Parental guide for online gamers: so nearly spot on

Do you ever read something and think, wow, this is so nearly right on the money, but at the same time so far from reality it's hard to believe one person wrote it? It happened to me today while reading the latest advice from Parentline Plus meant for those who feel their children are addicted to online gaming.

I was immediately on guard after the opening paragraph, which quoted a Swedish youth organisation as having said World of Warcraft was "more addictive than crack cocaine". As both a ridiculous and irrelevant comparison, I almost consigned it to the trash bin there and then. However, morbid curiosity made me read on - perhaps they would blame City Of Heroes for inner city crime, or Lord of the Rings Online for the ash cloud.

Thankfully, it was actually a lot more sensible than I'd expected. There were 12 tips for parents whose kids are glued to online games, some of which are obvious (but need reiterating), while others both useful and thoughtful. Also, they struck a nice balance between responsibility and understanding, instead of being self righteous. The obvious were as follows:

  • Check the content of the game before you buy. Provide games that are educational rather than violent. Just as you wouldn’t dream of allowing your children to watch an 18-certificate film, ‘18’ games for the X-Box or PlayStation will also contain inappropriate content, graphic language and violence. Suggest games like ‘Mario’ or ‘FIFA World Cup’ which don’t contain violence.
  • Come to an agreement about time limits. Gaming can be a great release from homework and other pressures but so can kicking a ball about or riding a bike. Resist using gaming as a substitute babysitter when you’re busy or for a quiet life.
  •  Make sure children sit at least two feet from the screen, play games in a well-lit room, never have the screen at maximum brightness, and stop when they’re feeling tired.
  • Make sure you continue to do things as a family, such as sitting down at the table to eat meals together or, if possible, having a weekly cinema/DVD night.
  • Establish some computer house rules: No meals at the computer, homework must be done before playing, and so on.
  •  If all else fails, temporarily prohibit gaming and then allow them to play again on a part-time basis when appropriate.

Nothing I wouldn't fully agree with there. But I found the next few points particularly refreshing:

  • Get involved: Talk to your child about what they’re playing and how they should behave when they are gaming. They should be encouraged not to accept ‘cheats’ or talk to people that they don’t know in the real world. If anyone asks them to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable they should come straight to you.
  • Talk to your child about why they are spending so much time online, and what they are doing. Try and find and encourage your child into an offline activity that links in with their online interests. For example children who enjoy role-play fantasy games might equally enjoy reading fantasy fiction or playing traditional fantasy board games.
  •  To avoid arguments on both sides, parents need to understand that online games often can’t just be ‘stopped’ in mid-flow – players may be part of a ‘team’ or need to get to a certain place in the game to ‘save’. Rather than a ‘Right, time’s up’ approach, remind them when there’s 10 minutes left so they can start thinking about when and where to stop.

This is really great stuff. So often when games are discussed its all about demonisation and prevention - almost emancipation and exorcism! But here, you have a parents group suggesting that parents need to understand the games (grouping, questing etc), talk about scams, and taking the gaming experience beyond the bedroom. Its pretty inspiring stuff.

But, sadly, there's always a but. All this great explanation, all this useful parental advice, all this copy that actually reads as if gamers have been consulted - nine great points. Unfortunately, there were 12 in total...

Number 1 and number 7?

  • Always have the computer in public room such as living room.
  • To avoid your child/teenager playing at night when you’re in bed, don’t let them keep the computer in their rooms, advises The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). Keep it in a family room. This also allows you to monitor the games they’re playing.

I cannot believe the same person that came up with these other great tips also came up with those two - in fact, I expect they stormed off in a huff when shown the final document (probably to slay some badgers in their basement). Seriously, what absolute baloney.

Why? Firstly, to expect someone to play an online game (especially an MMORPG) in a public room is to fundamentally misunderstand the genre. In slightly different ways, exactly the same applies to online shooters.

Great games are very much about immersion. You need to feel like you're in the game, a part of it, experiencing it as deeply as possible. This is easy in a darkened bedroom - not so easy in a front room with mum watching Corrie, or your little brother throwing Lego about. For shooters, their best played with a headset - you need to be talking to your team mates to truly be the best. I'm sure regular shouts of, "no, flank left, head for the flag and I'll use my air strike" will go down really well while the rest of the family is watching another insufferable episode of glee. Which leads me nicely onto...

Number 3

  • Encourage gaming in groups, rather than as a solitary activity. This will lead to children and adolescents talking and working together.

Again, erm, hello? how short sighted can you get? The main appeal of the majority of online games is working together - but you don't need to be in the same room to do that. It may be physically solitary, but in reality it's anything but. There's something exhilarating about going on a group mission with 10 or so like-minded individuals that many don't get from elsewhere. Not everyone is into team sports, or the Scouts, and nor should they be forced to be. 

The world is changing, interaction is changing, and the quicker people get a handle on that the better. Friends don't all need to live down the street, or go to the same school - they can be all over the world. I would hope by now that a generation is forming that is at least beginning to understand - and appreciate - the power and benefit of the internet, while also understanding the need for a balance between this and reality. Exactly the sort of person who seems to have written three quarters of these tips.

Unfortunately, it still seems we're blighted with enough people in positions of authority that sneak in the other quarter, showing a fundamental misunderstanding, and mistrust, of their kids, the internet and change in general.


  • happy

    by Wizard Prang at 20:19 on 20 May 2010 Report abuse

    ...or you can just tell the little darlings "no" and do something constructive (build/create/play) with them.

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