I want to talk about my seven-year-old son today, because he’s started to form a rather interesting relationship with World of Warcraft.
As I might have mentioned before, I haven’t really been pushing video gaming on my kids, mostly to give them more time for physical play and development now before they get hooked on the digital stuff later. We’re not forbidding it or anything, it’s just not a daily fixture around here. But every so often my son begs me to let him “fly the owl,” and I give him some time to play my Druid in World of Warcraft.
First of all, if you’ve never had or worked with younger kids, let me tell you that it’s downright scary how fast they pick up things. The only instruction I gave to him was in how to move his character and the camera angle, along with a couple of helpful keyboard keys. Then I turned off the UI and let him explore the world.
He’s since figured out how to traverse most of Azeroth, thanks to the boats and flight. The Druid is great for exploring, with its insta-flight form and quick shape-shifting to a water form when submerged. And exploring really is all he does. Without a map, he’s memorized boat schedules, where the “volcano” (Blackrock Mountain) is, and how to get to his absolute favorite location, an ice floe in Northrend covered with penguins.
I caught him standing around this floe and asked him about it. He then launched into a long speech about how the penguins were his family and he was feeding them. I think he meant the visual effect that the resto Druid’s artifact weapon causes, with flowers and greenery springing up around the character. So with only his imagination to fill in the gaps, he stands there to feed his friends — and there’s such a deep satisfaction and joy at doing this that us grizzled veteran players could only dream of once again attaining.
It’s so exciting to him to explore this world. There’s no context to it, no lore, just whatever stories he and his sister make up as he flies around. Players who are toiling for levels and gear occasionally have this owl-bird fly over their heads, blissfully ignorant as to the “real” purpose of the game and content to do its own thing. I’m in no rush to teach him how to play it properly, so to speak.
He has figured out that there are dungeons. I found this out the other day when I came back to my computer and saw achievements popping up as he exited a dungeon. You see, I had given him ONE attack spell (Moonfire) just in case a critter was attacking him and he needed to finish it off to be able to fly again. Well, he took that one spell and went right into one of the Blackrock dungeons and cleared it. Probably helped that he was grossly overleveled, but I was still flabbergasted that he did it at all.
Doing so made his NIGHT, let me tell you. He wouldn’t stop babbling excitedly about doing it, telling me that he wanted to make me proud and get something helpful for my guy. Also, there was this gem: “I got an achievement! I got an achievement! …what’s that?”
I don’t know if there are lessons for us to learn from watching kids play MMOs, other than perhaps that it’s OK to play the game our own way outside of the prescribed paths that developers lay down. Silly, fluffy things that offer no progression or power can still be entertaining and fulfilling.