When do you let your kids play MMOs?
If you play MMOs and you have kids, this question will come up sooner or later. For me, the answer has always been "when I think you're ready," closely followed by "when you can afford the cost of a WoW account."*
I'm not worried about them handling the commands --I've seen them play the LEGO PC games-- but they have to be mature enough to handle the MMO community. If the worst they ever saw in an MMO was Barrens Chat, I'd shrug and move on; the worst thing I'd have to do would be to rent a few Chuck Norris movies to explain who ol' Chuck is. But when you add in all of the other items, such as nerd rage, ERP, and griefing, an MMO isn't exactly the friendliest place for a kid. You have to learn to let it roll off of you, and that's a difficult thing to do.
Now, I have let my kids occasionally take the reins of one of my WoW toons and let them fly around. The first time I let my son fly Tomakan around, he discovered two things: that you plummet to the ground when you click on the 'mount' button in mid-flight, and that there are places in Shattrath City that are impossible to reach so you can rez.** That disaster aside, the kids have generally taken care of my toons on the rare occasion when I let them explore a bit.
But that brings us closer to the threshold of playing their own toon.
I'm not sure why I made up my mind when I did, but I finally let the kids create a few toons of their own.
However, I set up a few ground rules: no more than 1/2 hour playing, and I'm going to keep close tabs on what you're doing.
I also decided almost immediately not to let them play WoW.
My guildies are great, and the community they promote is fine, but I'm not about to foist my kids on them. And although WoW is probably the easiest MMO to pick up and play from scratch, it doesn't have the friendliest player base out there. Sure, you can find people to help you with a quest or a question, but you're also equally likely to find someone to say "L2P noob" or "go look it up in Wowpedia".
Where to go?
Well hellooo, freeplay.
Age of Conan was completely out --hell, I don't even play that while the kids are awake-- but LOTRO was an intriguing option. You could play up to high levels, the setting was well known (they've seen the first two LOTR movies and at least one of them has read The Hobbit), and the servers aren't that populated. Plus, the community is fairly sedate and well mannered.***
Therefore, the other day I let my son create a toon on LOTRO, a Hobbit Hunter.
I gave him two pieces of advice, which I shared with his sisters: be polite, and if someone asks to duel you or join a kinship (LOTROs version of a guild), decline. Then I let him go, with me keeping one eye on his progress and answering questions as he went.
While I figured he'd enjoy the experience, what surprised me was how comfortable I became watching him play. He learned the keystrokes easily enough as I figured, but since the low level areas were sparsely populated, I didn't have to worry about him running into a lot of other players. Also, this being LOTRO, there wasn't a lot of obnoxious profanity or racist/sexist stuff spewed in the chat channels, either. After his half an hour, I felt confident he could handle this.
His older sister created an Elven Hunter a few days later --what is it with Hunters, anyway?-- and had a slightly more difficult time figuring out the mouse movement, but she slipped into the quest mode and was on her way. Now I have the youngest wanting to play too (we'll see how she handles the keystroke commands).
Do I worry about how they'll behave in-game? Sure; if I didn't, I wouldn't be a parent. But I'm determined to make sure that they have as good an experience as they can while they understand that not everyone is nice out there on teh Internets. I'm also going to make sure they understand that real life is more important than MMOs, and as the parent I reserve the right to pull the plug on this experiment if I feel they're neglecting school or other stuff just to game.
So far, so good. But this is a work in progress. (Kinda like my PvP gearsets.)
*As you can guess, I'm not big on providing subscriptions for my kids, whether it is an MMO or a cell phone. For one reason, I can't afford it, and for another, if they want something for their private use with a subscription fee they should pay for it themselves. I don't believe in writing blank checks.
**The repair bill still smarts.
***I laugh at the people who complain in the LOTRO chat channels that the community has gone to hell in a handbasket after LOTRO went freeplay. If this is what 'hell in a handbasket' looks like, I'd hate to see what they'd think of WoW's Trade Chat.