Gaming With Your Kids
Relating to your child in the teenage years can be tough. Their constant pushing of boundaries and need for independence can drive even the most patient parent batty. Becoming involved in their activities can be a hassle, as well, with everything you say or do driving your child to red-faced embarrassment. In the realm of an online world, however, no one needs to even know that you two are related.
Just One of the Kids
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (or MMORPGs for short) are persistent online worlds that hundreds or thousands of players can interact in. There are quite a few flavors out there, from the traditionally fantasy based (Asheron's Call, Everquest), science fiction (Anarchy Online, Star Wars Galaxy) or more mainstream titles (City of Heroes, Sims Online).
Gaming with your child can be a mutually satisfying experience, sharing knowledge, experience and abilities to solve problems, complete quests and accomplish goals. The teenager often gets a chance to show his parent his skills in these games, letting him show his prowess, and the parents can be more involved in their child's activities.
"Teenagers are much more likely to open up to you about their secrets and concerns when they are doing something fun with you than when they are sat down in a sterile adult way and asked serious questions," says Dr. Rob Goldblatt of Los Angeles, Calif., a noted clinical psychologist and parent.
The shared activity provides a great forum for finding out about your teen's troubles and interests. It's also a rare window into her private life. The way she treats her online friends and guildmates often reflects over to real-life interactions, and that stranger in your midst that is your teenage child slowly becomes a friend, which has a great positive influence on many aspects of her life.
Dr. Goldblatt mentions that gaming with your teenager gives him valuable time and attention, assures him that he is important and gives you the chance to become "an active, encouraging coach who teaches [him] how to persevere when it becomes difficult."
You're Not Alone
Parent/teenager teams are not that rare of an occurrence in these games, either. A survey by Nick Yee of the Daedalus Project reports that approximately 40 percent of females and 35 percent of males game with another family member, showing that this is a fairly common occurrence within the MMORPG genre, helped by its social nature and oftentimes required teamwork.
Querying several of the larger multigame guilds – that is, gaming organizations that are involved in more than one game – has unearthed some interesting and touching information on how well these teams work together. Tina Jones of Parkersburg, W.V., recounts how playing with her teenage son helped her learn more about him. "I found he is quite funny while playing – quite free with his ability to joke and kid around," she says. "Just from playing every night, I am learning more about him than I knew before."
Pete Hamilton of Corpus Christi, Texas, says that his most memorable experience playing with his son has been "listening to him talk to his friends about gaming and using me as the end-all-be-all of MMORPG knowledge."
While many times you would assume the teenager draws you into the game, both parents above mentioned that they drew their own child in, which certainly helps you assume the role of a mentor. During your child's teenage years, it is more important than ever to make sure you stay involved without being overt about it. It is a fine line to walk, but gaming can help to an extent by showing your child that you can be a part of at least one of their activities embarrassment-free.
Different in-game issues can also lead to real-world discussions and debates, from fair play to politics – all issues reflected across both real and virtual worlds. The last thing you want to do is sound preachy, however, and that's when using your gaming knowledge can really help out. Teenagers don't often appreciate their parents trying to be "hip" or "cool" with them, but slipping easily into the game's vernacular is an event that often happens and lets you relate even better with your teenager by quite literally speaking his or her lingo.
What is needed to play one of these games? A computer for both of you (preferably higher end – the lowest acceptable set up is around 800 mhz, 256 megs of Ram and a 32 meg video card), a copy of the game (well, two if you want to not fight over accounts), an Internet connection (preferably high speed) and some free time to get used to the game world.
An investment of time and money is required to get started, but what you get back far outweighs the expenses. Several titles that are among the more popular are City of Heroes, Everquest and Final Fantasy XI. If your interests are more specialized, there are literally dozens of smaller-scale MMORPGs that cater to nearly every niche imaginable. The learning curve differs from game to game, but there are often in-game tutorials or guides to help you out in the beginning, in addition to the aforementioned social network. (When in doubt, ask!)
The bottom line is that if you need some ideas on what to do with your teenager, just take a look at these games. You won't regret it!