The online communities for MMOs and First-person shooters share one key characteristic: a dedicated, sometimes illogical, attachment to their genre. Talk to any Call of Duty fan and he’ll tell you which game in the series is best with ten reasons why. An MMO player can do the same thing. As my first MMO, EverQuest holds a special place in my heart. I started playing MMOs as a young adult, in 2001, just before the Luclin expansion in EverQuest. It should be stated early that MMO and MMORPG are acronyms often used interchangeably. MMORPG means “Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game,” while MMO is a more general catch-all term that includes any online game with large numbers, whether that be an MMOFPS or MMORTS. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll just use MMO, but the article wasn’t getting hits on MMORPG searches so I had to add this in.
Should I introduce my kids to MMOs?
Most MMOs feature that “something for everyone” style of gameplay. The freedom of choice in a good MMO allows players to explore at their leisure and discover what they enjoy most. In Call of Duty your only choices are which gun you use and whether you want to play Team Deathmatch or Domination. Overwatch simply has you choose a character. Team Fortress 2 lets you choose which hat you want to wear. MMOs give players choices, and those choices determine how you play the game.
Choices are healthy, right?
So here’s the catch. Young kids don’t do well with the immense amount of different activities MMOs offer and as such they likely won’t enjoy the genre. When my son was six he wanted to play the Elder Scrolls Online. After racing through character creation, I set him loose in the tutorial area. He knew which weapon he wanted (greatsword), but as he faced more and more choices, he became overwhelmed and bored. Halfway through the tutorial he didn’t want to play anymore and he’s never been interested again since.
Curious, I started looking into it and found an article on Psychology Today about the topic of choices. In the article, one of Dr. Erin Leyba’s first points is not to overwhelm children with choices. Veteran MMO players might not realize it, but every decision a player makes in MMOs leads the player down a flowchart of possible paths, and that’s a lot for a kid to process.
Choosing between a dozen different weapons seems easy. Let’s go with a greatsword. Now, how do we get a greatsword? At its simplest, we can typically acquire the sword one of three ways: make it, find it or buy it. But it’s never that simple. To make it you’ll need the parts, to find it you’ll need to defeat the right enemies or loot the right chests and to buy it you’ll need to earn money. In some games, these paths can be hours long—after all, that’s how MMOs keep you playing. Now we’ve spent all this time making a sword, but the game still has lots to do. Leveling up, unlocking new skills and spells and defeating huge, fire-breathing dragons.
It’s about time
A recent study showed that children age 7-11 who play games for up to two hours per week had improved motor skills while children who play games more than nine hours per week had various behavioural issues. MMOs demand a significant time investment, and players spend an average of 6.5 hours playing online games per week. It should be noted that this number represents all online gaming, not just MMOs. This is notable because the statistics coming out of World of Warcraft in 2005 said that players spent an average of 22.7 hours per week playing WoW. MMO players know this: MMOs require a significant time investment to fully enjoy.
MMOs are great—for those who have the time to play
If average players sit somewhere between playing 6.5 and 22.7 hours per week in MMOs, it’s time to think about another way to introduce our children to the genre. If you’re like me and you play MMOs with your kids in the room, they may already be interested. But rather than giving them the entire game, why not give them a specific job?
My seven-year old helps me in ESO by crafting my new equipment for me. He still gets a choice because he decides on the style (I have a bunch of different styles to choose from), and I instruct him on which traits and enchantments to use. I’ll also hand him the controller to do boss fights that I know he can handle, giving him a sense of achievement by helping me beat the final boss of a dungeon. He doesn’t need to dedicate hours of his week into my character; he just enjoys helping me out.
Kids don’t need their time wasted
Kids are amazing. They don’t need to spend hours upon hours grinding for a new epic sword to feel a sense of accomplishment. Defeating a boss in Ninja Turtles or winning a round in Splatoon 2 is often all it takes to feel like a gaming session was a positive experience. There’s no end to an MMO, and because of that kids don’t respond well to the genre. While most games offer some level- or skill-based progression system, my kids respond better to the idea of end bosses of levels and set match lengths.
If you’ve got experience in MMOs and your kids, I’d love to hear from you. Connect with me in the comments below, or send a message via the Facebook page (linked above and below the article).