I’m Not Sure I’d Want My Kids Playing MMOs

Wizard101

Kids MMOs. Harmless fun or potentially dangerous?

Unless, God forbid, I have some sort of unfortunate accident in the groinal area within the next couple of years, having children is most definitely on the cards for my wife and I. Now I’ve debated before the merits of having kids and whether or not it’s worth giving up one’s MMO “career” for them but, until recently I’ve never considered if (assuming I do have them at some stage) I’d actually want them following in their ol’ Dad’s footsteps and become MMO gamers just like him. I’m just not sure if it’s healthy.

Simply due to the year I was born and the rate of advancement of technology, I was never able to experience MMORPGs as a child. The youngest I ever was when I played my first, Everquest, was when I was 17 and although I’m sure many could argue the level maturity at that age, I consider it old enough to be able to make informed, intelligent decisions and understand the consequences of one’s actions. Now, whether it’s solely to do with the age that I started playing MMOs or a combination of it and my genetic make-up, I’ve always felt like I’ve had a healthy relationship with MMOs. Even when I played a huge amount, I never felt addicted to them or enslaved by them and certainly never put real life activities before them or let them consume my thoughts. They are, were and always will be simply a hobby and pastime to me.

Of course, not everyone is able to make that distinction and we’ve all heard the horror stories that lurk on the Net about how players have committed suicide over their favourite game or let others die as a result of negligence due to their apparent addiction to MMOs. That’s a big topic for another time and I don’t believe believe that MMOs in themselves are physically addictive (not in the sense that a drug like alcohol or tobacco is) but I do think they exploit motivations in our psyche that can create strong urges and I do think young people are more vulnerable to this than grown adults.

Over my years of gaming I’m used to seeing people play MMOs a lot (and I mean a lot) and deep down I always felt like they had control of the situation and knew that it was only a game and a bubble of escapism that would eventually burst. Most of the people I played with though were adults, of a similar or older age than myself, and I can’t help but think that had something to do with it. At the end of the day we all had jobs, lives, wives and husbands and families to contend with. We’d been through life and experienced it enough to know that as fun as it is to indulge your fantasies, eventually you need to come back to reality.

I’m not convinced that kids or teenagers are able to make that distinction though and I worry that, at that age, people are exceptionally vulnerable to blocking out the entire world around them and shedding everything close to them in real life in order to hide away in a virtual world. Sure, I played a lot of video games when I was between 10 and 16 years old but they were limited single or multiplayer games that would eventually end. No matter how much I played, sooner or later I would finish the game and be left with some sort of sense of completion to satisfy me. MMOs are a different breed of game entirely though and thrive on the fact that they never end and directly profit from the player’s continual interest in them. Mario gains nothing from creating endless, grinding activities designed to hook us so completely; World of Warcraft does.

And this makes me worry. If we know that video games are designed to exploit our emotions and subconscious and MMOs are the ultimate epitome of this, a barrage of micro-achievements wrapped in a never ending world of fantasy and escapism, couldn’t they be dangerous to our kids? Or at least too strong a pull for them to comprehend and deal with rationality?

If and when I do have children I want them to be able to enjoy video games but I’m having serious doubts about whether or not I’d want them to play MMOs. They seem too focused on achievements and advancements and upgrades and all sorts of other micro-accomplishments and have become obsessed with grabbing hold of the player and never letting them go. I think most adults can deal with that but I’m not so sure it’s a good thing for kids to experience.

-Gordon

P.S. Would love to heard from any readers with children on the subject.

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47 Comments

  1. Ttrinity says:

    I am sorta in the same boat as you but I taken the plunge a bit. I started playing an mmo recently and they are designed to addict you into paying monthly fee to keep going. My 12 year old daughter was interested in it, but due to some adult content, I did not let her.

    Enter Wizards 101. A game for kiddos. She plays. Sometimes a lot, but she seems in no way addicted. Perhpas that is because I am aware of those qualities in the mmo and work to vary activity and choices she has.

