Monday, November 25, 2013

Plays Together, Stays Together: Enjoying Warcraft with your kids

Leveling up Alliance toons.'s for the children.
Note: Plays Together, Stays Together is a new series that focuses on what today's World of Warcraft looks like through the eyes of a brand-new, young player. 

Warcraft is an awesome game, a game made even better when played with friends. Some of those friends we meet in game. Other times, we pull in friends from our real-world circles. What about family? I know quite a few people who play alongside their spouse or significant-other. But what about when it comes to children, particularly younger ones? When they express interest in this foreign, pixellated land you immerse yourself in, what do you do?

It's something I wrestled with briefly about a year ago when my partner's children, 8 and 11 at the time, expressed interest in playing. My initial thoughts left me believing that we should probably delay their entry into Azeroth until their teenage years. For the most part, it's not game content that worries me, it's what they could potentially encounter when dealing with other people who play the game. Based on my own experience, you can try as hard as you like to insulate yourself from some of the more unsavory behavior coming from the player base, but you'll never avoid it altogether so long as you're playing with others.

I wondered though, could I control for this? Of course I can, I realized. Soon enough, both children found themselves at the character screen, the eight-year-old choosing a gnome rogue he named Tuswordorf (sound it out, and yes, it's a gnome, not a dwarf) and the 11-year-old going with a human priest named Annastacia. Over a year later, Tuswordorf sits at level 15 (for reasons I'll explain later) and Anna has reached level 48.

What follows are some tips to consider when introducing a young child to the game. Take 'em, leave 'em, or post a comment with something you'd add to this list.

Let them choose

While you may prefer Alliance or think hunters are a good class for brand new players, none of that will matter to your kids, nor should it. They will most likely select both race and class based on the character's appearance alone; backstory and role or functionality mean next to nothing at this point. You wouldn't enjoy it if someone told you what character to play, and they won't either. Allowing them to customize their own avatar to their liking will be a lot more fun for them. 

Granted, this idea can backfire if all of a sudden your child is having more fun creating characters than playing the game, as has been the case with both kids when playing the Wii. For better or worse, you're restricted to 11 character slots per realm. To avoid filling those slots too quickly, we've decided that before Anna and Tus are allowed to create additional toons, they have to play their selected character to level 15. So far, both have stuck with their original characters.

Block all external communication

This is extremely easy to do, and highly recommended. You can't control what other players say, so it's best to sever those communication channels before anything has the chance to reach your child's screen. Simply right-click the chat pane tab and select Settings. There you can toggle off every sort of message the game can spit out, everything from zone chat, to /say, /emote, even RealID whispers.

I also suggest blocking all guild invites which can be done by toggling the main menu, then selecting Interface>Controls. First of all, it's not fun to be spammed with invites, and secondly, even some guild names are a bit vulgar.

But that raises a question: when is a good time to allow them access to in-game communication channels? Anna and I have run some low-level dungeons, and her lack of access to /instance hasn't negatively affected anything---yet. At some point I must acknowledge that this is indeed an MMO---inherent in the design is a social experience, and I wouldn't want to keep that from them forever. Basically, it's up to you as a parent or guardian when you think your children are mature enough to handle some of the things they might see in group/general chat. Even then I'd recommend keeping the profanity filter ON until they reach their mid-to-late teens.

Roll PvE

Though this suggestion may seem like an obvious one, I feel it is worth mentioning. While to me the PvP environment makes the "war" in Warcraft much more personal and immediate, I think we all can agree it becomes an annoying hindrance when all we really want to do is PvE. While you may have dreams of one day swooping down and ganking the opposite faction with your youngling, put those dreams on the shelf for now and fashion an environment that allows your child to decide if they even like the game before they have to deal with being killed by other players.

Play alongside them

WoW is a huge game to begin with and it's easy to get lost. The game has the potential to frustrate easily if your child can't understand the objectives, or if they somehow get stuck behind some boxes and can't get out. It may take time for them to internalize simple things like how to use the map and quest tracker, since it's not an intuitive thing especially since they've likely never played a game of this kind. Having you there to remind them and provide small, insightful tips will go a long way towards making their gaming experience an enjoyable one. Plus, they're going to love playing alongside you.

Set them up comfortably

I'm not talking about gold or heirloom gear (not bad things to do necessarily, though heirlooms can trivialize what may be an important part of the leveling process for a young, new player). I'm referring to hardware. Make sure they have a working keyboard and 2-button mouse, a good monitor, and a machine that will run the game smoothly. 

You may chuckle when I say "working keyboard," but on the keyboard I use the 7 key sometimes sticks, the backspace key is gone and the spacebar works only half the time. I suggest a two-button mouse because of the fact I've seen how difficult using a MagicMouse or trackpad can be for a first-time player. Having a mouse that moves smoothly and provides both a right- and left-click can make all the difference between a pleasant experience and a frustrating one. If the gameplay is choppy, and doesn't run seamlessly like they're used to when playing the Wii or a game on their iPods, you run the risk of losing their If they can't clearly read the quest text or see mobs...I think you see the pattern here.

