Waiting to be a Hero

I didn’t get the chance to raid in Vanilla WoW. I wish I had. 40 man raids seemed like an insane and exciting thing to participate in. Pandemonium. That’s what I would expect. I did raid in a 25 man guild in Burning Crusade though, so I can imagine the headache of trying to get 25 people logged in, geared, and ready to go, scaled up to 40. OW.

In the 25 man guild I was in, we had about 30 raiders. (Or up to 35 at various other times.) There were 3 guild ranks, just for raiders. They were ranked, the highest being called Thunderfury. If you successfully posted above a certain amount of DPS or HPS you would earn that rank. When forming the raid, Thunderfuries were accepted first, then the middle rank (Sulfuras something) and Warglaive as the bottom rank. Anyone who had all blue/purple gear of the appropriate level could be a Warglaive. The problem was, once you were a Warglaive, the only way to advance your character was through raiding… so you had to wait for a night when not too many Thunderfuries showed up to raid to hopefully get in. If there were 6 spots, and 7 raiders waiting, then you had to roll against each other and hope you weren’t the lowest roll. The system mostly worked, except it was very hard to ensure you were always getting to raid unless you were very lucky or very dedicated.

When I left that guild and converted to Alliance, it was a bit different. I joined a guild as a tank, and eventually switched to healing. But we were a 10 man guild. This changed everything in that we had a fairly solid core of 9 raiders who were always present. Generally we could fill that final slot with any pug and do fairly well. However, over time we gained a few lost a few raiders, as always happens and started having issues with having 11-12 people showing up. When you can only take 10 raiders, this leads to the guildleader having to make very painful choices.

Do you take your friend? Do you take the high powered, but also very annoying person? Do you take the sweet, but oblivious person? Do you take the undergeared so they have a chance to get loot and improve or the overgeared so the raid has the easiest time of it? And oh goodness don’t take them, we already have four people fighting over cloth and no one to take the leather drops…

When I left that guild, I ended up in OLN, a 25 man guild that had about 35 raiders. So each night they would draw lots and split into 25/10 raid teams. That worked for Wrath, but Cataclysm was a different story. We lost some big players, had other players drift away, but couldn’t find *anyone* to recruit. I even talked about our insane solution to this event before. It was absurd. 16 raiders squished into a 10 man hole. By the time we hit Dragon Soul we were firmly down to 10 raiders. It was the end of that guild. We couldn’t recruit, we couldn’t bulk back up, we couldn’t get people who were willing to be on a waitlist just in case.

And that’s the problem with tightly tuned raids. When you can’t just carry one or two people, you have to have a finely tuned team to consistently show up to raid. When life happens, you lose a raider and it could be the beginning of the end for your team.

When I formed a guild with Misstorgo, recruiting was our first and main issue. We had to recruit people who wanted a casual experience, were willing to raid only 2 nights a week, and not cause drama. Through a series of lucky events, we ended up with several of my co-workers forming a core raid team. However, as we progressed through MoP we had several events that lead to losing a FEW raiders and not being able to replace them.

I think over the course of the expansion we changed more than half our raid team three times. More often than not, we would find interested people – but oh they couldn’t play without their two friends… Do you have any idea how awful it is being the 11th member of a 10 man raid team? You feel selfish if you say “No, I want to raid.” knowing it means someone else will have to sit out. You feel terrible not showing up because of course, that’s the one night that someone else can’t be there and then no one gets to raid.

But then, the Third Great Change came from Blizzard. Flex – the ability for the raid to scale based on the number of players – was implemented to all difficulty levels (except Mythic, which is fine because we aren’t hardcore like that) of raiding. 11 raiders? You’re good to go with all 11. 14? Yep. 19? YEP.

This literally changes the most painful and difficult part of running a guild into a non-issue. If we get down to around 12 players, easy, we just recruit a few more. No one has to sit, so there is no danger of them getting bored and finding another guild. The fights seem to actually be a bit easier with a few extra bodies. Missing a person? It’s fine, we have more. Your buddy who only plays a month or two then takes a 3 month break? We can bring him, when he decides to show up, and not worry about having to replace him.

WoW is most fun when playing with friends and now it doesn’t ask you to rank your friends and boot the ones who don’t fit into a 10 man hole.

How WoD Raid Lockouts Work

If you are the raid leader, the raid will despawn bosses until it reaches the first boss you HAVEN’T killed.