    So far, it seems to work. She has a decent balance of game time, outsides, soccer, tv, reading, etc. Of course, that means I need to exhibit such behavior as well. :)

    Hope this helps.

  2. Longasc says:

    I am quite sure your kids will play another form of online game that no longer is much like the MMO of olde, trinity and WoW-style and all that.

    Maybe they will also shake their heads in disbelief that people played MMOs… “Lulz, dad played EverQuest. He got lucky that mom married him!”

  3. Klepsacovic says:

    If I had kids, I’d not let them play MMOs, or any online game, for quite a while. Yes, that was a vague definition. First off, the internet is a cesspool. While it has great people like me, it also has sinister Europeans, or worse. I’m not even referring to molesters or other truly dangerous people, but just the average loudmouth forum troll. Kids don’t need shit from people they can never reach. On the flip side, I think it’s best to keep early relationships local, to ensure that they fully learn what they are, before connect online. I don’t mean to marginalize them, just that :) is not an effective developmental substitute for a smile.

    But comparing progress on the romance and technology fronts, my children will have chips in their heads that connect them directly to the internet, by two months, in the womb. So it’s futile.

  4. Grimnir says:

    Very simply, if my daughter has an urge to play an MMO, she’ll be playing with me until I feel that the horrors of the internet have been suitably ingrained upon her soul and her skin thickens to a troll resistant state. It’s inevitable in this upcoming age for many of our children to avoid the things that we take for granted everyday. It’s irresponsible to imagine that we can somehow shield them from it all and keep them pure. If it’s going to happen anyways, which it will, I want to be there to temper their experience with a handful of cynicism and disdain for the more repugnant denizens that reside on our shared internets.

    I have no idea what kind of rationalized decisions I would have made if I were faced with some of the situations I see daily. I think being a part of their online experience, at least in the very influential formative years, will not only give you insight to how they are processing information, but allow the opportunity for your hand guide them as well.

  5. Genda says:

    Hey Gordon,

    I have 3 kids, Boy/girl/boy. The oldest has played WoW but it doesn’t hold his interest that long. He’s 19 and has been the MT for our guild and parental pride aside, is an exceptional MMO player. His raid awareness is off the charts. If he isn’t progressing he isn’t interested, so that makes for sporadic play.

    My daughter is in her teens and couldn’t be less interested.

    My youngest is a tween and he loves the game, and we have put play time restrictions on him. He usually just plays an FPS if he is out of WoW time, and I’m not sure that is any better. Working with his mom on that one.

    I haven’t seen anything to indicate that these experiences have hampered them in any way. The older son is mostly interested in art so he directs his energy that way, and the youngest is a total geek like his dad, and I suspect he’ll always be around the culture.

    Holler at me if I can contribute anything else.

  6. Rose says:

    My daughter cannot drag herself away from MSN or Facebook long enough to play anything. I sometimes wish she liked gaming more.

  7. Gronthe says:

    I’m a parent of two kids, two boys to be exact, and I allow both of them to play MMO’s, from Wizard 101 to World of Warcraft. They are both very healthy kids, gifted and intelligent and recognized at school as such. I let them play because I, the parent, set up strict guidelines and oversight. I also hold them accountable when they violate any of our rules of computer use.

    And it works.

    It’s all in the parenting. Am I a perfect parent? No. But I think I’m pretty good. I let them play for one hour every other day, and an hour or so each on Saturday. They are NEVER allowed to communicate with anyone – (don’t think the irony isn’t lost on me, they are, after all, MMO’s). They quest, PvP in BG’s, level professions, do ALL holiday activities, fly around and look at the scenery, whatever. They don’t have time to grind dailies or any other repetitive activity that tends to hook people. There’s no time for that.

    They have a blast! They have their computer games, console games, but for them (ages 8 & 10), a good book is better than any game. So I guess I’m saying that I think it’s fine to let kids play, it’s all in the controls the parents set up for them and how diligent the parents are in enforcing those controls. If done right, it’s fun for all – and nobody gets addicted.