Essentially, don't let the hardware get in the way of their gameplay. 

Don't overwhelm with game features

Earlier I'd mentioned it might be advantageous to repeatedly remind them about the map and quest tracker features. I wouldn't go too far beyond that. They'll be gaining new class abilities, and soon talents, much faster than they'll be able to keep up with. Allow them to identify a feature they haven't been introduced to and ask you about it. If you try to teach them about pet battles, transmog, professions and whatever else as they're learning the game, there's a chance that too much will get lost in the noise.

The other day, Anna and I were at a hub that happened to be the location of a pet tamer daily. She watched along on my screen as I engaged the trainer, narrating the play-by-play to hopefully help her understand what was happening. And she was not impressed. No whoa, or cooooool, just silence and a slight look of confusion on her face.

That's why I suggest letting them ask you how that other player was able to pull out a mining pick and extract the chunk of metal that was sticking out from the side of the cliff. Let them ask you what that other player is doing standing behind three pets, one of which seems to be fighting another pet. Then you can tell them about it, and they can decide if it sounds cool, if it's something they'd like to try. 

Let them play it their way

Your idea of how the game should be played may end up being vastly different than your child's idea. If you're taking the step to bring them into Azeroth this is something you must be prepared for. While the concept of questing crystallized rather easily in Anna's mind (11 years old), this wasn't the case with Tus (8 years old). When Tus and I started (remember he rolled a rogue), things seemed to be going all right. I was pointing him in the direction of quest objectives and even when he wasn't helping me kill the mobs, he was at least in the right area, looting and getting credit.

Then he hit level 5 and Stealth happened.

For Tus, this changed the game completely. The fact he could go completely invisible and hide from hostile mobs was the coolest thing ever, and this became his sole focus. He'd creep around the objective area while I cleared out mobs, pausing to instruct him to loot when there was a quest item to grab. As we spread out across the starting zone, he noticed a path that lead into an area featuring very different-looking terrain than the one we were in. What's over there, he wondered aloud. When I hinted about the mobs in the zone being too powerful to handle, it was no big deal to him because of Stealth! Remember, Ross?

The issue with that was Stealth's effect diminishes the higher the level of the mob you're trying to sneak by. He stealthed through the next zone and into the one beyond where he encountered mobs more than twenty levels his senior. Mobs who would beeline for him once he got within 20 yards, stealthed or not. Surely this would be a valuable lesson to him about how we should finish more tasks in one zone before moving onto the next.

Then, the corpse-run happened. He realized he could run Tus around as a ghost, which was like stealth but even better because now there were NO enemies that could kill him.

And thus Tuswordorf, the ghostly explorer-rogue, was born, destined to wander the Eastern Kingdoms as a level 15 apparition for eternity.

Turn it into an educational opportunity

When the kids first started playing the game, we had them read all of the quest text, which most of the time is relatively tame in content (though I wouldn't let them roll goblins). The general premise---go around and eliminate the bad things to reach a certain objective---is one familiar to any child who's played an action video game. From Skylanders to the original Mario, it's a pretty common concept. Since they're both excellent readers, and in the interest of keeping gameplay somewhat fast, we don't require that they read quest text anymore. Still, I've seen plenty of anecdotes from other players whose children's reading comprehension and ability increased as a result regularly reading in World of Warcraft.

There's likely opportunities for math and economics lessons, word problems and critical thinking, even questions of right and wrong. They've seen Lord of the Rings, they've read and watched Harry Potter, Star Wars, the list goes on. Granted, you're playing a video game that has you kill animals for their body parts (not all of which actually drop said body parts), so there is a fine line when it comes to morality lessons I suppose. Still, there may be plenty of learning opportunities at every turn, and identifying them can make the game both fun AND educational. While I won't go so far as to argue that WoW is an educational game, that doesn't mean you can't find educational moments within it.

What about you? Are there certain steps you take when playing with your children to ensure a good experience? Perhaps you think it's too early for your child to play Warcraft. What are some of your reasons?


  1. I greatly appreciate this. I have a 9 year old son (who has wanted to play a toon since he was 5)....I have let him create characters as well as play on a PvE server over the years. I don't think any of them are past level 12. His time is greatly limited, and to be honest, he most often wants to play his DS3 or XBOX. Fortunately, I am a part of an incredible guild and they will let him hop in a BG group on occasion with my level 90 Shaman (his favorite because Thunderstorm in AB is pretty darn cool. In this situation he gets to see what his mom goes through when yelling in

    As for the learning potential, I agree completely. Teaching our kids how to problem solve is an incredibly valuable life lesson. All the other reading, math etc come as second nature to my little dude.