Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

These aren't actually my kids. Especially the pale one.

In a society where headlines tend to favour the sensational, you don’t hear much about the good things video games can do. We’ve all seen news articles and television features about the negative effects of video games. A search on Google for just that yields no shortage of results. As an avid gamer (and someone who has been an avid gamer from a very young age) I think it should come as no surprise that I’m going to go the other way with this.

First of all, I feel I should explain my point of view. I’ve been playing video games since Frogger was a big thing. I saved my money from my paper route to fund our first Super Nintendo. The plain old NES belonged to my brother – and I hated that he got to keep it in his room! I had to get his permission before I could play Bubble Bobble with my Mom. I spent hours watching him play Zelda. Later, I owned a Playstation, a Playstation II, and then a Playstation III. I played the old Sierra Games (So You Want To Be A Hero?) I don’t believe that playing video games has made me a violent person. It has made me a more imaginative person, and it definitely helped my hand eye coordination.

Criticism of people who play video games goes hand in hand with other tropes about loners, nerds, geeks – social deviants, aberrant, homely people sitting in basements because they can’t interact with “the real world.” At its core, most gaming is a solitary pursuit, instinctively mistrusted by folks who think you’d be better off joining the local bowling league or “getting some fresh air.” I don’t subscribe to the notion that some hobbies are “better” than others. They are just different. Obviously moderation is the key, here. When it comes to children, one criticism leveled against video games is that kids should be engaged in more physically active pursuits. On the one hand, I agree. Game systems like the Wii that involve movement are well-suited to kids and can help combine those two goals. But don’t forget, I grew up in an extremely Northern climate. When it’s minus fifty degrees Celsius outside, you don’t send the kids out to play. Winter lasts a really long time.  My brother and I fostered a lifelong love of video games, and I’m going to tell you why that’s not a bad thing.

Socializing

Obviously this is dependent on the age of your children. You don’t just want to set your kids free to talk to any stranger they meet on the internet! Game responsibly, people. But socializing, as you know, is a major aspect of any MMO. I have known people who played WoW with their appropriate-aged children, and either joined or created a family-oriented guild. There’s a story on the Warcraft site about a grandmother who plays with her kids, and her grandkids too. This touches on a recent Breakfast Topic over at WoW Insider about using WoW to keep in touch. I know that I read recently about a grandmother who was playing with her grandkids over a long distance. Speaking as someone whose grandparents lived on the other side of the country, I know it can be tough when you don’t get to see them and really, it’s as if they are strangers. As long as parents are keeping an eye on how the game is being used, I can absolutely see it as being a great tool to interact and spend time with family and friends. It’s cheaper than a phonecall and cooperative, too.

Sharing

Anyone who has read some of my pug horror stories knows that some people playing this game aren’t necessarily poster children for Ms. Manners. However, think of the last time you encountered someone who you thought exhibited bad manners. I’m a firm believer that most social behaviours are learned ones, whether you’re learning them in real-life or in a virtual world. If someone rudely Needs on loot or makes an unsavory remark and the rest of the group reacts in a civil but disapproving manner, there’s a message being sent. Even though you might think the teenagers playing this game don’t pay attention or don’t care, I might be a hopeless optimist to think that some do care, and some do notice. I meet many more polite and friendly people than I do real jerks. I’m not even convinced that the jerks I meet are actually young people.

Especially if you play along with your child and demonstrate these positive behaviours, MMOs like WoW are constantly providing opportunities to learn about fairness and sharing. Jimmy lost the roll on that sword? Well, better luck next time, but that’s fair. Everyone in the group worked to earn that loot. Another time he will win something that he wanted – and the group will congratulate him and he can thank them, graciously. Hey, it’s not just reading and math games that teach lessons!

This one isn't mine either. They're a bit gawky when they're young, aren't they?

Teamwork

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t much of an athlete when I was growing up. I grew tall very quickly and it took me a few years to coordinate everything. (Read: stop tripping over my own feet). I did eventually participate in some sports – mostly track and field.  My point is, while I’m sure WoW has its share of natural athletes that play – it might be fair to say that on average most players might not be. (Notice there’s many qualifiers, because I’m sure Awesome Paladin Tank who is ALSO nearly a pro football player will comment! Of course, I’m generalizing.) The point is, that many kids who might be drawn to MMOs may not be naturally inclined to team sports. Like me, they may have had an awkward stage. Or, to be perfectly honest, just not be much “into” sports.
I wasn’t even good at group projects or any other kind of group work. They always frustrated me. I wanted to do things by myself – this held true even into my college years. I think it wouldn’t be an exaggeration at all to say that end-game experience in Warcraft has given me a new found appreciation and facility for working with others. Other people may eventually get this of necessity from a job or other task. Perhaps I just came to this understanding late in life – but I have found that working with a group of other people can be a great deal of fun. It was a skill I had to learn – and I think that it’s a valuable one. I wish I’d figured it out at a younger age – maybe if I’d been playing more social-based video games, I would have!

