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The Elder Scrolls Online...With Kids!

Red Thomas Posted:
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As I think most have learned by now, I enjoy playing games with my numerous nieces and nephews when I can.  The online experience is an opportunity to enjoy quality time with my family, even though I live so far away from them.  I grew up with a fantastic uncle who took me fishing, hunting, and camping.  I have a lot of fond memories from the time I spent with my uncle and I’ve always been a little bummed that I couldn’t do something similar for my own nieces and nephews.

I do play games with them as often as I can, but there’s something special about MMOs.  They’re built from the ground up to be a distinctly social experience, and that makes it a lot different from many of the other games I’ve played with the kids.  I have played other MMOs with nieces and nephews, but Elder Scrolls Online is a little different.  In many ways, it’s a much more adult game and most certainly more complicated than any of the others.

I chose one of my oldest nephews for this one and bought him a copy of the game.  He installed it, created the account, and promptly ran into a strange problem.  It wasn’t the only one, though I admittedly did laugh a little harder at him on this one.

Elder Scrolls Online is a much more complicated game than World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It may not be the best game for introducing kids to MMOs, but I gave it a shot and thought it might be worth sharing those experiences with my readers.  Sit back and relax while I walk you through the joys and griefs of playing Elder Scrolls Online with kids.

I got this text from my nephew, complaining that he couldn’t join a game because it just kept asking him about the server over and over… and then I suggested he read what was behind the server selection.


My nephew was excited to try the game.  He’d see the Elder Scrolls Online trailers and had watched a few videos on it, so he installed it as soon as I bought it for him on Steam.  The first problem out of the gate had me a little confused, though.  He explained the initial screen that I was familiar with but was confused by the server selection.

It started as just a question because all the games he’d played to this point had US and EU servers, and he wasn’t sure what “NA” was supposed to represent.  Of course, once I pointed out that it was “North America,” it suddenly made total sense to him.  He was still confused because he kept picking the server but wasn’t sent to any new screen and couldn’t hit “Play.”

It turns out there was that subtle question in the background asking if he’d played before or was new to the game.  Most of us saw that and immediately knew we needed to create an account.  MMOs have been around for a while and every game has its own account system separate from Steam, or at least most do.  This was a first for the nephew, though.  He was used to clicking on the game and Steam handling all the authentication.  With the way it was worded, he had no idea that he needed to choose one and actually create an account to login and play.

This should have been a bit of a warning because it’s far more significant than it seems on the surface.  So much of what we do in MMOs is based on common knowledge, but it’s a common knowledge that a neophyte is missing.  This was a clear sign that ESO devs had designed the game while taking a great deal of knowledge for granted.

Even mini-games like lock-picking can be really hard if you’ve never played an Elder Scrolls game and don’t already know the basics of how it works.

Not only has my nephew never played an MMO, but he’s never played any Elder Scrolls game before.  He’d talked about Skyrim, so I took it for granted that he knew the gist of how those games played, and it turns out that I was wrong.  He really had no idea.

My nephew spent about a week popping in and out of the game on his own.  He never really knew what to do through that whole time and was just wandering around killing stuff.  The ideas of quests, crafting, and even PvP were all completely foreign to him.  While talking about it on the phone, I got the distinct impression that he really wanted to enjoy the game and it looked fun to him, but he just couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to do or where he was supposed to go.

If you’ve been playing this franchise since the beginning, as I have, or have played many MMOs, this is all basic stuff.  For a kid fresh to the genre, it was confusing and more than overwhelming.  Luckily, he let me know he was struggling, and since I’d planned to roll a new character anyway, I met him in game with a new toon to help him get things sorted.


There are a few key aspects of the game that I think you need to stop and take time to explain to any of your own kids who you’re planning to bring in.  These are things my nephew was missing due to his fresh experience with the franchise and this genre in particular.

The first thing is just what classes are and what the significance is.  Understand going into this conversation that it isn’t as simple as you’re immediately thinking.  Remember that in ESO, you can wear any armor you want, use any weapon you want, join any NPC guilds you want, and each class has three categories of skills to select from.

The choices pile on the uninitiated and even get worse when you start trying to explain classes when each class in ESO can basically take on any role in the traditional trinity.  Consider for a moment how you explain the pros and cons of taking a two-handed weapon as a Nightblade, and why it’s both not typical and also not a totally bad idea when the person you’re talking to knows nothing about crits, DPS, aggro, or any of the other very common MMO data points for such a conversation.

Quests seem simple, but not if you’ve never taken one in a game before.  It can also be confusing to be sent one errand to the next unless you know those tasks add up to a story and know that part of the fun is the dialogue and the deeper tale behind the missions.

In the end, I pointed him at some YouTube videos that did a much better job of explaining it all.  In large part because he could see what the content creator was talking about when they discussed specific aspects of the game, while they also edited much of the boring bits away to explain the details far more quickly and effectively than I could.  That helped a lot.

The other key thing that helped him get into the game was quests.  My nephew didn’t really understand that the point of an MMO was to explore the world and get immersed in the story.  I showed him how to spot characters with quests and then we walked through a couple of those quests so that he could understand how they functioned. 

My nephew was used to games where players were faced with some immediate and obvious challenge.  Either the need to survive by harvesting food and crafting tools to advance to more complex crafted materials, or often an opposing team that needs to be immediately engaged and defeated.

Elder Scrolls Online has none of that because it’s a huge game where you can pretty much do whatever you want.  Like many MMOs and like other games in the franchise, ESO is a game where the player defines their own goals.  Whether the goal is to become wealthy, renowned in PvP, get turned into a vampire, or reach the highest rank in a guild, the player determines their own goals in ESO.

My nephew didn’t understand that at first and was just overwhelmed with data and choices.  It doesn’t help that the game assumes you know much of this by virtue of having played another ES title or having played other MMOs in the past.  If you haven’t, then there’s no cohesive walkthrough of what to do, and there are too many options to really have one if the developers had wanted.

Explaining how the map works and how to get experience for exploration actually ended up being one of the aspects of the game my nephew was most interested in.  ESO can be a very attractive game.


In the end, I’m glad I introduced my nephew to Elder Scrolls Online.  I don’t think he enjoyed it quite as much as I’d hoped, but I do think it primes him to join me in the next MMO experience that comes along.   That’s exciting because we’ll both be able to learn the game together, which I expect will be the superior experience in any case.

There’s a whole lot that I like about ESO, but I’m not sure it’s a great MMO for kids.  Certainly not the best introductory experience due to the complexity of the game.  For kids who crave more action, the heavy story-based gameplay is probably not going to cut it, either.

However, if the youth in question has some experience with a game like Skyrim or has played an MMO or two, that could make for a different story.  I feel that exploring the DLC as a family would make for a fantastic family game night and would encourage folks with older kids to give it a shot.  Fourteen was probably a little too young, but not by much.

My nephew got the game pretty quickly once I was there to walk him past a few gaps in information.  Even with that help, there’s still a huge part of the game that we never touched on, and that excess of options is going to keep him feeling like he’s missing a lot and will probably hurt his experience a fair amount.

This is one of those rare cases where a game didn’t work out with kids as well as I’d hoped.  Your mileage will certainly vary, as I also have a fourteen-year-old niece who I think would really enjoy the very story-centric design of ESO.  Though, she’d struggle with the same information overload that my nephew did, so it’s not an absolute thing.  Except for those few edge cases, I think I’ll have to recommend you skip ESO if you’re wanting an experience to enjoy with kids in their mid-teens or younger.  It’s a great game in a lot of ways, but there’s just a bit too much of a learning curve for it to be an ideal title to share with younger gamers.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.