So if you joined a raid at Paragons, killed it, then go back later, it will start you at Immerseus. Every boss will be present, the only difference is you will not get loot/be eligible for loot from Paragons.

If you want to create a “Garrosh Lockout” you must have someone who has killed ALL the bosses – without skipping ANY – up to Garrosh. This character now has a Garrosh Lockout. If that character wants to HOLD ONTO that lockout, they need to invite their raid, zone in, then transfer leadership and leave.

They will then continue to hold a lockout.

PSA – If you have a lockout like we did, where a toon had killed ALL of the raid except Paragons, we zoned in, at Paragons. That toon did not leave, but stayed for Paragons, she now has a lockout (despite extending the other one) that has her ONLY saved to Paragons. So if she tried to raid lead again, it would start at Immerseus.

Starting at

What are Raid Lockouts, why do they matter, and how do they work?

Whew, what a loaded series of questions!

Raid lockouts were originally a Raid ID that said “This raid is this much completed, and can be completed later.” The problem was, people would raid on Tuesday, get X# of bosses in, then plan on coming back the next day, or later in the week. Then some a-hole in that raid would come back early, with different people, and clear to the end. Blizzard fixed this by effectively giving each person on the raid team a unique lockout. So when you can back, the raid leader would zone in, and that was the same raid they had worked on before.

Players could run raids that had downed bosses they hadn’t, but not raids that went earlier than their own lockout. Yes it’s confusing, so here’s an example:

Trial of the Champions – 10 man:

There are 10 raiders and they raid on Tuesday and killed the first 2 bosses (Beasts and Champions) on Tuesday. Wednesday, they come back, but two of their raiders are out. They grab a guildie and a pug. The guildie hasn’t cleared ANY bosses, but because the raid leader is one of the original 8, he zones in to see the Valkyr up and is asked if he wants to be saved to 2/4. The Pug has cleared Beasts, but not Champions, so he also zones in to see the Valkyr up and is asked if he wants to be saved to 2/4.

This gives the players a clear picture of what is going on, where they are starting, and what they are potentially skipping. So the guildie in this example is passing up the chance of loot from the first two bosses. Once he kills the valkyr, he would not be able to go back and do them later. The two members who DIDN’T make the raid could zone in with an entirely new group and would also be 2/4.

Raid lockouts matter to players because it allows us to take the raid in a series of chunks that are better for our specific playstyle. So like Weeping Angels, we raid 2 nights a week, 2 hours apiece. If we don’t clear the raid in that time, we don’t clear the raid. No running over, no extra nights. We all have kids, and spouses we want to see. WoW is a big deal, but not the highest priority. When we got to Garrosh, we held the lockout even when we would have reset because we wanted to kill him without starting all the way at the beginning of the raid.

So how did this change in WoD?

Well, it got a lot more complicated for one. (Bad designer, no twinkie! Simplicity is a goal over complexity.) Now, the lockout is per BOSS per character. So to reuse the above example, I decide to go into a raid that is 2 of 4. We kill the 3rd boss. I am now “saved” to the third boss. But I have to go, so I leave. I am saved to JUST the┬áValkyr though. So if I try to start a raid later, it puts me at the FIRST BOSS I haven’t defeated. Which is Beasts, the first boss. When I get to the Valkyr again, I just don’t get loot, but I still have to kill them again.

This is a TERRIBLE design.

Players use raid lockouts to skip bosses they need nothing from. So a guild will run SoO, get to the final “wing” and switch an alt out. This allows that character to “hold” the lockout. So the next week, they can start at Blackfuse and finish the raid faster. Get to the meat and potatoes faster. Get to the new loot – FASTER.

The only reason for changing this would be if Blizzard didn’t WANT players skipping bosses like this. But the problem is, their “fix” for that didn’t change that. it just made it clunkier! Now if we want to save a lockout, we have to bring an alt for the first 11 bosses, then switch that alt out, and have them be raid leader the next week, instead of just switching an alt out for a single boss.

I don’t understand the logic behind this. It doesn’t make sense in the scheme of raid lockouts and progression. Following the “new” method, it should just put the players at the boss directly AFTER the last boss the raid leader defeated. If we really wanted a fresh raid, we wouldn’t be extending the lockout! If we wanted a fresh raid later in the week, just have the raid leader be someone who hasn’t run!

I would even like to see the ability to “jump to wing” for raiding. As long as everyone in the raid has previously cleared all of those bosses, when we get ready to go in, the raid leader can choose to start at a specific boss or wing.

