Gaming with your kids

I thought this post about playing WoW with a 3-year-old, was pretty awesome. I love playing games with my kids and have been doing so since Geeky Boy was 3. We played Lara Croft on PlayStation 2 together. At that time, we switched off managing the controls. Geeky Boy would often hide for the gory parts (which weren’t all that gory given the quality of the graphics). And he often needed help with the more complex moves. I remember when I finally needed him to help with some complicated moves when he was about 10 or 11.

I’ve tried to get my kids to play WoW with me and they do on occasion, but they’re hooked on other things. Geeky Girl likes The Sims and Geeky Boy is still into Runescape. I play Sims too, so Geeky Girl can’t talk to me about it, and although I don’t play Runescape, it’s similar enough to WoW that Geeky Boy can share his adventures. I like that it’s not a separate world that I don’t understand and blow off. With games that involve real people, we talk about how to behave and how to respond to situations. Geeky Boy actually communes with many of his real-life friends via Runescape just as I commune with friends via WoW. We don’t look at each other like we’re crazy when we talk about having conversations with people via a virtual world.

The kids have also recently rediscovered Nintendo 64. Geeky Boy bought the console a few years ago. He thought he’d given it away until he unearthed it from somewhere in his room (I know, scary). So, they’ve been playing Mario Kart on it even though they have Mario Kart for the Wii. N64 was past my prime, but I remember playing with my stepbrother when he was their age and I was in college, so it’s a fun trip down memory lane for me as well.

To some extent, I think game playing for kids can be about escaping the adult world, but my experience has been that my kids want me to be there with them, to share that experience with them. It’s really a nice way to hang with your kids and have fun yourself.

Gaming is not an addiction

Nick Yee at Terra Nova posts a link to a BBC article explaining that 90% of the time, gamers are not addicted to gaming. Neither Yee nor the BBC article claim that excessive gaming isn’t a problem, but it’s not addiction the way alcohol or drugs are an addiction. What it represents is a social problem. Many gamers are boys who feel isolated at school or at home. As I pointed out earlier this week, Tyre’s book covers gaming as a problem and although she interviews people who run rehab centers for gaming, she seems to lean more toward the idea that gaming is a substitute for something that’s missing in boys’ lives, mostly success at school and social acceptance.

The BBC article takes parents to task, claiming they don’t put enough restrictions on their children’s gaming activities. I’m sure that’s true in many families. I know from experience, though, that even with restrictions, you don’t always know that your kid is gaming. Kids can sneak a laptop into their room, for example, or go to a friend’s house and play. What I think needs to happen (and I say this partly thinking out loud about what might work for me) is that kids need to be encouraged to do lots of different activities and to have lots of activities available. That means having books around to read, friends to play outside with, other hobbies such as art or building things to fill the time with. Parents have to lay that foundation and sometimes even arrange opportunities for other activities for their kids. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as we head into winter. I think too often parents assume this kind of stuff will just happen–and maybe it used to 20 years ago–but not so much anymore.

Gaming, Education, and Violence

Random selection of links I found interesting today:

First, a Washington Post article about how gaming “turns kids violent.” The interesting thing is that by the end, the sensational title had lost some of its bite. Turns out, playing violent video games is but one factor that can make kids more aggressive.

Ironically, in the same day’s paper comes an article touting the creativity many video games inspire.

And finally, this blog post from a VC about how traditional educational models are broken. Hear, hear!

It’s just a game

Yesterday, I spent more time than I have a while playing World of Warcraft. More than anything about playing the game itself, I’m fascinated by the way people behave in the game. I myself play WoW the same way other people participate in other leisurely activities. I play a few hours a week, about as much as other people watch tv. For me, it’s a nice way to focus on something completely unimportant and take my mind off any work or life stresses. I’m not the key demographic playing WoW. Many WoW players are aged 15-25 and mostly male. Many, I suspect, have few responsibilities. Though many, I also suspect, have stresses in their lives.

