World of Warcraft (WOW), owned by Blizzard Entertainment, itself owned by Vivendi, is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) launched less than 2 years ago which now has 1.5+ million players paying $15 per month. Including my 10-year-old son (with my credit card).
Not only is our son hooked on World of Warcraft, he’s gotten good enough that other people seek him out in the game (to lead raids, etc.) This makes me both impressed, proud, and a bit wary. A few other parents at school asked me to educate them a bit, so here I go:
1. Logistics and cost: I make our son pay for the $15/month subscription out of his allowance and pocket money – so that he needs to make an effort to earn the right to play. I also set the days/times the game is active, so that he can only log in between 6:00-7:00am and 3:00-9:00pm. He has to finish his homework for the day, first. Amazingly, activating the game early in the morning, but having it shut off by 7, gives him a real incentive to go to bed early, so that he can wake up early. He’ll be dressed for school at 5:59am – 2 hours before we need to leave home!
2. Game content: I’ve sat with him and had him explain what he’s doing. Mostly, he hooks up with other players and they battle computer-run opponents in various quests. It’s all very mythical and fake-blood-style. I am frankly amazed at how many things he has to take into consideration and adjust, in real time, during a game. This is a very highly sophisticated simulation. I think it’s at least as intellectually demanding as chess – and frankly more fun to play. Our son gets engrossed reading the Lord of the Rings-style books which go along with WOW and explain more about the world.
3. User interactions: I have seen brief chat exchanges between the human players, but our son is pretty brief in his responses and, as far as I can tell, does not engage other people or ask their names or anything. He understands he’s not to reveal any info about himself, but parents have to stay vigilant.
4. Other school players: I do know that our boys trade userids and passwords so that they can log in as each other – this is so that one boy who’s figured out and achieved a quest can help his friend achieve it, too – very innocent, so far. I’ve explained to our son that he’s supposed to only use his own userid – but I can see that it goes on. We need to teach them not to do that.
5. WOW vs. RuneScape: I had a lot of financial problems with RuneScape overcharging my credit card, and I ultimately had to cancel my VISA to make it stop. Runescape is based in the UK. WOW is based in Irvine and has so far been much better to work with. It’s also the most popular online game out there, these days. I think the company is legit and responsive.
6. Visibility: We have our computer in the family room; I walk by him all the time. Randomly, I’ll sit down for 5 minutes and ask him to explain what’s going on. As long as he’s responsive and open to me, I’m okay with it.
7. My attitude: I give him the benefit of the doubt. As long as he gets his other stuff done first, and he stops playing when I ask him (to go outside, etc), and he doesn’t start wearing funny clothes or talking like his characters (think Trekkies), then it’s okay so far. Heck, I was at least as engrossed by stamp collecting at his age, and that was much more solitary.
If WOW works out, my son will be smarter than I soon enough, he’ll get a better job, and then he can start to support me. If he can earn his way through college, even better. Always gotta aim for the best case scenario.