You met me at a very weird time in my life.

It never fails. Someone says “I cannot wait until we get a new raid… I am bored/hate this one.” This always sparks the conversation of favorite raids and most hated raids. (For the record, mine are Naxx and ICC.)

Someone always brings up ICC. You know how when you smell something distinct and suddenly you are launched backwards in time to a significant moment – that happens to me every time someone mentions ICC or when I step inside the instance.

I was raiding on the Alliance side for the first time. I was healing for my raid. I was raiding with co-workers. We worked at Sega and it was fun. We would play at night, then in the morning there would be long discussions about what we did, and what we should be doing.

During this time, we were a team of 9 players. We needed another dps, so we stopped by Dalaran, pinged trade chat, and picked up a warrior. How was I to know that the pug we just picked up would end up not only joining our guild, but so would his wife. They would become friends. Fortunately they didn’t live that far away, so we even got to hang out in real life.

Then life happened. Sega closed our studio. People went to new jobs, with weird crunch schedules. Things… drifted away. But from that point on, meeting Misstorgo, raiding ICC, downing the Lich King, and working at Sega on Iron Man 2, all of these things were intertwined in my brain.

The real oddity is… this has happened before. Black Temple and Hyjal are intertwined with working at Mind Control. Kara was when I was at TG. Since then, raiding Cataclysm was a period when I was at TfB, but not raiding with co-workers.

It is odd to realize I am in the midst of creating another connection. My TfB raid team, finishing SoO, finishing Trap Team… it’s all interconnected now. My life is a series of events blended with in game events.

When I return to these raids or talk about them, I will have that moment of nostalgia. I will have that reminder of my life from that time. I wonder if other players have similar experiences, both in WoW and in other games.

The Moment of Longing

As always, WoWInsider has inspired me to write a blog post, discussing WoW and how entwined my life is with it.

Expansion launches are always a weird time for me. I am so incredibly excited for the new thing. I can’t wait to meet new NPCs, see new zones, conquer new raids… But… I will miss the old stuff. Even now, I go back to Dalaran, and I have this moment, right when I load in, where I feel that familiarity. The soft comfort of a place I know well and rarely see anymore.

It’s like going home.

I return to my parents town and home, and everything is hearthbreakingly familiar. So similar to how it used to be. The pond is covered in green algae. The roads are as twisty as they have always been. The cows still munch at the edge of the road, balefully watching cars, trucks, and the occasional tractor drive by. That one guy still washes his old red truck every day and waves at cars as they drive down the road.

Everything seems the same. But as I look closer, there are small differences. The Walmart has been rearranged. There is a new restaurant in the old Shoneys. A new fast food place opened up on the edge of town (but it’s not very good my mother tells me). That one friend now has 4 kids instead of 3. So and so married so and so. Those people got divorced (are we at all surprised?) But even with the changes… it’s still that same place.

The feeling that always strikes me though… I don’t fit. I don’t belong here anymore. I haven’t lived there in 10 years. I thought at first it was the time I had been gone, but even spending a more extended time there, I realized… I was different. I had changed in my time away. I grew as a person, I gained awareness of others, I learned about the world at large, far beyond the microcosm of my home town.

In a way, I feel this same emotion every time I return to old expansions. These cities, zones, quests, and raids were once my home. But I have grown up. I have changed and seen bigger bosses, and bigger trials. I have explored more interesting zones. My old haunts, while still beautiful and wonderful in many ways… they are a place a visit. I don’t live here anymore. This is not my home.

I move forward to something new and exciting, and yet… I will do many of the same things. I will make new friends, and old ones will drift away. A new expansion is still just that, an expansion of the journey we have been on. The adage says – the more things change the more they stay the same.

Oh Pandaria – I loved you. Thank you for being my home for two years. A source of joy and comfort, a balm for my sadness and heartbreak. I will move forward, but you will stay behind. I will return on occasion – to visit, finish achievements, perhaps even to farm up a piece of gear… but it won’t be the same. I have outgrown you, and while that is sad, it is for the best. Let us enjoy this one last hurrah and see Garrosh fall a few more times. (Also give me an heirloom.)

Flying, Riding, and Exploring

It was announced that Warlords of Draenor would not include flight at “the beginning”. Players complained, as always, and discussions were had. Several things came up I wanted to think/write about.