It never ceases to amaze me how seriously some people take the game. The fact that I’m paying about as much attention to the game as to tv reflects in the way I’m geared. The really good gear is in dungeons and dungeons take a long time to go through–on the order of a few hours. I just don’t have that kind of time to commit to playing something I don’t take that seriously. So I have less powerful gear than those who commit the time and energy to running dungeons. I also don’t like going into dungeons over and over again once I’ve figured out a strategy to go through it. People who take the game more seriously will go through some dungeons over and over in order to get every possible item that drops. For me, once the challenge wears off, I’m done. I also don’t do a lot of PvP (player vs. player) though there are some versions of it that I like. Again, PvP is an area that gains you good gear if you’re willing to put the time in to acquire it.

The thing is, those that take the game seriously often give those of us that don’t a hard time. I’ve been in PvP battlegrounds where people have asked me to leave cause I’m going to bring the rest of the “team” down. They’ve yelled at everyone for “sucking.” I’ve called people out for this behavior before, reminding them specifically that they’re playing a video game and to chill out. If someone wants to run a battleground before their character is ready and die all the time, who cares? Does it really matter that much? Isn’t it just about having fun? I’ve also seen people so focused on getting the right gear that they pretty much ignore other parts of the game. Of course, the things I focus on–exploring new areas, raising my professions–are things that would immediately get called “gay” (that’s the most common epithet I’ve seen for disapproval of gameplay).

The incident that prompted this post was a favor I did for someone yesterday. I am a level 70 warrior, the highest level one can get (so far). A much lower level character asked me to run him through a dungeon. This is common practice, a practice I understand but find bizarre because it takes the challenge out of running a dungeon. At any rate, we got to the first boss, a boss that I have never beaten and I almost died. I beat it and I was doing almost all the work. The boss is hard because it spawns a bunch of mini versions of itself throughout the battle that you have to kill in addition to the main boss. So anyway, the guy I was running died in the process, and he said to me, “WTF!? That should have been easy for you. Aren’t you taking this seriously?” At the time I was pissed because I thought, hell, I could spend my time in any number of ways in or out of game and I’m spending it helping someone I don’t know do something in a virtual world. I told him so at the time. Now that I look back on it, I think how funny it is that he wanted to know if I was taking a game seriously. Really.

Gaming and writing

Even though I’ve only been playing WoW for a few months, I’ve been engaged in many other games since the advent of Pong (so for a long time). Once I jumped into the field of writing, I’ve long thought of games as text (in the same way that films and tv shows are text). But Liz Losh points out something I knew, but didn’t quite register until now–that no one in the writing field has really addressed gaming and writing as connected or written about games in the same way that films or tv has been written about. Douglas Eyman, someone I’ve long kept an eye on even from my position somewhat outside of the rhet/comp field, is starting a group for researchers interested gaming’s connections to rhetoric and composition called “Digital Games/Digital Rhetoric: A Consortium of Scholars in Games and Writing Studies.” That’s a research group I feel like I’d be welcomed into.

What I’ve Learned from Playing WoW

I know it’s been forever since I’ve blogged and the title is some indication of where I’ve been, but not all. Last week was a busy week in the Geeky household. I traveled. Mr. Geeky traveled. I’m taking a week off this week, so there were lots of loose ends to tie up. I’m using this next week to do a serious GTD-style review of my household stuff, which feels largely out of control at this point. I’ll also be doing some reading and thinking for my upcoming Gender and Technology course (suggestions welcome!), working on an article, and working on a book proposal. We’ll see where I get.

So, the list of what I’ve learned from WoW, which I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

What I’ve learned about myself:

  • I like having concrete goals.
  • I enjoy being part of a team, but I almost equally enjoy working alone.
  • I’m reluctant to take a leadership role in a completely new situation. As I’m learning more about how the game works, this is less true as I can rely on my experience in similar situations to get through.
  • I like helping others, even if there’s no direct reward for doing so.
  • I’m willing to do boring tasks in order to be successful.
  • I probably should have become a sociologist.

