I’m Not Sure I’d Want My Kids Playing MMOs
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.
P.S. Would love to heard from any readers with children on the subject.