    • Gordon says:

      Thanks, Gronthe. It really does make me feel better to know that kids can have a healthy relationship with MMOs! :) And you’re right, it is all down to the parenting I suppose. Just hope I’m up to the challenge ;)

  8. elleseven says:

    The scariest thing I think i’ve seen with young gamers was with Club Penguin. I would watch my kids like a hawk wih Wow, but thought Club Penguin was harmless until I sat down and really watched it one day. Its preteen dating club. chat bubbles with looking for boyfriend..need a hot girl…anyone wanna kiss…two penguins kinda jumping on each other with hearts (easy to catch the drift). Of course not everyone on was doing this..but enough to be disturbing.

  9. Trina says:

    My husband and I are gamers. He left WoW last year, I still play sometimes. We have two pre-teen boys who play online games, primary Maplestory and some Disney games. They sometimes play WoW but I would be watching them like a hawk. (I would be sitting right next to them while they are playing.) I know how some people behavior like they never received any parenting at all. I cut off chat and they just play.

    I think it comes down to the parents parenting their children. Setting guidelines, rules and stressing the consequences of their actions help children to understand correct and proper behavior. They understand what they cannot do. They know they only have a limited amount of time to play and only if they finished their other responsibilities. The parent must set a good example.

  10. Wolarsen says:

    It’s nice you showing interest for such issues; I have 2-y-old twins and I am terrorized about making the right education decisions in the incoming years.

    I agree with Gronthe and Trina, setting limits and watching them while they go MMO seems the way to go, you can always relax those limits later if you see everything safe. Just translate to the screen the rules you should teach the kids to use in the street (I guess no one lets a kid roam free in his city from the very 1st day he asks for it). Not allowing them to communicate with other MMO players seems a great starting point.

    You can also consider old plain MO games; if you talk to your kid’s friends parents you could make a small multiplaying group, that way you would know exactly who they are playing with and gameplay times would be more stable, while still granting the kids the “Live” feeling. Think of Diablo, Counterstrike, Quake (yes, I know these are old!). You can even be sneaky and use these as birthday gifts for your kid’s friends ^^.

    And as a personal note I am spanish and 34; we had no online gaming back then, but it used to take an ox to get me away from my books. As MMO, my grandfather library “never ended”, Gordon, but dad was always there to take me out to the light and take me to the beach :)

  11. Bhagpuss says:

    Mrs Bhagpuss and I playing MMOS had exactly the opposite effect on our three (now all grown and left home) than you’re fearing. They played console games a bit but not much. It was always something they’d do only if there was nothing else at all going on.

    Only one of them ever showed the slightest interest in even owning a PC and she only had one and never went online, or asked to. When that PC died she wasn’t interested in replacing it.

    All of them as adults are fully computer literate and have laptops. They do play games, but only as a very minor part of their entertainment profile. Only one of them ever played an MMO and she got to about level 11 in Everquest. She probably played for a few dozen hours in total over a couple of years.

    I put their general lack of interest in computer gaming in general and MMOs in particular almost entirely down to it being “something old people do”, as evidenced by seeing their mother and I do it. As young pre-teens, copying your parents is a natural thing to do, but by the time you get to 11 or 12 the very last thing you want to do is anything your parents think is cool.

    I’d guess you have a whole lot more to be concerned about with Social Networking than you’re ever going to need to worry about with MMOs. and in any case it’s the things you *don’t* know your kids are doing that will end up being the real problems, not the things you are watching them do and wish they wouldn’t!

  12. JJ says:

    I get what you mean. I’m also glad WoW wasn’t around when I was putting way too much time into the likes of Bards Tale, Darklands, Baldurs Gate and er, Championship Manager 3. I’m sure I couldn’t have handled the more addictive nature of MMO’s back then – I barely can now…

    On the other hand, I’m not sure MMO’s will pose a worse threat to my kids than the addictive side of say social networking sites, Farmville, Pokemon cards or whatnot. It’s out there, and simply barring them from playing online is not going to solve much really.

