Now that we've established why and how to stay plugged into your children's gaming interests, some general internet safety rules for kids and a variety of ways to choose games that are suitable for your family, you're probably ready to log in and get some XP. But if it's the whole family we're trying to consider here, we're not quite buffed and ready to pull. Gaming for kids and gaming with kids are two different things. Have you considered the benefits of fitting both into your gaming family?
A gaming family has a lot in common with a rich, well developed MMO. You can solo. You can group. You can team or raid. You can quest, and you can craft. You can go PvP, stay PvE or tuck yourself into a quiet corner to roleplay or socialize. And just as you can cherry-pick your activities according to your interests within a single game, you can mix and match games, what you do within each game and different configurations of groups and partners within your family. There's no law that states that kids must play "children's games" and adults must play "mature" fare. Your kids may be jonesing to play the games they've grown up watching you play – or they may find your enraptured state over the economy of EVE Online utterly stultifying. Cobble together whatever mix of high/low, adult/kiddie gaming everyone finds most enjoyable.
Do remember one thing: If your goal as a parent is to connect with your kids, then the more common ground you share, the better. Fortunately, you have more freedom to indulge than ever before. With so many free-to-play games out there today, purchasing games and paying for subscriptions doesn't have to be a sticking point. There are bound to be a number of games where you and the kids can find common ground, as well as the inevitable choices that will appeal only to your 16-year-old daughter or strictly to your 10-year-old son. Be open to all the variations and combinations.
- Is your current game of choice kid-friendly? Would the kids like to join you there?
- If your favorite MMO isn't particularly child-friendly but the kids really want to join in, can you find ways to play (such as starting new characters together or enjoying holiday events) that would make things work for them, too?
- If you like one type of game and your kids prefer another, can you find a third type of game where you can meet in the middle for mutual fun?
- What about the games your kids love? Are there any you wouldn't mind joining in on?
- Why do you enjoy gaming? If it's an escape valve after a pressure cooker of a day, you may not want an in-game groupfest – but then again, jetting around Kings Row with the kids might be just the steam valve you need.
- What about parallel play – playing the same game but at different levels or in different ways, "separately but together"?
- How often do you enjoy playing together? Your six-year-old might enjoy "helping" you do quests every single afternoon, but your teenager might only be in the mood to pop some aliens with you on the occasional Saturday morning. Pick a game that matches the pace.
There are plenty of reasons why you should seize the chance to play MMOs along with your kids.
Model cooperation. You're demonstrating your values every time you pass on a really sweet drop that someone else in the group wants even more fervently ... Every time you drop what you're doing to help some poor little guy who keeps getting killed over and over trying to finish his quest ... Every time you hand over the platinum you spent weeks farming up when your spouse's dream armor finally pops up for sale.
Teach good manners. How do you invite others to a group? Do you thank them before you drop? How do you react to flame wars in general chat? The kids are watching; use that to your advantage.
Instill respect. It's all fine and good to indulge in good-natured trash-talking among friends. Too many young gamers today, however, routinely put down players who have less experience or weaker gear. Show your kids that you are just as proud of your level 32 warrior as you are your level 80 mage – and show them that the way you treat other players isn't linked to the number over their head or the color of the gear names in their inventories.
Develop self-sufficiency. Be a partner, a safety net and a facilitator, not a tour director who leads all the groups, directs all the quests and trains all the skills. It's fun to do things as a team, but don't forget to give kids a chance to stretch their wings.
Promote computer skills. Kids don't type yet? Play MMOs long enough, and they will.
Build confidence. Scary monsters are – well, downright scary. Defeating a scary monster or going into a creepy zone by themselves can be a major hurdle for young kids. Don't brush off small achievements that represent real milestones to your child. Some kids need to take things in smaller bites.
Encourage failure in order to encourage success. Gaming offers an unparalleled opportunity for children to indulge in "safe" risk-taking. Give kids room to mess up spectacularly and completely: die horribly in an inaccessible location, lose the quest piece on step 11 of 12, wipe the raid, waste 500 gold. Then give them encouragement, support and finally the space to try again. Parenting doesn't get any better than this.