Organization and Leadership

I remember reading about Tam’s guild in Never Never Land. The majority of the guild was between the ages of 16-19, generally. I don’t remember what I was doing at that age (err I was on the yearbook committee?) but that’d be the closest thing I ever came to the elaborate HR Resource Management game that is running an (apparently successful) guild in WoW. Whether or not Tam actually stuck around, I think it’s still a pretty amazing testament to what a positive thing the game can be. These are teens who were scheduling raids, making sure everyone showed up to raids, leading those same raids. I think that’s fabulous! Whether you are leading them in a game or elsewhere,  that’s a valuable experience. Tam also mentioned that these folks had some of the strictest rules about respecting other people in the guild and not making belittling, racist, or sexist jokes. Even better.
At one point in our raiding career, Voss and I were raiding with a paladin and his two young brothers, a rogue and a mage. They were very much younger brothers to the paladin’s twenty-something, being eleven and thirteen. They  seldom spoke in Vent at all, and he helped make sure that they knew what their jobs were. His whole family played Warcraft so his mother would listen in on our raids from time to time. (Initially, to make sure that we weren’t crazy people). I’ve never known raiders more polite and appreciative than those two fellows. They were never greedy about loot. They were always on time. They never failed to thank us at the end of the raid. For the time we raided with them I think they were afforded an opportunity to raid with adults and their brother in a respectful environment – and they definitely proved that they’d earned the right to be there.

Accomplishment

There are some who might scoff at “accomplishments” in a video game. I don’t think any of them are reading here, though. Just recently I wrote about how thrilled I was to finally down Firefighter with my guild. We all had a rush of happiness and pride after killing The Lich King. That sense of setting a goal, and achieving it – whether it’s a holiday achievement, killing a rare spawn, or even just to hit max level is something that people of any age can appreciate and take pride in. Setting a goal and then figuring out the steps that will lead you to it is another valuable life skill. Obviously it isn’t one you can learn only from video games or MMOs, but it’s definitely a powerful incentive. The same young men I mentioned previously, who raided with their older brother – I remember one of them had more pets than anyone I’d met previously. He was especially proud of his Kirin Tor Familiar. This is a pet that takes a significant investment of time and planning to get! I still don’t have it with my own main! (I am just one book away, though. Just one…more…book!) I don’t think anyone held his hand through that achievement. He must have looked it up on Wowhead or perhaps Warcraftpets.com. to find out where the books would spawn. Maybe he discovered the Bookclub channel on his server and joined it to coordinate with others. In any case he was definitely taking initiative to meet that specific goal, and he was rightfully proud when he did. I like to think that he applies the same spirit to school projects or finding ways to raise money for a new bike.

You Kids Get Offa My Lawn

Kids that play video games are clearly violent malcontents who will amount to nothing in society. Or, it could be that they are learning things about team work, research, setting goals, and social interactions through interacting with their peers and adults in a cooperative environment. Who’s to say? I’m sure that many “studies” have “proven” the negative effects of video games time and time again, but until then, society at large will forgive me while I remain politely skeptical! What do you think?

Flee, flee, little ones!

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Comments on: "Why MMOs Are Good For Your Children" (21)

  1. This can be a very inflammatory topic you are discussing here. Thankfully it won’t be because the folks reading this are folks that enjoy their gaming.

    Personally, I think gaming is great at any age. That being said, an MMO has its own source of problems, primarily “the other people”. Unfortunately in today’s modern society I have seen that a lot of parents are very lazy. At the impressionable ages of 13, a parent should really be monitoring what their kids do online. Thats parenthood. If you didn’t want the work don’t have them. The Internet is not some lovely, safe, fluffy-cloud filled place that you can leave your kids in. It has its very dark corners and as a parent you need to be there to help guide and protect your child. Sadly, not many do.

    • Yeah, I’ll admit I hesitated a moment before I pressed “publish,” Gareth, but I know that my readers are mature and reasonable people, even if they happened to disagree about this I was confident we could discuss it as adults!

      I agree with you about parental supervision – as much as I can have an opinion about this without being a parent myself. I know enough about the internet to know that it should be closely monitored at younger ages. Depending on the age and maturity of the child involved, I think playing Warcraft with your child (if they’re going to be playing) is a much safer bet than just sending them off on their own!