    My oldest is 6 years old, he’s tried WoW and likes it. Levelling in WoW is not really harder than playing Lego Harry Potter, so difficulty isn’t much of an issue there. But English being his third language, he can’t read much ingame which kind of limits his options. It also solves the problem of interaction with others (which is perk in this case)…

    So in summary I agree with the other parents chiming in above, it’s gonna come down to good old day-to-day parenting. And trying really hard to remember what I used to think about my parents dim view of all the fun stuff they thought would ruin my life… :)

    • Gordon says:

      I guess in some ways kids now will be used to things like WoW and thus MMOs won’t be a novelty like they were for me when I was growing up. They will be common place and nothing special which might help out in the long run.

  13. Nils says:

    If you want your children to later be financially successful you shouldn’t introduce them to MMOs. While one can learnt a lot in MMOs, they are too open ended and too much designed to have fun.

    Now, if you just want your children to live a happy life the question is harder. MMOs certainly add to my quality of life. But at the same time they occasionally reduce my quality of life. Your worries are not without reason and I’d have a look around the internet about reports of parents who allowed their children to play MMOs.

    A completely different question is how you want to even keep your children from playing MMOs without completely stopping to to do yourself. Yes, completely. There is no way that daddy goes into his isolated room to play that mysterious game without his children really wanting to do it, too. Oh – and better don’t even talk about how you used to love MMOs when you were young (but how it was all a terrible mistake? :) .

    I think it is a serious dilemma and like all those serious dilemmas parent find themselves in, 90% find out that everything worked out well in the end, while 10% find out that it didn’t work out so well, but are hard pressed to find good reasons ;)

    • Gordon says:

      “If you want your children to later be financially successful you shouldn’t introduce them to MMOs”

      ROFL, yeah I think you’re right :) So many times when I’m playing a MMO I think to myself how much other more productive stuff I could be doing instead :P

  14. Larísa says:

    I wouldn’t worry that much about the potential danger in it, being the mother of an 18 and a soon-to-be 17 year old. As I started to play I did it together with my oldest daughter, with the idea in the backhead that it would be an enjoyable activity that might knit us together. However she lost interest in it rather quickly. She plunged into it for a short while a bit later, but she never ever levlled below 30-something, never got enchanted the way I did.

    I’ve never tried to push it down in their throats though. They have other interests i life and I accept that. However I don’t think that the social network you get into in WoW is anymore harmful than networks you get into through Facebook and other platforms. Rather the opposite to be honest. At least you have a company in the background, the rules and the possibility of reporting and banning if you violate them….

    If I see it from a strictly selfish side I must admit that I don’t ONLY see disadvantages of my children’s lack of interest. Since they don’t play, Azeroth is truly a space of my own, a different setting where I can relax from all the ordinary musts in life – including motherhood. If they were around all the time and I for instance would have to supervise them and check out that they behave nicely in a guild setting, like I know that some WoW players do, it wouldn’t be the same thing at all. The element of escapism would be gone.

    • Gordon says:

      Indeed, I think you raise a fair point with the danger of stuff like Facebook. In some ways it’s amazing to see how the world is changing around us. I can’t imagine what my kids are going to think over the Internet, social networking, and online gaming in 10 or 15 years time.

  15. Nina says:

    My 10-year-old plays. Her computer is right next to mine, so I can monitor whatever she’s doing. We sometimes play together, but she’s much more into roleplaying and telling stories to herself with her character than actually progressing and questing and so forth – drives me crazy.

    That said, she’s a terrific miner and herbalist and she’s made us tons of money flying around and gathering things. Which she then goes and spends on Lovely Black Dresses out of season. Oh, well.