In previous expansions, players had to get to level cap first, then they could purchase the ability to fly. This usually came a high-ish price. This is good design, in my opinion, for many reasons.

1. It forces the player to ride through the world for an extended period. It has been proven that people who fly from one place to another don’t feel the “distance” the way someone who drives does. By forcing players to level until they can get off the ground, they generally feel the vastness of the expansion world.

2. It allows for funneling the players to locations. Level design is all about how to get the player to stay within the game area and how to get where we want them to go. Keeping them grounded allows for this. It makes it so the designer can be reasonably certain the player enters a zone from a specific point, and the gameplay can be tailored to match the leveling player.

3. It’s a gold sink. If it’s something WoW needs, it’s more gold sinks. Anything that takes gold out of the economy is good.

4. They see the monsters, NPCs, hidden things much better from the ground. It goes back to exploring, but it makes it worth it to spend dev time on doing silly things like the hidden treasures of Pandaria.

Now, having said that… I am strongly opposed to the idea of waiting for flight until AFTER the first content patch of WoD. As any long time WoW player will say, the game is very different when leveling versus when at level cap.

So why is it a bad idea to be level cap and not have flying?

1. Playing with Purpose.

It’s pointless-ish for level capped characters to kill monsters. We get no exp, the gold and drops aren’t worth it, since we get more in dungeons, and generally, we are never in danger – so it’s really just a slog that takes up time. Level capped players who are doing dailies just want to get their stuff done and move on to more important things, like dungeon runs. So I timed it. It takes me about 20 minutes to fly over, do the Shado-Pan dailies, and get back to the flight path. If I only play WoW an hour a day, that’s a 1/3rd of my play time burned doing what is effectively a chore. To test, I decided to do it on mount/foot. It took me 48 minutes. MORE THAN TWICE the time. A majority of the extra time was spent riding over and back, and dealing with extra mobs in the way, since the bug island is DENSE with monsters.

2. Designed for Reality not for Flow

Stormwind is a very interesting city. So is Ironforge. Both of them are sprawling and believable cities. They have houses, shops, districts, and dozens of landmarks. But in the terms of playing a game, these are terrible areas. Logically, in a game, there would be none of the wasted space. The Auction House, Inn, Vendors, and Flight Point would all be gathered together right inside the door. Now that’s not to say they should change these cities, but rather that they need to “lessen” the impact on the players. The ability to fly over the buildings and canals in Stormwind helps ease the players passage while allowing the city to look realistic.

3. Travel Time is Wasted Time.

You know that one person, who is always late? They are constantly running behind, to the point you tell them to be somewhere 30 minutes early so they will be even remotely close to on time? Now imagine you are waiting on someone to run dailies… Or a dungeon… or a raid… WoW is a game best played with friends, but always having to wait on someone is just as frustrating as it is in real life. We have things to do! And waiting about, or just riding through the world is not those things.

Why do flight paths not fill this need? Well for one, there are never enough of them. Two, they take some of the most meandering paths. Three, it’s dead time. You can’t DO anything while flying. I am not here to watch a bird fly, I am here to do interesting things. Also, everyone has had the experience of accidentally clicking the wrong destination and having to wait even LONGER to get where you wanted to go. On my own mount, if I see an herb, rare, or battle pet along the way, I can stop and engage.

Not having flight wouldn’t bother me as much if I knew that it was going to be reasonably easy to get where I wanted to go. But spend some time in Pandaria and realize how unlikely that is. The flight path from the Shrine to Half Hill takes twice the amount of time as just flying over the mountains.

At 90 (and 100 in WoD) the player isn’t playing to explore anymore. They don’t need to kill monsters for exp. They are trying to get the things they need to raid or pvp. That does not include spending hours of time traveling about. Players will take the path of least resistance and it’s a designers job to make sure that path isn’t quitting playing. To give an example, I started playing Hearthstone one night while taking a flight path. I didn’t notice I had reached my destination until the game auto logged me out for being afk for 20 MINUTES. Having a long flight path and travel time meant I stepped away from the game, and potentially would not come back.

Time spent in the game is valuable. There is so much to do and so many goals, for players, time is at a premium. The designers need to take this into account when making decisions. Make a game, not a jogging simulator.

