Lifetap Volume 1, Issue 14 - Being Responsible Non-Parent MMO Gamers
Huffington Post recently ran an article from the perspective of a gaming parent, cautioning its readers against letting their children play MMOs. Today I offer up some perspectives on the same topic as a non-parent MMO gamer.
Due to a combination of choice and circumstance, I am not a parent. Being on the outside looking in on how various parents choose to either expose or deny their children access to MMOs or other types of online games has given me a very different perspective than I’d likely have were I a parent myself. I’ve witnessed both good and bad decision making occur when it comes to MMOs and parenting, and will briefly touch on each today.
A recent article by Jason P. Stadlander on Huffington Post titled MMOs and MMORG – Control Your Kids Online Gaming describes the author’s strict no-MMO stance when it comes to responsible parenting in an era of immediate access to online games. He doesn’t necessarily dig too deeply into why he would argue against allowing his children access to MMOs, but does at least offer up a basic description of one of his personal alternatives (LAN parties).
Towards the end of the piece, Jason also offers up some advice for other parents on what to do when their children request access to a given game. While some of it is very sound advice, I’d append a key bit of advice that – at least from my perspective – should be universal, but is often overlooked when I stumble across similar articles on being responsible MMO gaming parents.
- Take an active role in the life of your child
This may sound like a given, but it’s shocking to me how often that is not the case. I’ll cite two examples from my own experiences to help illustrate why playing MMOs with your children can be a positive thing.
1. The Active Parent
Without going too deeply into the subject out of respect for privacy, I will note that Ten Ton Hammer’s own Boomjack has had very positive experiences playing MMOs and other types of online games with his children. When I first joined the network, he regularly played World of Warcraft with his family, in much the same way previous generations would gather around the television or play board games together.
The key takeaway here is to make the choice to be active in the life of your child. In other words, don’t use games – especially MMOs – as a form of pacifier or babysitter. If you’re really that concerned about the potential negatives that might result from allowing your children to be exposed to online social systems, be there with them as the active guardian and role model you are supposed to be.
2. The Absent Parent
In contrast to the above example, one of my nieces has had a very different relationship with MMOs. During her formative years, her father spent large swaths of time playing EQ and EQII, only occasionally inviting my niece to participate. Over time this blossomed into a form of resentment for MMOs – much to my dismay – though my niece is still an avid gamer.
In this example, the parent in question used online gaming as both a form of escape from active parenting, and a means of retaining adult social connections. While I would never fault anyone for the latter, you do have a responsibility to be actively engaged in your children’s lives first and foremost. Sometimes that means sacrificing time you might prefer to spend playing your MMO of choice to play games you might not otherwise. It can also mean stepping away from the keyboard to spend time with your children in other ways.
Being a Good Community Member
If you’re an active MMO gamer without the responsibilities of parenthood like myself, you do still have a responsibility to be a good community member. If one of your neighbors were cooking up meth in their garage or being verbally or physically abusive to others, hopefully you’d feel compelled to take action in some way.
Just because there is a spatial disconnect in MMO social systems, it does not mean the rules should suddenly change. Most MMOs have systems built into their social tools to assist in rooting out the bad seeds. When you spot verbal abuse, don’t simply add the user to your ignore list. Take a few minutes to report the incident using in-game tools. If that’s not an option, screenshots posted on official forums can also bring negative behavior to the attention of paid community managers.
MMOs and Mature Communities
On the whole, I would argue that MMORPGs still have some of the most mature and respectful communities in the grand scheme of online gaming. Sure, there are plenty of morons and even people with malicious intent playing these games, but you have to understand that they are the exception to the rule. You are more likely to run into someone who would cause harm to your children on a trip to the local grocery store than you are in most MMOs.
In the Huffington Post article mentioned at the start of this article, one piece of advice given is:
Research the game. Doing a simple search online will usually pull up a Wiki page, a vendor page or something that can tell you more details about the game.
I would extend that tip to state Research the Game’s Community. Official forums can often provide ample exposure to the general tone and maturity level of the engaged, social segment of the player base. In the era of live streaming, tuning into some of the active streams for a given MMO can also help provide a snapshot of the general tone of its community.
Respect Gaming Parents
One final word of advice I would give to non-parent gamers is to respect the gaming parents out there. This means understanding a few simple things:
- Their primary responsibility is to their children, not the games they play. Pressuring online friends into one more battleground or to stick around for lengthy dungeon runs and raids isn’t how to be a good community member.
- Knowing that there are indeed families who play MMOs together, think before you speak or type into the chat system. Leave the adult conversations to closed channels, and avoid using profanity.
- Be inclusive. So what if your group wipes in a dungeon due to having someone’s children in the group? Games are intended as an entertainment medium. You will not suffer some terrible form of cosmic judgment and be deemed an unworthy human being if you don’t succeed 100% of the time. If win conditions are the sum total focus of why you choose to play online games, then perhaps you should pursue a career in eSports.
While I’m not a gaming parent myself, many of my peers, friends, and colleagues are. As such, I do have a responsibility to be a good community member by respecting their concerns as parents.
Likewise, I would urge MMO gamers out there to play an active role in your online gaming communities. As Shayalyn’s column last week helps illustrate, there are definitely some bad seeds out there. For those of us who do not want them tainting our online gaming garden, it is on us to help root them out.