  2. As it happens, I watched two TED video’s today which are directly connected to this:

    http://bit.ly/9FsMMi Gaming can make a better world and
    http://bit.ly/c2yuHM 7 ways games reward brain

    both bring up the aspect that by designing games which tackle with real world problems we could have immense and enthusiastic power dedicated to solving them. Reminds me of the Stargate:Universe premise, in which one main character was chosen to the project because he solved the problem presented in a MMO, which the team of specialists couldn’t solve…

    C out

  3. Related reading; the California state Supreme Court recently had a hearing about the sale of video game that have the ESRB M rating to minors being made illegal – Just recently, Monday or Tuesday. The transcripted copy of it has been made available as a .pdf file and might be an interesting read for something along the same lines as what you’ve wrote here!

    • That is pretty interesting! Honestly, I thought it already WAS illegal but what do I know? (I’m also in a different country). I know I’ve seen folks in EB games asking “Do you have a parent? You can’t buy this game on your own.” Unfortunately what then follows is the parent walking over and paying for the game – barely glancing at it, the rating, or what the gameplay might involve.

      I think that as gamers most of us would be wiser than to blindly trust that any game is appropriate at any age. I think we’d be likely to carefully consider games we give to children – because we know that some of them contain extreme violence and etc.

  4. M rated games should not be sold to Minors.

    World of Warcraft is not an M rated game. It’s rated T. There are all kinds of parental controls one has over the account and game to handle a youngster’s playtime and what he sees and hears in-game. Apples and Oranges.

    In regards to the OP, I completely agree. I have a 17 year old who is going to graduate high school this year. He started playing WoW when he was 12. He took this and last year OFF the game so he could focus on school completely. But before that, he was our Raid Leader and Main Tank. He wasn’t perfect – he’s a little hot headed and expected perfection of himself and others, but he was excellent at what he did and he learned how to handle people of all varieties and lead a team to regular goals on a weekly basis. This ability has translated to his team oriented goals in life and he’s an excellent leader now, a natural. I can’t help but give my thanks for his experience in WoW.

    • Oh no, you’re not wrong; I just thought it’d be interesting for someone who may not be aware of American politics to know that this is a topic that just was discussed.

      “If you like Apples, you might ALSO like Oranges” sort of thing

    • Jennifer, that’s brilliant. What’s even better is that he took a few years off because he knew that he’d need to focus and just didn’t have the time commitment. I know some adults who aren’t as self-aware. Kudos to him and to you for developing those skills! Nobody is perfect as a raid leader – it’s one of those things you learn as you go along. He’s just learning it at a much younger age than I ever did!

  5. I’m a Draenei Holy Priest, an athlete (I play aerobics, gymnastic and stretching for 90 minutes 6 days a week XD), a pastry baker AND a Clinical Psychologist, and I’ve been avidily playing WoW for 5 years and counting.

    For what is worth from my official posiition as a “shrink”, I completely agree with you: MMOs (as well as other kinds of social games) can help children learn and build many important skills.
    Not only that: they can teach adults the same skills, just the same they do children.

    • Your comment makes me grin. For what it’s worth, I’m more athletic than I was when I was younger – and I think that most adult WoW players are more balanced in that regard. I’m glad that people with actual professional knowledge about these sorts of things agree. I was just… talking, but an art degree doesn’t make me a specialist. ;)

  6. Oh definitely! It’s more the violent games like GTA and fps style games that would have a “negative” effect, and even then it depends on the child and their state of mind. Being raised in a healthy family it wouldn’t really affect them, being raised in a place where they might be a bit fragile on the other hand, may allow for them to have a small effect on the child BUT it would be more environment based than video game based. MMOs do teach a lot of important life lessons, and I do agree with you :)

    • It is absolutely something that should be looked at on an individual basis, agreed, Jaedia! I don’t personally play any really violent games like shooters or GTA because I find them disturbing. (I also flinch at violence in movies, which I think is sort of as it should be… We shouldn’t really be so blasé about violence that it doesn’t affect us in the slightest, right?) I’d consider very carefully before agreeing about any video game for a child until I knew what it was like. That’s what all the Super Mario games are for!

  7. Mom used videogames to get my little brother to read – he hated books, but console RPGs and Everquest had quests he had to read the info on to complete. And then of course there’s all the chatting involved in successfully playing an MMO, in addition to the math one sometimes has to do to figure out whether they can buy that shiny sword on the Auction House or have to save up for next level’s skills/spells.

    • These are things I hadn’t even thought about, Cassie. I love it. Ingenuous on your Mom’s part. I’m curious – has all of the reading in RPGs and MMOs made him more interested in reading books, too?

  8. “I’m not even convinced that the jerks I meet are actually young people.”

