interacting socially in the real world is a necessary part of growing up, and doing those things in the online world can be a part of that too. If you have friends you've made in your game, I see nothing wrong with letting your child have at least limited contact with them, especially if you're there with him or her. If your child likes video games as much as my son does, it can really make their day if one of your friends tells them "Great job!" as they defeat a tough monster.
For the last couple of years, I've had the pleasure of helping my now-10-year-old son learn how to play MMOs, although I'm not sure he needed a lot of help picking up the basic gameplay mechanics. He became interested inMMOs after watching me play City of Heroes and wanted to make his own super hero. He's now the proud owner of his own City of Heroes account, and he has even dabbled in World of Warcraft for a bit. He's also played Wizard 101, which he really likes, and a little bit of FusionFall and Lord of the Rings Online. He can handle most of these games just fine by himself, although the more complex elements like crafting he hasn't quite grasped yet. He also likes to group up with me and my in-game friends in City of Heroes, and takes real pride in doing a good job beating up the bad guys.
The bottom line is, I don't think you should discourage your child's interests in MMOs, as it can be a fun andrewarding experience for them and for you. As long as you take the necessary precautions to ensure their safety, they should be just fine and you may be surprised at what a good teammate you have living under your own roof. And when they're ready to interact with other people in-game, the lessons learned there about good social etiquette (which sometimes comes in watching what other people do in MMOs and learning what NOT to do) can be carried over into the real world.