Donna and Jack Kidwell's first recruits to their World of Warcraft guild were their three children, Harrison (12), Epiphany (9), and George (6). At their home in Austin, Texas, the whole family games online together several nights a week - though, as Donna explains in her blog post "No raiding after 9 pm." If the party waits too late to get going -
Clouds gather on the horizon, and those first warning signs appear: loud, exaggerated yawns from the eager young stealther who dares not admit exhaustion; peevish commentary regarding that one player whose addiction to the in-game auction holds up the show an extra 20 minutes; requests for "stamina potions" (I need a COKE) start pouring in, or worse yet ... the dreaded "Coke, Coke Coke Coke" mantra.
I've known the Kidwells since they were in college at the University of Texas. We played Illuminati, Cosmic Encounter and a dozen other board and card games; I sat in on Jack's Shadowrun roleplaying campaign. After they had kids, I saw them less often, though they kept me posted on their Magic and Legend of the Five Rings trading card game collections.
Knowing the parents as I did, I knew the Kidwell children would grow up to be, not only gamers, but also great kids. Donna and Jack discovered a fact lost on our culture's anti-game crusaders: Gaming is an extraordinarily effective parenting tool.
This is especially true in computer games; "Kids own the environment," Donna says. "It's their turf. Warren Spector, I think, talked about gaming as a 'narrative' that you own. He's right - children can talk about their gaming experiences for hours on end. It's difficult to exhaust them. So what could be more ripe for pedagogy? It's so nice to have kids creating their own myths."
Why don't we hear much about parents like that?
Gamer Moms and Dads: Off the Cultural Radar
It shouldn't be strange to imagine parents gaming with their kids. The Entertainment Software Association reports, in its "Top 10 Industry Facts," that the average gamer is 30-years-old, the average game buyer is 37, and 75% of all heads of households in America play electronic games. You'd think at least some of those people have, you know, procreated.
In August 2004, Laura Gulledge, a high school teacher in Alexander City, Alabama, wrote a WomanGamers.com article called "Confessions of a Gamer Mom." "Computers, video games, digital music - I love it all! Should my family go camping or compete in multi-player mode on SSX3? My answer is: Why not both? There's room for gaming in any healthy childhood. It's up to us to find the balance. [...F]or me, competing against my child on a simulated racetrack while discussing our strategies and sharing lots of laughs in the process is quality time."
The forum topic on Gulledge's article brought an outpouring of agreement:
" "People believe if you spend your time gaming that you are neglecting responsibilities. That is so not true. It is a matter of time management. My 17-year-old son and I play many of the same games - Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat are two - and we talk a lot about it. At the age he is, it has really kept the lines of communication open for us because I am able to relate to him. It has made it easier for him to come talk to me about other things in his life."
" "My boys are six and three, and love to play games too, especially the six-year-old. Some of the best family fun we've had was pairing up with the boys (dad with one, mom with other) on our PCs and going head-to-head in Halo or Battlefield Vietnam."
" "I think the biggest questions or comments I get as a gamer mom, whose kids game too, are 1) 'Well, as long as the games are educational games I guess it's okay,' and 2) 'What time limit do you put on how long they play?' I think people are rather shocked at my answers. Just what does 'educational' mean anyway? Darkstone certainly isn't 'educational' in the traditional sense, and yet my sons have learned how to add and subtract into the millions (out of necessity) [and] read long words (Dexterity, Vitality, etc). As for time limits.... again, some dirty looks occur when my answer is 'none.' We lead by example. [...] I know I would be *incredibly* annoyed if my husband put some arbitrary time limit on my gaming, and I think it would frustrate [my children] the same. They do a really great job of balancing the time they spend on their interests."