Gelatinous Cube Shots

In our weekly D&D group, we have a paladin dwarf. I granted him the ability to turn water into holy ale/beer as a silly ability that just adds to the flavor of the game. Very early in the game, he used this ability to turn a pool of water into holy ale and then the group dropped an evil skeleton into it. Of course, because I reward players doing wacky things, I let it do damage to the skeleton, who then rolled TWO consecutive 1s on the dice to climb out of the pool.

They still tell this story, almost a year later.

Now, due to work pressure, our group is filled with tired, overworked game devs who are literally giving up their only free time in a week to play D&D. So I have been far more lenient and letting them do all kinds of crazy and silly things with their characters and during battle.

This lead to a night fighting mobs of troglodytes and three gelatinous cubes.

After much battle, Davkul, the dwarven paladin is facing off against the Gelatinous Cube. A statement gets made that they are “mostly” water right?

Can you guess what he did next?

So now, my group of fearless adventurers are standing about a gelatinous ale cube. Sid, the drow rogue, made a joke to the effect of “Gelatinous Cube Shots!” and of course, this meant Davkul wanted to DRINK it. I had him make an endurance check – and he nailed it. It was over 35. Fine. Okay. You guys just DRANK a gelatinous cube. EW.

This lead me to Google and checking to see how one would go about making Gelatinous Cube shots. My search returned nothing. Surely not. SURELY someone has had this idea right?

Well here’s how to make Gelatinous Cube Shots for your Dungeons and Dragons drinking nights!

Ingredients:

2 Boxes of Jello mix – whatever flavor.

1 cup Vodka.

1.5 Cups Boiling Water.

1 Cap of Wilton’s Skeleton Bones Sprinkles.

 

I picked Lime and Berry Jello, so it would be blue and green cubes. I also made the Lime with Vodka and the Berry with Rum.

Put the two boxes of jello into a bowl. Boil the 1.5 cups of water. Add the boiling water to the jello and stir for 2-3 minutes. Once it’s good and mixed, add the room temp1 cup alcohol. Stir some more. Pour into a small glass pan, and refrigerate over night. When ready to cut, set the glass pan in warm water for about 5-10 minutes, until it starts to separate from the glass pan, then cut the cubes and remove.

Now – about those sprinkle bones. I got them because it’s just not really a gelatinous cube without some adventurer bits in it. I added mine about 30 minutes after putting the jello in the fridge, which was clearly too soon, as they all sank to the bottom. I imagine about an hour would be right, though it might mean having to poke the bones down a bit. Also, it’s possible to make two batches and let the first batch set, then pour the bones in, then add another layer with the second batch – but that would mean doubling the recipe and a much bigger pan. The sprinkles didn’t melt when added to the jello, but when we cut the cubes, they did start to disintegrate and ooze. Honestly, it made it better.

DSC_0002 DSC_0003 DSC_0004 DSC_0006photo 1 photo 21619115_10152098175185876_3484592911143001907_nThe sprinkles and rum!

 

 

 

 

The Jello!

 

 

 

First set, blue!

 

 

 

 

Second set, Green!

 

 

 

 

Two trays of green and blue shots!

 

 

 

 

See the bones!

 

 

 

 

Up close cube!

 

 

 

 

 

I should also warn you, these pack a bit of a punch and are deceptively tasty. Nom with care.

WoD Beta Impressions

I am fortunate in that I got to play the WoD build at BlizzCon last year, and then got into what appears to be the first wave for the WoD beta.

First things first – When I saw WoD back in November, I remember thinking it wasn’t nearly as far along as MoP was at the same time. (I also got to play MoP at BlizzCon when it was announced.)

It was clearly unfinished, textures missing, no world critters, very little set dressing. Only two zones, both of which felt very empty.

The beta isn’t much better. They re-wired the way the area starts. There is a strange event at the Dark Portal, then an event in the Tanaan Jungle, then it’s off to Shadowmoon Valley. But oddly, instead of going to Karabor immediately, as we did at BlizzCon, it was a crash landing on the coast. We started by building our Garrison Outpost and questing into Draenai territory. Why are the Draenai okay with us hacking down their trees and building an outpost? We’re just as bad as the Horde in Ashenvale here.

The beta is buggy, unstable, and there is a ton of missing stuff. (Enchanting mats, trainers, etc.)

