My Editor tapped me on the metaphorical shoulder last week, and asked if I could give her an article on how kid-friendly Warcraft can be if you want to bring your family to Azeroth. It's been a few years since my youngest expressed an interest in doing just that: now, she'd far rather watch 'Stephen Universe' or play Minecraft. Her elder brother is, as I type, levelling a Paladin on an RP Server, as a means to make money via Transmog items. He's been a part of the game, on and off, since he was six years old, and I suppose that does give me some insight on how the experience should work when you're accompanying someone in the MMO who's below the recommended age range. The thing is, a surprising number of people have done just as we have, and still do. Entire generations of the same family have grown and matured in this way, with Blizzard Games as their backdrop. The means by which this works is deceptively simple: in our case, it's all about understanding the rules and creating safe spaces in which people can play. Let's talk therefore at a bit more length about some of the ways in which you can make Warcraft a family experience without all of you rage-quitting and ending up in separate rooms.
3 Rules for Playing Warcraft with your Child
Your Kids Are Not You
I discovered whilst interviewing someone for a Podcast last week that the reason why he began playing Warcraft was to help connect with his son after he and his wife were divorced. For many people, having time with their kids is a way to introduce them to a space they love and enjoy being a part of, and to try and educate on how 'online' gaming works. However, as we found with our son quite early on, what he wanted to do in Azeroth wasn't really what we enjoyed. A lot of his time would be short bursts of levelling before he quickly got either bored or frustrated. You see, the thing is, there's an awful lot in this game to learn when you start out that can, for many kids, be tantamount to information overload. Hell, I have the problem as an adult whenever we get a Class update or a major change prior to an Expansion. So, we'd watch kids closely and when they got bored? Time to change the location: playing only in a specific zone, or maybe sitting to watch a grown-up play before taking over. It might sound like employing a Gold farmer, but my daughter used to do my Halfhill farms in Pandaria as a way to learn routines. She however got sad when the Farm went away, and hasn't come back. The thing is with kids is that they're not you, and they might just not get what you're playing. You need not to push them, and listen to their needs as well as considering yours.
Define Your Boundaries Before You Log In
My son had a long period of inactivity where we kept his account frozen, but he'd always be interested, in the background taking in things Mum and Dad did when Raiding or just relaxing. He went to consoles for a while, and then after he began a second year of Senior education he returned and asked to begin again, and now if we gave him the chance he'd play 24/7. That's why setting boundaries at any age is really very important. We are the model Draconian parents: no Azeroth until homework is done, no playing late, and we have all computers in a shared room. Some days my son hates this, but he confided in me a while ago he actually likes the fact he plays with us and not alone, because it gives him a chance to ask questions or alert us if he gets hassle online. So, contrary to popular belief, not all teen players are mouthy and aggressive. Many are intelligent, articulate and want to learn, so I'd ask the squatting population of the game not to automatically assume that youth = bad as often as they do. Having boundaries also means that kids learn the value of planning playtime accordingly. However, if my Husband uses the 'sorry, can't do X I'm in LFR' excuse there's always going to be the moment when you need to impose a stop time. In situations like this? Switching off the router works wonders for kids of all ages.
Turn off Global Channels
You and I both know how rubbish communal chat channels can be: inappropriate spam, guild invites, with all manner of questionable content in between. We took the decision to turn them off completely for both kids when they were younger, just because it removed the inevitable 'Mummy what does X mean?' whilst they were playing. Once my son was in Senior education, the jokes got explained, and we let him decide whether he joins in or not. If you're not happy? Consider the kind of content you take part in and find a space you're comfortable with. Also consider the wider issues that, at some point, your child will need to communicate with other people alone and if they think all that means is a string of abuse? Well, this is how the rot begins. You really are responsible, like it or not, for how your kids behave both online and off it. Just because you can't see them does not mean it's suddenly not your problem. We taught both our kids the importance of being able to communicate clearly, concisely and without lowering yourself to the most basic level 'just because somebody else did it first.' This isn't a playground, yet it should be an education. If you're concerned about what your child sees, honestly? Talk them through the process.
Mostly, making a safe space in Warcraft for your kids will depend on you. Many parents use their Guilds as training grounds, and this is probably the best way to ensure you can be sure that your younger players learn the ropes without having to worry about being exposed or alone. Other parents gather together too, and you'll find a lot of support and understanding from those in a similar position to your own. In fact, many Guilds will advertise themselves as family-friendly and often talking to other parents is the best first port of call to ensure your kids are being looked after in the most conducive atmosphere possible. Mostly, it's like everything else you do as a parent. Sadly, there is no instruction booklet, and most of the time you just have to work out this stuff on your own. The first 'generation' of Warcraft players that were kids when the game launched, of course, are now in adulthood and I speak to a great many of them on a daily basis via the wonders of social media and guess what? Some of them are awesome, while some of them aren't. As with all things in this wonderful world we inhabit: Your mileage will vary.
Speaking as a parent now, and with my extremely subjective hat on, I think Warcraft has a lot to teach both parents and kids in the long run. Blizzard's making noises about moving into TV this year, with Skylanders their first foray into the market... because we all know how much kids cartoons have been influenced by toys and games over the years, for obvious reasons. It won't be long, with the Warcraft Movie in theatres in under six months, before Warcraft merchandise is being targeted not just at you, but intentionally at your children. Blizzard know therefore that this game needs to become not simply easier to pick up, but more compelling to retain audiences. This is the ideal opportunity to encourage parents and children therefore to arrive together, and make the journey as so many others have in the past. Mr Alt and I worked very hard to nurture a love of Warcraft in our eldest, and his love of the game is all too apparent. If his sister doesn't take an interest? She's just different, and that's absolutely fine too. Needless to say she can beat all of us on MarioKart Wii with both hands tied behind her back so maybe it's good for everyone concerned that her interest in Azeroth waned, because I'm betting if she had a PvP character, you'd all be in trouble.
Mostly, if you want to make Warcraft a place where your whole family lives, it's perfectly doable, and has the potential to be an immensely enjoyable experience for everybody. Just remember the golden rule with all MMO gaming; you only get out what you put in to begin with. Keep that thought uppermost, and you really shouldn't go far wrong. As a final PS? Might be an idea that you all pick the same faction to begin with, because if you thought family feuds were bad normally, just wait until you stick faction pride into the equation. Don't say I didn't warn you.