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Family Time

Isabelle Parsley Posted:
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Last week was National Family Week here in the States, which also happened to coincide with the American Thanksgiving holiday.  It was lovely, thank you for asking, albeit too short (isn’t it always?), and since we played a few console games on the day with the spousal unit’s family, it got me to thinking.

I’ve played a metric ton of board-games with family members over the years, and still have really fond memories of playing Ludo and Monopoly with my German cousins during summer vacations. My older cousins always cheated (honestly!). Incidentally, the German for Ludo, roughly translated, means, “Dude, don’t get so pissed” – which always struck me as very accurate. For such a simple game it certainly aroused a lot of passion and *cough* possibly a few tantrums. Sue me – I was six.

What I haven’t played a lot of with family is computer games or even console games. My siblings and I grew up before the PC/console explosion; I played PacMan on my VIC 20 years decades ago, and a few years later my younger brother played Populous on our mother’s computer, but we didn’t do much communal gaming. And by the time MMOs rolled around, I was long grown and out of the house.

A lot of my friends who have kids, however, think about whether they should play with their kids, whether they should even let their kids play online at all and, if so, what they should play. One of my friends has a son who is not quite 10 and who, after watching parental WoW sessions, is desperate to make a character and run around killing stuff. Who can blame him? If I were 10 I’d probably want exactly the same thing.

Problem is, WoW may look child-friendly, but anyone who’s watched global chat knows that’s only skin-deep. And while I may have known quite a few rude words before I hit my teens, I didn’t use them (much) and I wasn’t exposed to the eye-bleeding amount of them you see in most MMO chat. Fortunately there are language filters and a number of things one can do to “sanitize” the UI, but still – if I were a parent with younger kids, it’s certainly something I’d think about pretty hard because it’s not just the language, it’s the general community and atmosphere of a game.

That said, I’ve known a number of people over the last decade that let their kids play online games – even WoW and other “grown-up” MMOs. Almost all of them are adamant about either playing directly with their kids or supervising said play, which seems only sensible. I was allowed to watch quite a few “grown-up” things alone on TV as a child, but my mum always kept an eye on what it was and was there to answer questions if I had any; the world is a little more unpredictable these days, but I think that for a smart parent it’s still possible to let your child educate themselves without scarring them for life.

I believe that for the most part the benefits of playing online games with kids, especially MMOs, outweigh the possible risks – again, as long as you’re smart and careful as a parent/sibling/whatever. I may not have kids of my own to play with but we’ve had a number of children in our guild over the years: the rule is that they can only join if their parents are members, and parents are responsible for their behavior and for looking after them when online.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t always as… tolerant as I am now. Children have a very different way of playing games, including MMOs. They beg (they don’t see it as such); they pester (it’s an age thing); they care much more about the reward than about the journey (ditto); and they can pry more avidly than an LA gossip columnist. On the other hand, they also have no clue they’re irritating people, they’re amazingly enthusiastic and they’re always willing to jump into total insanity either for fun or to help someone out.

To begin with all I saw were the repeated requests in guild chat to be given this or that item, taken to this or that place, or walked through this or that quest/dungeon. It irritated the crap out of me, because I’m old and curmudgeonly and I forgot that kids are just kids. It took me a while to realize a few things I know intellectually about children but hadn’t put together with actually playing online games. Kids don’t think the way we do. Their boundaries aren’t fixed and they have no brain-to-mouth brake. To them, stuff is just stuff – they’ll ask (beg) for it, but they’ll also give it away with abandon if it seems you need whatever it is more than they do. Once I realized that we didn’t have the same mindset and we didn’t have the same expectations, it got a lot easier to deal with the younger people in our guild.

Our guild also decided early on that you can’t bitch and moan about kids behaving badly in games if you’re not prepared to take part in educating them. We’re not born knowing MMO or internet etiquette (yet), and a lot of the desirable traits in games like competitiveness and cooperation are learned. One of the major ways in which we learn is by doing stuff with people who are older and more experienced than us, or simply by copying behaviors we see around us until they’re ingrained. We can’t expect younger players to learn courtesy or cooperation if we’re not willing to lead by example and, sometimes, even actively teach. It’s called social responsibility, and maybe we’ll come back to that someday.

Besides, and on a much lighter note, nothing beats genuine child-like enthusiasm at, well, just about everything. It’s refreshing. It might even remind the old curmudgeons among us that we were like that once, and that wonder is a large part of fun and entertainment. Not to mention that children are relatively drama-free, which makes a change, and that they’re usually fairly honest. When they’re not, it’s painfully obvious anyway; remember how your fibs always seemed so believable when you were a kid but that adults had lie-detecting superpowers? Yeah…

But back to Thanksgiving. There was an Xbox/Kinect setup at my sister-in-law’s place, so of course we ended up playing stuff while we waited for the food to be ready. I’ve been resisting the Kinect ever since it came out, because I’m afraid it will show up my ridiculous klutziness to the entire world, and because having my ass kicked by someone at a mouse/keyboard is a little less painful than having it kicked by a 16 year-old with ninja-like reflexes right in the same room. But (she says grudgingly) it was kind of fun… and it did make me howl with laughter… and I wasn’t any klutzier than the other old codgers in the room. I may even have worked off a whole 12 calories after dinner.

I already have an Xbox. Maybe I’ll ask for a Kinect for Christmas.

PS: Yes, Skyrim is addictive.


Isabelle Parsley