Here is my bullet list of issues though – not QA issues, but player issues:

  • The animation on the follower when dragging them from the follower pane to the mission pane in the garrison needs to be LITERALLY anything else. The strangle animation is NOT the one to use here. I picked up the night elf and she was literally struggling for her LIFE. No no no.
  • Why change the order that things are added to bags? Why not allow up to decide which direction it goes in? We have been playing one way for 10 years – you can’t just change it now.
  • So objectives are just like…. quests without the quest text?
  • The way things complete is wildly inconsistent. Some mobs are multi-tap, some aren’t, some items are player specific, some aren’t… Seriously guys, we have solved this problem. PICK a solution.
  • Reminder – Escort Quests are the WOOOOOORST.

Now about Garrisons…

I haven’t played Wildstar, but I see the pictures. These Garrisons are not comparable. Blizzard is strangling player choice in the name of their desire for telling their own story. The Garrison was supposed to be optional – now it’s a part of the storyline as it progresses through Draenor. The Garrisons are a pale shadow imitation of the player housing in other games. And the way it looks/feels in the Beta does NOT comfort me that it will get any better.

If Blizzard does this – releases Garrisons as their answer to Wildstar – I am afraid Wildstar is going to win the argument. And unfortunately, that will be the beginning of the end. You can’t be the 600lb gorilla in the room, if everyone else has corgis and kittens and you keep insisting they play with your gorilla.

Players in MMOs want choice. We want to make our characters look the way we want to look, dress the way we would dress, live in places we would live. Every choice you let the player make is validating them and allowing them to be a part of the story and game. Every choice you take away because you think it should be about you not the player is a stepping away point. And so many players are stepping away. The thing that made WoW the 600lb gorilla is the people playing who convinced their friends to play, drive them away – and you lose those pounds.

Screen Time

“So Joyia, how are you planning on limiting your kid’s video game time? How are you going to keep him from playing your M rated games?”

This was a question asked of me by a World of Warcraft guild mate.

He didn’t like my answer – “I’m not.”

When I was a kid, my mom never limited my game time. We had a computer and an NES. Both were in the living room. Game time was limited only by one factor – is someone else using it already. Actually no, two factors, that one, and “Is your homework done?” My mother took a firm stance on kids should be allowed to spend their time how they want to. She had her own hobbies (including playing games). She didn’t have time to police ours and see if they were “worthwhile”. Once I had finished my chores (which were criminally few now that I think about it) and homework, I could do whatever I wanted. Sometimes that was games. But just as often it was reading, or writing, or talking to friends on the phone.

At the very least, at least she always knew where we were right?

Yes, people can get really sucked into video games, but they can also be just as obsessed over many other things. I read dozens of books every year. I spent at least a 1/4th of my childhood with a nose in a book. I was the only kid in my class in elementary school who wasn’t allowed to have books at her desk. Not even text books. I would read them instead of listen. (Though, really, wasn’t that the POINT?)

Further, I remember a girl in my elementary school who took a flute out to recess every day. The teachers tried and tried to get her into playing with the other kids, and she refused. All she wanted to do was play the flute. They let her because she said she wanted to be a flutist one day. They wouldn’t let me read, which was exceptionally annoying, despite the fact I said I wanted to be a writer. Fifth grade and we were already being judged by our activities. Here’s the thing though. That girl? Full ride to college on a band scholarship. Later she ended up joining some ridiculously hard to get into symphony in New York. At 11, she knew what she wanted to do and she didn’t let anything get in her way, not even well meaning teachers or parents.

I didn’t want to be a game designer when I was 11. I knew I liked games. I knew I liked books. I knew I liked making up stories with my friends. I knew I liked making up games to play with my friends. I wanted to make Calvinball. But no one, in all those years, ever told me making games for a living was a thing I could do. So yeah, at the time the hours and hours I sunk into playing video games was a “waste”.

What about now?

So we’re working on SSA, and we’re discussing what happens when one player does something like steal all the treasure in an area. They start discussing various solutions we could do as designers to fix this. I immediately piped up with “But we shouldn’t. That’s a real life problem to solve.” A few blank looks and I clarified – “If your brother steals all the loot, you punch him. That’s the POINT of playing games in local multiplayer. But more, we shouldn’t change it because it allows the players to game the system. You can power level characters if one can collect all the loot and exp. It also makes the game more of a mad dash.”

In the end, we sat down and played the game, local multiplayer, just like kids would. It was less than 3 minutes to the first “Hey! THAT WAS MINE!” and about 5 minutes to one player letting the other one die to get loot. Within 15 minutes, a huge crowd had gathered around the two players with much good natured jokes and laughter. We didn’t change the system. Let them fight over loot.