    I’d actually go a bit further than that, and say that I believe most of the jerks are over 18. I can’t prove that, but I’d be willing to bet that way, based on my own informal experiences as a pugged healer in more raids than I’d really care to count.

    I’m sure there are counterexamples, of course, but in my experience, the worst offenders are at least chronologically adult. As Maddy wrote above, plenty of adults could stand to learn some lessons about sharing, cooperation, compromise, and looking out for others too! (If you need any further evidence of this, just look at the U.S. legislature ;)

  9. Okay, I hesitated in reading your post, Vid, because I wasn’t sure where this was going to go. Thankfully, however, you stuck to areas where I completely agree with.

    As a kid, I was cutting my video game teeth on Space Invaders and Battlezone, but at the time I was also into pencil and paper RPGs such as D&D and Gamma World. The MMO arena has a big debt to the “low tech” RPGs, as they both offer the same advantages and gameplay. Teamwork, organization, imagination, camraderie; they’re all there in an MMO. When you find yourself in a good group, that’s priceless.

    Now, as a caveat, I’m also a big believer in monitoring your kid’s online activity as well as gauging their maturity level before allowing them into certain aspects of online space. Although kids and the internet isn’t my specific area of expertise, I do work in IT Security, and I believe in keeping parts of the net roped off until kids can demonstrate enough maturity to handle the rough and tumble out there. Some places such as Facebook (naturally) or chatrooms (another no-brainer) should be off limits to kids unless they are extremely emotionally mature. I’m also not a big fan of “kid only” areas, as those attract the lowest forms of Scourge in the internet. (Hell, I’m not a big fan of giving kids cell phones either, mainly due to the texting that can get out of hand.)

    When my kids ask when they’ll be allowed to play WoW, I tell them that they’re not ready yet, and that I’ll know when they’re ready. They think it’s because of the content, but I believe they can handle the PvE content. It’s the other people out there that I’m concerned about, because on the Internet, nobody knows if you’re really a stalker until after the fact.

    Maturity isn’t age dependent, unfortunately. WoW and real life demonstrate that in spades.

    • It was something I posted with mild trepidation, Red – primarily because I don’t have kids myself. I’m not going to tell people what to do with their own kids – clearly it’s a decision all parents need to make based on their own individual children. MMOs could be a bad choice for some, and it’s definitely not something you’d let them do before you’re sure they’re old enough. Like you told your kids, you’ll know when they are old enough! I agree about cell phones, too. I watch young kids trailing behind their parents staring at their cell phones, texting, and I think… is it really necessary to have such an easy way to check out of the reality you’re in contact with – so completely? I don’t know. I might be a bit old-fashioned. Shh, don’t tell!

      I also admittedly gave the post a bit of a sensational headline. I could have easily called it “Good Things About MMOs” or “Things MMOs Teach,” because as some other people have pointed out, you’re never too old to learn things. ;)

  10. I loved this post!

    I know most of adults or adult like players do not 100% enjoy the children playing.. however, I think mmos are much more constructive to learning and socialization than the console. Grant it now most consoles can be played over the interwebs with group communication and some typing..

    but just think about all of us gamers… and how fast we type… what if all of us started at 12 years old.. omg flying typing fingers of fiery doom!

  11. I’d be a little hesitant about letting my pre-teen children play MMOs, but more because of the sedentary aspect of gaming than anything else. Several years of living in Newfoundland, where most people are obese and even young children are suffering from obesity-related health conditions has me worried for the health of my future kids. MMOs can be very time consuming and I want my kids running around, dabbling in everything, not sitting in front of a screen.

    But, like with anything, I think gaming in moderation is fantastic. As a kid, I loved learning from educational games (and I actually learned to write in English from playing old Sierra games!), and as a teenager, I always found games to be the easiest way to meet like-minded people.

    I like what you say about teenagers and leadership. I’ve noticed that in my guild. While our teenagers aren’t perfect and have the bad habit of speaking without thinking of the effect their words can have on others, those who’ve been given officer type roles have really grown as individuals. They’ve gained confidence, social skills and a tad of maturity. It’s been really awesome to see how far they’ve come over the last couple of months.

  12. I enjoyed reading and agree with everything you have written here and also found it interesting to read everyone’s comments.

    My husband and I are expecting our first child next year and I’d be slightly disappointed if our kids ended up not having any interest in games (video/console ones or board games – although if they didn’t that would of course be fine too!) =p I think it’s up to the individual to decide what is right for them and their children in terms of specific boundaries and I do agree with the comments here that state it’s important to have those boundaries and take an active interest in what is appropriate and what isn’t for a certain child and/or age group.

    I’m glad you posted this despite having reservations about whether it might be controversial.

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