  16. Ratshag says:

    My 13yo daughter has been playing WoW for several years now. She certainly enjoys it, but by far the strongest source of the appeal is the fact that it is something we can share. Sometimes playing together (she greatly enjoys the role reversal of running my lowbie alts through dungeons), sometimes just being able to talk about it. I have now doubt that if I were to stop playing, she would quickly find other hobbies. I suspect the reason we adults find it so addicting is we don’t have 872 other fun activities competing for our attention.

  17. Ariel says:

    My daughter is 11 now, and played WoW a fair bit on and off when she was a few years younger, I told her to not read trade chat and to not accept a group etc. She was fine with that and enjoyed the process of designing and naming her character, but usually got bored before she even hit level 10. These days she hates it as she sees it as something that may take my time and attention away from her (clearly I try and limit my playtime to when she’s in bed, but I’m in a guild that raids at 7pm which can be tricky, so I try to only attend once or twice a week when she’s with me). I’m proud that my daughter is a little geeky, she’s also beautiful and has other real life friends and interests, she has seen that it hasn’t hurt my life or career, and so I think she balances it well, probably better than me! I let her have facebook earlier than many parents do, but I honestly think it is that (with supervision of course) that makes it not seem very special and therefore she rarely goes on it, I have to remind her to check it and reply to her friends! She does though love games possibly a little too much, she is plugged into either her laptop or her iPod touch a little more than I would like, but as she still does things like sewing and talking to me, I’m not 100% worried, just a little worried hehe

    TL:DR I think it’s better to let kids try what they want to demystify things but be prepared they are likely to be a little geeky, but hey that’s a good thing right? *grin*

    Ariel xxx

  18. Epiny says:

    I’ve played MMOs since they came out, and I was 18. I now have 2 kids, 7 and 3.

    As far as the current types of MMOs are concerned my children will not be playing them until they are teenagers and even then with my supervision. Let’s face it; the internet is a horrible place. There are lots of foul mouthed morons lurking about, and they aren’t even the worst creatures that inhabit our depths.

    As for computer games in general, that is okay under my supervision. My daughter has played a little bit of Pixie Hollow, Clone Wars Adventures and she has a Leapster. She likes them but as Ratshag said earlier, she has too many things competing for her attention to remember to ask to play. I also let her play Wii Mario Kart and Wii Fit when she asks.

    As for teenagers I really do think they are in the most danger from MMOs. During puberty their emotions are changing drastically and they are very susceptible to extreme swings in emotions, ie depression. While MMOs may not be the cause of depression in a teenager it can be a contributing factor. I recognize that video games can be bad for some people.

    • Gordon says:

      For me the fear is that, during teenage years, kids will just hide themselves away in the online world and not want to engage with real life. Combine that with a constant need to “achieve” in-game and it’s becomes quite scary. I think/hope I’m just overreacting though :)

  19. amcl says:

    Your niece is a HUGE WoW fan! And is especially pleased when her Uncle arrives in style (and in game) on his super dragon creature!

  20. Sharon says:

    I’ve learned that although MMOs are my thing, they don’t necessarily have any draw for my four kids. My oldest two are teen girls, and my younger two are boys, ages 9 and 5.

    My oldest daughter plays EQ2, but only for a few hours each week. Most of the time, she’d rather do other things. My younger daughter plays LotRO, but also for just a few hours each week. She especially likes the holiday events. Neither of them have any patience for asshats or trolls, and neither of them have any interest in WoW. They’ve seen me playing WoW for years, and it holds no appeal for them. If either of them did want to play WoW, I’d have to think long and hard about that one.

    My 9 year old son has played Free Realms and Wizard 101, but prefers playing Age of Empires over MMOs. My 5yo son likes Club Penguin, so maybe he’ll be my MMO gamer. :)

  21. nugget says:

    I don’t have children, but… I think you’re being too paranoid here.

