I’m a dork. That’s been established. Dorks play video games. That’s a given.
Naturally I have fantasies of gaming with my kids someday (within reason… after soccer practice and homework). But it’s not like I’m going to hold off on my own gaming until they’re old enough to join me. For the most part I’m pretty good about not playing video games when my kids are around. It does happen though from time to time. In the rare instances when they happen to see me gaming they are, of course, attracted to what I’m doing like a moth to a flame. As a parent it’s my responsibility to control the message, but the games I play are certainly not rated “G”. I have fine-tuned my “spin”.
“No, they’re not fighting. They’re dancing.” ((right – dancing with swords and lasers. Then the badguy I was actually fighting is killed)) “No, he’s not dead. He’s just tired from dancing. He’s going to sleep”. ((apparantly in a pool of his own blood… a detail I hope my kids happen to miss)). Once the badguy is vanquished I quickly log out, close the computer and change the subject as quick as possible.
Yes, in this instance I lie to my children. Don’t judge me.
Kids don’t generally need encouragement to be interested in video games. It happens all by itself. But this blog is all about sharing those geeky things I love with my kids in a constructive way that strengthens the bond between us, and hopefully makes them better adjusted, more well-rounded people. I believe I have found a way to do that with my gaming that doesn’t crush their sweet, innocent youth. It’s all in the character creation.
Most video games of this nature give the player incredible control over the look of the character they play with very complexed character customization tools. Things like height, weight, sex, age, skin tone, race, hairstyle are all in the user’s control. In theory it makes the gamer feel more personally invested in the character and in the story arc the character moves through in the game.
This is the key to hooking your kids.
In the most recent games I’ve played with my kids I have tried to make a rogue’s gallery of characters that resemble the members of my family as much as possible. There are two games specifically where I’ve implimented this strategy: “Lord Of The Rings Online” where the player plays in parallel with Frodo, Gandalf and company as they progress through the story we all know, and “D.C. Universe Online” where the player develops a superhero to fight alongside the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman and all the supporting characters that inhabit their universe.
Getting my daughter hooked was easy. We started with the hair, as that is the physical attribute that my daughter considers most uniquely hers (it’s true. She has amazing hair). I sat her on my lap and ask her what color scheme she wanted to start out with. Naturally she picked pink. But as we progressed she began to realize that creating this character was very much like playing dress-up. There were almost infinite costume options – long dress, mini skirt, hawtpants, tights, cape, boa etc. She had her very own virtual Barbie doll. She had so much fun with the character builder that she didn’t want to have anything to do with the actual game itself. Day after day she would come up to me and say “Daddy, can we make another superhero please?” I created a monster.
That was the ticket. He was all about this look. Where his sister was into the dress-up action, my son wanted to watch “Space Ranger” in action. We flew the character all around the tutorial section of the game (where the player learns how to “use” the character) and soon my son was running around the house using his “green powers” and his “purple powers”.
I have since stopped playing the superhero game. But I’ve got more than a few characters in the Lord Of The Rings game. If you think about it, what better way to represent in Tolkien’s world an adorable, blonde, curly haired, short little guy with big blue eyes and squeezeable cheeks? Why, with a Hobbit of course.
My son is well aware that this character exists, and nowadays when he catches me playing on the computer he says “Play me, Daddy! Play me!”
My wife is even represented in my list of active characters, although the limitations of the character creator in this game doesn’t nearly do her justice.
And just in case you were wondering where my likeness is in all of these equations, I did make one character that I felt a rather close personal bond to. “Dr. Teeth” was a former dentist. But after one too many patients said to him “I’m only going to do what my insurance will pay for” he snapped. He left dentistry and became a vigilante, exacting his own special brand of justice on insurance company executives.