What I’ve learned about others or society in general:

  • Some people are just mean and selfish and stupid and there’s nothing you can say or do to change that. It’s best to avoid them or reduce their impact on the situation.
  • Gaming is one of the few social arenas where there’s some age diversity and there’s a lot to learn from that. For example, I was in a dungeon with a kid whom I’d place (on hearing his voice) at around 11 and another kid (based on his text msgs) at around 16 or so. The 16-year old was annoyed that the 11 year old was running around trying everything. He sent me a private message saying he was leaving cause this guy was being stupid. I told him that that’s just the way 11 year olds are and that he doesn’t know any better unless you tell him. In general I’ve found that older people learn patience with younger people and how to take more risks and younger people learn to be less selfish, overly confident, and rash. I find interesting examples of what different age groups learn from each other all the time.
  • Communication is important.
  • People are mostly generous.
  • People can form real friendships in virtual worlds.
  • People behave in game much as they would in real life.

There’s probably more, but I think part of my addiction to the game is not just about the fun of the game itself, but what it’s revealing to me about my fellow human beings and myself. I find it fascinating. There’ll be more blogging this week, I’m sure, as I have a number of posts stored up in my head.

Video Game Addiction

A few weeks ago, I finally broke down and bought WoW. I’ve been avoiding this for years because I knew I’d love it. I’ve been playing during most of my free moments ever since. I’ve been playing video games since I was 12 and have always become quickly obsessed with the game du jour. I think addiction is putting it too strongly and I think putting it in a category with drug and alcohol addiction is problematic at best, but I prefer playing video games as a pastime more than most other options available to me. I have no doubt that people can get sucked in and carried away to such an extent that they neglect other parts of their lives. In that regard, perhaps it resembles a gambling addiction. I find it interesting that certain leisure activities get a negative rap (video games, blogging, D&D) while others (golfing, watching sports on tv) are perfectly acceptable and even encouraged as a way of “networking.” I think we as a country have issues with leisure generally. Feel free to spin that off in the comments.

At any rate, I’ve been thinking about why I enjoy games like WoW so much and the relationships between it and other things I think about on a regular basis, like technology and learning. One thing most gamers don’t do (and James Paul Gee talks about this as well) is read the manual. They install the game and start it up and just start doing stuff. In fact, most game manuals don’t include a whole lot of information. They give you the basic control information and maybe a quickstart guide. The rest of the information you just have to figure out as you go–and that’s part of the fun. For some people, this is incredibly frustrating. They want step by step instructions. I find the way one learns the game by just experiencing it and experimenting with it a much more valuable experience than reading a how to. I do usually turn to the manual to see what I’ve missed and to match up my experience and see if it guides me in any way regarding the subtleties of the game. Of course, the best place, really, to find out more about the game is the web. This is true of most games these days. Back when I was playing Sierra games (Leisure Suit Larry, Space Quest, King’s Quest), eventually you had to call the tip hotline. Now you’re a Google or forum search away from help and information.

The added bonus of a game like WoW, of course, is the social component. There are real people to interact with and that adds a whole new dimension and adds to the learning. As an example, I was on a quest and someone came along to help me–people do that all the time, which I think is so cool. In the middle, the person (gendered female in game, but who knows) told me to stop for a minute and not only explained a good strategy, but in doing so taught me something about the game, which I proceeded to learn more about. I thought it was an excellent example of facilitating learning socially without explicit directions. She didn’t say, you need to do x, y, and then z. She used the situation to show how things within the game worked with only a little explanation.

I’ve known all of this in theory for a long time and have experienced it to some extent in gaming, but the more I play WoW, the more I’m seeing the theory in practice. It makes this woman’s thesis mean a little more.

I know those of you who have been playing and thinking about these things for years are laughing at me now, but that’s okay.