Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Properly Molding the Gamer Child

I grew up a serious gamer in a family of people who really, really weren't. I was, while loved, regarded as an oddity. A peculiar mutation. Harmless, as long as I was kept from sharp implements and encouraged to not discuss such concepts as "armor class" or "hit points" at great length.

But now I am, if the calendar is to be believed, an adult. And I am raising two small daughters (one 3, one 7) who are showing their own gamer instincts. Though, these days, their Pokemon and Nintendo obsessions only make them "normal."

However, as a gamer parent of gamers, I am finding that the rules of our household are different from what I grew up with.

For example, there is a sacred, almost sacrosanct right to be able to save one's game. When I need a daughter to put down her DS and do something, she always gets one or two minutes to save her progress first. It is only in the cases of extreme lateness or severe punishment that she is forced to shut off the game with her progress lost. It is the Ultimate Sanction.

(Also, when you quit Animal Crossing without saving and start up the game again later, a cute animal comes out and severely lectures you for your carelessness. It is in this way that I outsource my disciplinary duties to Nintendo.)

Also, my children are allowed to play educational games almost without limit. However, my ideas of what makes a game "educational" might differ from those of the stick-in-ass types that normally determine these things. My seven-year old girl is allowed to sing on Rock Band as much as she wants because it forces her to read the lyrics. Also, her cultural education will be incomplete without at least some exposure to Elvis Costello.

And I have long felt that high-end raiding in World of Warcraft has a strong educational component. It requires strong organizational and teamwork skills, not to mention people management. At least, that is the justification I am going to give when I pull her out of bed on a school night to tank an instance for daddy.

I strongly encourage both girls' fascination with Pokemon. Pokemon provide fulfillment to every human being's basic desire to have an army of monsters. Also, Pokemon spend all their time fighting each other, which is good. For what other reason would one want to have an army of monsters?

Yes, we have truly created a new world. An exciting, technological, shut-in, pasty world. Now, if you will excuse me, my daughter is old enough to realize that there is something called Dungeons & Dragons, and she wants in. And you think I'm going to trust some wormy, unseasoned, prepubescent Dungeon Master to run her first campaign? Not likely.


  1. I'm the same way. My daughter is 7 and my son is 5. He can already play 90% through our 4 Zelda games on the GBA and my daughter has already stated that she wants to learn how to play "that game you and mommy play sometimes" (RPG's). I'm not going to let some idiot kid be their DM either.

  2. This is highly refreshing, considering that I (at the age of 20, now) grew up in about the same environment as you, Jeff. I approve.

  3. Jeff it might be too late since they've seen Rock Band but have you ever thought to give your children a hands-on education in the history of computer/console/arcade games?

    I think we're of similar age, so both of us grew up with Atari, Intellivision, 8-bit Nintendo, SNES, etc. We witnessed the birth of the home PC (and graphics technology) that a lot of younger people came too late for, so we have a unique perspective. Many kids today are missing out on those great classics, and jumping right to a super flashy, 3D-graphics-laden, abomination of a game. To think that some child might grow up not knowing what Donkey Kong is frightens me.

    So for a while now with my 5 year old I've been putting him through the paces. We're still at the Atari stage (using the Atari Retro2 console). The old systems are great for little kids, just a joystick, a single button, and a simple goal (shoot the millipede!). No analog double-stick (or fancy wiimote) craziness to spoil them with.

    I think this fall I'll introduce the Nintendo classic. I have a stack of 30 games to go through so that will keep us entertained for a long while.

  4. "At least, that is the justification I am going to give when I pull her out of bed on a school night to tank an instance for daddy."

    I laughed out at work. Just funny.

  5. Brilliant, now if only I could get my wife to understand that.

  6. Yes, kids hate Musical Appreciation classes, but Elvis Costello is mandatory.

    I admit to a small bit of pride when my daughter stumbled upon an aging Avernum game on the equally aging "lampy" iMac.

  7. Related to this post, I am currently in the keynote for GDC Austin. The keynote is about FreeRealms; the online space is aggressively going after kids this days. In terms of innovation and usability studies, I find the topic facnating. However some of the tricks that companies use to get money from kids leaves me feeling a bit conflicted. Yes, I know, parental oversight and all that. However...

  8. Wow, just Wow, I grew up in the opposite environment, Where most of the men in my family were gamers, quietly and with dignity ushered into that world around age 8, with a swashbuckler named jean-paul. I here it from many of my gamer friends when trying to explain it to others, "what do I do on the weekends? uhm, its like World of Warcraft" to which inevitably some one lets out an "ahhhh" Now that my own little girl is growing up (3) she already has the toys of a gamer, giant plush dice, check, baby Cthulu, check, knows that mommy and daddy have the best stories, check. Great article, its good to know I'm not the only one encouraging his children to pick up the dice.

  9. Awesome, Jeff, awesome!

    I laughed and shared this with my wife. We have yet to make any little ones but I've discussed the idea of raising them in a faux 1980s shell so that their childhoods would be like mine. When they're about 5 I'll get them an NES for Christmas, and give them issues of Nintendo Power so that they get excited for the release of the SNES. Then we'll all watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

    Imagine their surprise when they hit 18 and then suddenly realize it's 30 years in the future! That'll be great :)

  10. @Walker: You mean you went to the keynote instead of my talk on interactive fiction? ;)

    Jeff, great article. Just awesome stuff.

  11. When I have children, I plan to try to intentionally make them as into "nerdy" stuff as humanly possible. Isn't that what every nerd wants? There will be no prouder or happier day in my entire life than my child's first line of C...

    Great article :)

  12. @Paul: "Jeff it might be too late since they've seen Rock Band but have you ever thought to give your children a hands-on education in the history of computer/console/arcade games?"

