Friday, April 17, 2009

Parenting Gamers...

"Underpinning this debate is an age-old truth; we fear what we don’t understand and many parents today don’t know, understand or get gaming. Why do kids have this passionate love affair with video games? How can they invest so much of themselves in blowing up zombies, decorating an igloo or slaying trolls? How do kids get their thumbs and brains to work in tandem when they can’t seem to find their way to the laundry basket?

As parents, many of us struggle with issues like appropriate game play, game systems and appropriate titles. Or maybe we’re not even part of the conversation and have allowed our kids to parent themselves through the video game landscape.
What is a parent’s role in managing the video-gaming habits of their kids?"

The above is an excerpt from an invitation that I received the other day from my daughters' school. It's a seminar where you can learn about video gaming and what parents should do about it -- gaming, that is. While I'm sure lots of other parents are chomping at the bit, I don't really think we need to go to it. Since we actively play most of the games that the girls are playing, we know what they're up to. Granted, this may change as they get older, but probably not too much.

I guess I have no fear of gaming (and the internet in general) because, to some extent I do understand. I'm connected all the time, except when I'm asleep or out of the house. I Facebook, check my email almost religiously, and yes, I play games. I understand about "passionate love affairs" with video games. I am the type of person who easily gets addicted to playing, and I know that my younger daughter, at the least, is very much like me in that regard. Right up until my first daughter was born, I would be glued to the computer playing whatever game was my current favourite. That was well and good when the games were single player and had an end (Tomb Raider series, mostly), but once I stepped into the MMO world, I got swept up, and literally had to drag myself away when it was time to cook or sleep.

That's what happens, and I know it happens, so I'm on the lookout for it happening to my girls. I've seen Second Skin, and I've known people who have ruined their lives over games, and I hope it doesn't come to that for them. Being born and raised around computers is a good thing, I'm sure.

They started out with educational games. Always on mommy or daddy's lap, learning how to count, ABC and move the mouse properly (this is at 18 months old, approximately). Moving on to reading and math games as they got a little older and were getting ready to start school. Being allowed to move mommy's avatar around in whatever world we were currently playing once they were able to figure out how to do that. Reading quests and running around with their own avatars once they could read and understand what to do (we're still working on this with the younger one, but she's getting it). Wii games and DS games are a little less educational, but they still have to figure stuff out.

Worlds like Webkinz and Club Penguin gave them a flavour for meeting their friends online and appeal to their love of cute things. Heck, I even play Webkinz too -- I even have my own account! (Some of the games are really fun!) I've seen them invest themselves wholeheartedly into decorating rooms for their Webkinz pets, learning Karate with their penguin pals, and drawing art and putting it on billboards in their JumpStart World. And I've watched carefully as they blithely blow up orcs or other "bad guys" with magic or chop them to bits with a sword. Occasionally they'll question why they have to kill another elf or human, or a cuddly looking bear, but hey, I had the same question in Tomb Raider when I had to shoot that little monkey to get the blasted key he stole.

So we talk about what is real, what's not, and make a place for fantasy in our lives. Whether it's letters to the Easter bunny or fairy penpals, or wandering in a world with orcs and goblins, or sitting around a table playing a roleplaying game that we made up ourselves based on books they're into, we all need a little fantasy. I know I need to escape the real world sometimes, and I'm sure they do too.

We do have rules though, usually made up when they're needed (like when we first started out with Webkinz we had to make a turn schedule and stick it to the computer so we knew when and how long each girl could have on the computer). Obviously they can't play when they're at karate class or their other active endeavours, and they certainly wouldn't choose to sit at home on the computer on a beautiful day when they could be bike riding with their friends. And they're still at an age when homework is fun -- though my older girl screams through it to get to the next activity. So not too much inactivity and screen time at this stage.

It helps that they usually only get to use my computer (and yes, it's in a central room), so they only get to use it when I'm not (which really isn't very often). And I realize that the time is coming when they'll need to use the computer for homework, or want to message their friends every minute of the day, so my time will become even more limited. (Hey, I remember having to spend hours on the phone with the friends I had just seen a few minutes before -- at least texting is much quieter!) Maybe by the time they're ready for all that they'll also stay up later, so we may need to invest in another computer so I can get my gaming time in.

But that can't be all bad, cause then we could play more games together. And that's the main thing, and the real reason I don't need to go to the seminar. Our kids want to play with us, and we'll encourage that for a good long time.


  1. If anything though, you might consider attending in order to share your own experiences and wisdom on the subject. Of course, it rather depends on whether the seminar is set up to allow that kind of participation, or if they plan to just grind a particular axe.

  2. Hmm, hadn't really thought of that. I do know they planned on having older students there talking about games they play. I will think more about it, from the angle you suggest.

  3. This is such a lovely, well-thought out post. I wish parents weren't so closed-minded about gaming. Thank you so much for writing this up!

  4. I'm with you for most of this, but I do actually have concerns about WAR. My eldest boy (now 8) started playing DAoC with me around age 4. At 6 (or so) I got a second account so we could adventure together, and even do some RvR together...he loves taking part in seiges and tower takes! My issue is that he is now reading fairly well, and the content in WAR is somewhat...grim? Dark? Somehow inappropriate for kids? (especially on the Destro side) Dunno what it is, but I have been severely limiting his WAR play time, almost down to nothing. I'd like to go back to the days of DAoC and limited-reading innocence, but I know that's not possible. I'm still working on this one. At least in the meantime he has plenty to keep him occupied, and his younger sister and he have just learned how to play each other in WebKinz...a small consolation. Keep 'em playing!

  5. Yes, sometimes the content does make for grim reading especially on the destro side. Usually when the girls make a destro character, it's a greenskin of some sort. The dialog there is a bit more goofy. When they do read something a little off, we definately hear about it -- as they ask "Why did this guy say that?". And then go into our talk about what is real again. We haven't let them make any dark elf or human destro yet, and likely won't until we can sit down and do it together.

    For the youngest one, the only words she reads are the "Accept" and "Decline" buttons cause she's so eager to get going on the quest. Especially if she gets a new item out of it.

  6. I meant that the only words she pays attention to are the "Accept" and "Decline" buttons. I must admit that I sometimes do the same when I've got limited playing time. :)