    I more or less grew up on LegendMUD. 8 years of my life. And those 8 years gave me rich, rich gifts. Arguably, some of those aren’t translateable to what MMOs can give (in my case with WoW, I got nothing, nada, zilch XD) – but I’m sure there are other things to gain in MMOs that are in a way, unique to them.

    ~_o Learning to lead a guild, for instance – I can see that returning stuff to a kid, as a first experience in leading, in what is – by its very nature of not having lifelong professional or personal repercussions – a safe space.

    Though it was written when I quit WoW 2 years ago (I don’t think my one month peek at Cataclysm, then unsub + uninstall really counts), it also reflects on the riches I gained from more or less growing up on MUDs.
    http://nuggettygoodness.wordpress.com/2008/12/11/zomg-i-quit-wow/

    Lifelong friends, copywriting skills that I believe directly contribute to my being a professional copywriter today – I’m pretty sure kids who grow up in MMOs *will* be able to find things they can use later on in life.

    ^_^ Optimistic nugget is optimistic!

  22. Epiny says:

    So the more I think about it, the more I don’t want my kids playing any sort of MMO. Yes, I fully admit there are some positives about them. However those good things can be achieved from other activities.

    If I want my daughter to learn about leading I will encourage her to join her school government. If I want her to learn about team work I’ll have her play sports. She already is in the Girl Scouts and plays Softball and Soccer. I read books both of my children to increase their literacy. Not only that but consider that in the United States the obesity rate is staggering. Why would I want to encourage my children into an activity that helps them gain weight, and lead a less healthy life?

    What can a MMO really give her? I understand I owe a lot of who I am because of video games, but I also understand that nearly all of my failures in life are also a result of video games. Why would I risk my daughter or son following down that path when there are other activities designed to build their character?

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t think MMOs are evil, far from it, and in fact I think they can still teach kids stuff and give them benefical skills. Personally I’m more worried about their “addictive” nature and consuming the entire life of my children so that they never want to do anything else. I’d want my kids to have balanced lives and I worry that I would be constantly fighting the pull of MMOs.

  23. When I have kids, I think I’ll let them be MMO gamers. But while they’re still living under my roof they’ll be following my rules, which means I’ll probably place limitations on how much they play and what they play, etc. And while I’m not paranoid enough to sit over their shoulders while they play, I do think a degree of supervision while the kids are online can’t hurt.

    Hopefully by the time they become independent and go out into the world on their own they will have learned how to balance their time between gaming and real life obligations.

    • Gordon says:

      “they will have learned how to balance their time between gaming and real life obligations.”

      That’s the trick isn’t it… appreciating that MMOs are just a hobby, a game, and nothing more! It’s easy to take them too seriously sometimes (speaking from experience here!).

  24. Telwyn says:

    Well my niece plays WoW, sometime with me but often not, she is 16 and is mature enough to look after herself online. My cousin’s three children (between 6 and 11) all play the game but only with their mum so it’s always supervised, and time is limited to a few sessions a week.

    You can treat MMOs as a social family activity, just like watching TV, going to the park etc. It doesn’t have to be a ‘locked in room on my own for hours’ type activity. My Mum and Aunt have played together for years now (they’re twin sisters in their 60s), one on keyboard, the other on the mouse ;-)

  25. You guys are taking this to seriously. You shouldnt assume right away your child will be addicted. If you dont know how your child will repond or react to the game then give it a chance. I do agree that you should monitor and kick your child off when they have been playing for too long, but that doesnt meen ban them from the game entirely. Maybe, to feel more comfrotable, create a character and explore the world yourself. If you dont like what others are saying and or doing then it is time to decide if you want your child playing it. I agree there are some bad apples but if you teach your child better then perhaps they wont do it. Sometimes go to your child’s own character and monitor what their friends do and say. If you disagree what they are saying then either delete them or stop from your child playing entirely. All i am saying is for once give your child a chace to pick right from wrong. And i’m not saying they have to do it alone. Help them and support them. Just dont think your child is untrustworthy from the start.

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