“Mommy! I want to see the spider pet!” My seven year old asks this often. I don’t know if it’s because it’s blue, sparkly, or multi-legged. Whatever the reason I oblige and pull it up on my Night Elf Hunter. She laughs hysterically and tries to take control. Eventually, I know she’s going to be playing all on her own just like the sixteen-year-old who is sighing at the desk across the room. She’s fresh in Outlands and decided she wanted to take on a Fel Reaver. Maniacally, I grin at her. I know a lot of parents who let their kids play at an early age. That didn’t happen in this house. I waited until last year. And before you ask why she’s only just now in Outlands when she started last year, she wasn’t sure at first if she liked it. She got bitten with the gaming bug again two weeks ago and has now been inseparable from it since. So then, why did I introduce it last year and not when she was thirteen? Well, I wouldn’t call thirteen age appropriate honestly. In my opinion there are factors to consider before you put your child in a Multi-player Universe, let them create a character, and say have it. And that’s after they establish an interest.
For starters, there is the basic control of the components. In today’s age our kids know how to work a keyboard and a mouse by two. Wonderful, now teach them how to control both at the same time. If you can manage that, we can move on to the second requirement. I toss how well they read both words and mapping in to this too, since you have to pay attention to the quests and the maps. Toss in math skills for the auction house here as well.
Do they understand the difference between a game and reality? I wish I could just unequivocally say across board, SURE! But I know adults who seem to not be able to tell master this. That really has nothing to do with the game as much as it does the person playing it. And this feeds directly into my third requirement.
Can they exercise self-control? Let’s face it, people in these games range from wonderfully friendly to outright cruel. So when your child comes across a stranger in chat who is ranting about how their DPS rate sucks, are they going to get all butt-hurt and escalate the fight? Are they going to get off the computer and throw things? If the answer is yes, an MMO is maybe not the smartest way to go yet. I can see some parent now on the other side of this screen going, “Well I just let him log in and mine for me.” You would be totally right, if nodes and herbs weren’t constantly under attack from other gatherers. If you have herbing or mining, at some point you’re going to have your chosen target snatched away without any warning, and on any shard. It doesn’t just happen in a PvP environment.
And finally, are you the parent going to keep an eye on your child? This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Letting your kid or teen, have freedom in game is fine. But be responsible about it. Inform them that they cannot give out any personal information. Make them check in with you before they add someone to their friends list. Be there for help with quests and questions. Put them in your guild or a guild you trust. Check the language settings for guild chat. Make use of in game filters. Do not just accept that they are fine because they are playing something on computer. On the other side of the screen from them are actual people with completely different agendas, just like any other online system.
If you can look at this list and say, “I will be watching my child regularly. They are mature for their age. They won’t throw a tantrum when insulted by a stranger across the screen. They are in a guild I trust. They can handle the controls.” Then sure, by all means let your child play at thirteen. If you have to answer no to any of the above, then wait a year and re-examine where your child is at. Doing so will save you a lot of hassle from your second-generation gamer and a lot of bad feedback from the people who come into contact with your child.
While it boils down to each parents personal choices on what is best for their child, remember that in an MMO your choices affect others too.