I am not sure I would have thought this way, if not for the experiences of playing all those games with my brother. All those local multiplayer games with my friends. I was also the kind of kid who would hook up two controllers to cheese the system and give myself help. I have two WoW accounts NOW just for that purpose. I always buy both versions of each Pokemon game, so I can trade between them.

Well, that explains the time limits… as long as homework is done, I don’t care. Maybe it will be his passion. Maybe it won’t. But there is no reason to enforce my hobbies and desires on him. He’s his own person, let him spend his time how he wants.

But what about M rated games?

Again, my mother never limited the books I could read. If we had it in the house, I could read it. I remember picking up a Stephen King book at 12. I tried to read it. Oh man was it DULL. I also remember watching R rated movies. In the living room. That was the thing about having the tv/console/computer in the living room. You couldn’t do anything without everyone seeing. It was amazingly good at limiting what I would try to watch or play. My mom would come in and say something like “Oh that’s gross, I don’t want to see that.” And switch it to something else. There was never a “You can’t play that.” It was always, “This isn’t appropriate for the family room.” Then a few times we had candid discussions about sex, drugs, and such, so that she knew I knew what was safe, what wasn’t, and how to deal with those situations. At no point was the line between reality and media blurred.

Talking to a kid and interacting with them on a constant basis really helps. So I hope when my kid gets old enough to play games, he plays them with me. Skylanders is a great family game. So is Minecraft. (As an aside, I do not look forward to telling him that Creepers – aka Booms – are not fluffy little friends like he thinks right now.) If he wants to play a game like Skyrim, I will let him, where I can see, in the living room. There will likely be discussions and conversations about the difference between reality and fantasy, but I have faith in his ability to learn. Also kids tend to be very self limiting on “adult” things.

In the end, I think my biggest issue with saying “I will limit your access and time to games.” is that not only was mine not limited as a kid, but how hypocritical would it be for me to say, “Sorry you can only play for an hour each day,” when I will be playing for at least 2-3? Yes, I will probably do the same thing as my mom and say, “I don’t want to see that on the living room tv, so different game.” but otherwise, I don’t really think I have a leg to stand on about playing too many games. Do what you want, as long as you are responsible and take care of your chores/work, then your free time is your own.

Understanding the Other Self

I remember the first time I showed my dad WoW. He didn’t really get it. I explained that the green named people were other players. I explained that the game couldn’t be paused. I explained how we moved through the world and did quests, killing monsters. He never seemed to quite understand. He kept asking me, but what was my character’s name? Was I saving the princess? His understanding of games was narrow, and I didn’t know the correct words at the time to explain the difference.

My son, by virtue of being a game developer’s kid, has been exposed to games from the very beginning. Before he was even a year old, he watched me play things like Skylanders on our living room TV. At around 11 months, he realized for the first time that putting something on the portal of power caused the TV to change. He did this for hours. Skylanders on and off, looking up at the TV to watch the change.

The next, the real magic happened. Tiny Pittman took the portal off the coffee table, set it on the floor, then carefully stepped up on it. He looked at the TV. Of course, nothing happened. Despite the fact that I call him a Skylander, he isn’t actually. He tried a few more times, even testing the portal with Skylanders, but he couldn’t get the TV to change when he stepped on the portal. He seemed disappointed. His understanding was that anything placed on the portal appeared on the screen. Our magic for Skylanders is limited, but it wasn’t in his head.

The next time he really began to interact with games was several months later, while he sat on my lap while I played WoW. I mounted up on a flying dragon and Tiny pointed at it, then loudly exclaimed “Birdy!” I laughed and replied, yes, that was Mommy’s birdy. I kept playing, and he reached out and pressed the space bar. My character reacted by jumping in the air. His response: “WHOA!” He began pressing the space bar repeatedly. Watching intently as my character jumped around Azeroth. Finally, I zoomed in on my character, and he said “Mommy!” Yes, my character is a red headed human, so it makes sense he would recognize her as me. I nodded, and agreed. Yes, that was Mommy.

What really got me was watching him completely understand and accept, not only that my online avatar was me, but that I was also in control of her. At 1 year, and 8 months, Tiny understood that the characters on the screen were merely extensions of the people behind the keyboard.

I look forward to seeing him grow and discover virtual worlds. I also wonder what kind of expectations this will create in him. What things will he understand that will be outside of my grasp? What will those virtual worlds look like when he gets there?