    Done. I collect vintage video games. One of the first video games my old daughter ever played was Atari 2600 Air-Sea Battle.

    - Jeff Vogel

  13. You're officially my hero, Jeff. Well, you already were (having already accomplished my goal of being an independent game developer), but the fact that you collect vintage games and actively introduce your children to them is outstanding :)

  14. Will you be my daddy? lol!!

    Haha, growing up, I was the same way. I was the blowhard gamer and no one else gave a crap. I remember trying to explain to my mom the finer points of Half-Plate armor vs Full-Plate armor from the 1st Dragon Warrior! Later, it took me a long time to finally convince my folks to give me "time to save". I had to successfully argue that by giving me a couple minutes now to save, I won't have to play through the last 1/2 hour over again tomorrow, equaling less time playing the video games! They bought it, so then I could get a half hour further the next day! ;)

    Crap, I can't remember what the model number was, but I learned to type playing text-adventures on an Atari computer! I got a lot further on that than I ever did taking classes!! I use to tear me up some "Hitch-Hikers Guide", Planetfall, and Zork!!

  15. Jeff, this is an excellent, funny piece. My son, too, has the heart of a gamer, but, as a previous poster mentioned, I wonder how you work out things with your wife - is she a gamer as well? If not, then how do you explain this idea that it's a sacrilege to order a gamer to turn off his game without giving them time to finish a level / save? My wife, who already dislikes video games, just does not get the concept.

  16. my GF just sent me a link to this post after reading the section regarding wow i laughed so hard my daughters came over and asked if i was ok... even now im grinning about the thought of them staying up to raid with me.

  17. Hmm, I raid in a guild that's replete with families and it's often funny to see the healer chick with the deep basso profundo voice in vent, checking on whether our big badass tank warrior has finished his homework before we strike out for Ulduar.

  18. I, too, was a gamer in a sea of non-gamers. Even a lot of the kids in my neighborhood couldn't have cared less about video games - which was kind of annoying for me, since I wasn't allowed to play them at home until I was 15.

    Then I hit the other extreme and spent most of my time playing games. I really feel that having an older, more responsible gamer to guide me through my years of drought and flood would have saved me a lot of trouble.

    Incidentally, I'm currently trying to teach my five-year-old niece to not take it so hard when she gets blown up in Twisted Metal.

  19. always worse when you can't get the proper hardware to game on =(

    Also, may i recommend the Pathfinder variant of DnD? Or, even better, combine DnD and pokémon for her first campaign. It's what we do at school, with a heavily modified world courtesy of our GM who has a lot of info about it on his DA =)

  20. "Now, if you will excuse me, my daughter is old enough to realize that there is something called Dungeons & Dragons, and she wants in. And you think I'm going to trust some wormy, unseasoned, prepubescent Dungeon Master to run her first campaign? Not likely."

    When I saw this, I laughed, because that's just like my GF and her dad.

  21. Just was exposed to your blog. This entry sums up how I feel about gaming and my enthusiasm for the next generation to carry on the fine sub-culture. If only I had parents as understanding as you . . . I would not have to suffer through the guilt complex of playing NWN II rather than forcing some random person to hang out with me.

  22. I wanted to pop in and say that I admire your level-headedness on gaming. At the school where I teach, gaming is a hot issue. To bring up gaming in discussions with these parents is likened to resigning the child to the ninth gate of hell -- which is clearly the only suitable place for internet games, according to them.

    Maybe it takes a gamer to appreciate the skill, social organization, creativity, self-motivation and discipline that can be fostered by games, I'm not sure. Your post caught my attention because I recently wrote a bit about games' educational benefits that are typically overlooked ( Hopefully, in the future there will be more gamers having little ones of their own to quell the hysteria. Cheers!

  23. I really enjoyed this article. I'm only in my mid-twenties but despite our age difference, it seems we grew up in a similar environment. What really made your words relevant, though, is that my wife and I are beginning to plan for a family of our own, and an issue that has come up more than once is the role gaming will play in our children's lives.

    It might be interesting to see how my generation as a whole, with such a great exposure to and participation in the "gamer" culture, will change the concept and dynamics of family. You might be our forerunner!

  24. Oops! Don Carlo's Comments above are actually my own. I need to pay a little more attention to who exactly is logged into Gmail.

    Internet anonymity be damned!

    Thanks again for a great article.

  25. Mr. Vogel, I have to ask. Yes, they're a little young to really enjoy them, but have you ever, in a high-spirited shell of short-lived optimism, tried to coax your children into playing one of your games?

  26. I love this article!

    I'm the mother of a 7 year old daughter, and I love gaming. I wasn't exposed to console games when I was young (but working to remedy that now, lol) and it's important to me that my daughter plays games. She's already helped me play Diablo 2 a little bit, and she's fascinated when she sees me playing other RPG games. She also has a Nintendo DS that she plays by herself, and gets exposure to some XBOX 360 as well.

    She has also started to play some of my easier hidden object games on my computer all by herself. I think it's really important that she like gaming, because me and my bf both play a lot of games and we don't want her to feel left out. Also, games are good for imagination, and reflex and learning.

  27. Great article Jeff!

    I grew up in a conflicted family when it came to video games. Oddly enough, my dad was avidly against them (or pretty much anything that wasn't a sporting event) but my mom and uncle were diehard gaming fans (Commador 64, NES, etc).

    This resulted in a childhood that was equal parts Zelda, Castles of Dr. Creep, Track and field, and Basketball. The biggest problem is that, now that I have a good job, I don't have time to raid Ulduar and go for a hike in the woods each night.

    I love the idea of having the kids grow up with the different consoles and old school games (though it will likely get spoiled very quickly at school). I still have 2 functional Commodor 64's, NES, SNES, and PS2 (which will of course play all PS1 games).

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