I met Malinda at an educators’ conference several years ago and, over dinner, so enjoyed hearing the story you’re about to read. I later got to meet and dine with both Malinda and her son Dillon and wish you could enjoy that too. Recently I asked her if she’d be willing to tell of this experience in NetFamilyNews, because I wanted fellow parents to know that this kind of long-distance camaraderie is possible in case you want to take advantage of the possibilities in your own way, using games that are meaningful to your family.
First, Malinda offered a little context:
“Game play has always been important in our family. It is a tradition that was passed along to us as children. My husband’s grandmother was a competitive gin rummy and bridge player and his dad and my parents were competitive bridge players. Games are a part of family gatherings at holidays and birthdays to this day.
“While [her son] Dillon was growing up, we would spend endless hours playing board or card games together and – as console and PC games became more popular – we naturally started playing those as well. Hence, I’ve never questioned the natural gravitation my son had to online games such as [the massively multiplayer] World of Warcraft, but I didn’t personally get involved in them until he went away to college.
Why World of Warcraft
“Dillon moved about 1,200 miles away and while, at first, it didn’t seem like it was that big of deal – because I could call, text or email him whenever – it seemed over time our conversations were less meaningful and … we were starting to disconnect. I could tell it was bothering both of us. Occasionally, Dillon would ask me if I wanted to try WoW since he spent most of his free time there; perhaps he knew this would be a good place for us to just hang out and play together again.
“It wasn’t until his junior year while he was home at Christmas that I started playing. Dillon had already been involved in WoW for several years going back to high school. So it was no wonder when I logged on he had already achieved the highest level with the best gear and was a well-respected raid leader in his guild. [Editor's note: A guild is just what you might guess it to be: a group formed by players that, depending on who's involved, that can provide in-game support, resources, and know-how (details here).]
Son’s guild embraces Mom
“His guild was slightly amused by the fact that I was his ‘mom’ but took me in, and it seemed they would watch their language whenever I was logged in. When I was on, Dillon would help me with questing and getting gold or gear. But what became more important over time had to do with the dialogue that started to occur in our [in-game] chat. Between slaying monsters or giving tips on what would be better gear for me, he would mention something that may have happened in school that day or ask about how things were going at home. It was how we started reconnecting in a very natural, comfortable way. [See the screenshot Malinda sent of them together "getting ready to quest," mom on the left, clad in just a tad less gear ;-). "Not your typical family portrait," Malinda wrote.]
“To this day, we still play together when time permits, considering his work and having a family of his own now! As I look forward, I am intrigued to see how my grandson and I will engage in game play together someday. (He is just one year old, but we Skype and he finds that very fascinating.)”
“A particular memory stands out about our online time together; it was Dillon’s 21st birthday. Since he was away at college, he was too far away for a traditional celebration (birthdays are big deals in our family). It was my strong desire to somehow celebrate this major event in his life, so I concocted a plan with our guild in WoW. I logged in one night a few days before Dillon’s birthday and asked some guild members to help with a celebration. We planned to surprise Dillon with a party ‘in-world’ and sing happy birthday to him. His girlfriend (now his wife, who plays as well) was in on it and kept him unaware in RL ["real life"] while we [fellow guild members] figured out what to do.”
Here’s what Dillon’s fellow guild members decided: “Within WoW, we chose to gather at a certain time before a planned raid (an all-guild event that served as the cover) in the main Horde city of Orgimmar [Horde is one of the two political factions (the other being Alliance) in the game's world, Azeroth (more details here]. When Dillon logged in, we were all in Ventrilo together (an Internet-based voiceover tool for multiple users, like group chat). The guild leaders told everyone to go to Org and ‘meet up’ before the raid. Once we had everyone there (about 20 players all over the world!) Dillon showed up and the real event began. In Vent I said to him, ‘Heya, kiddo happy birthday … 3 … 2 … 1….’ what ensued was the most hilarious version of Happy Birthday ever heard. Off-key and out of sync, kids that he had never met in RL belted out a passionate rendition and at the same time shot off virtual fireworks in-game while Dillon’s WoW character danced around and did back flips. What can I say, it was a mother’s duty to make his birthday special and it was genuine, regardless of it happening in a virtual place.”
Past mentions of World of Warcraft and gaming in general in NetFamilyNews (going back a ways!):
* “A parent & educator on what gaming can teach”
* “Documentary on multiplayer online games”
* “Can this be played in school? Please?”
* “Today’s engine of innovation: Videogames, not military”
* “World of Warcraft: The guild effect for teachers”
* About multiplayer games in school
* About what I call the “guild effect” (beyond World or Warcraft) and its implications for safety and wellbeing, online and offline
* Homeschooling with World of Warcraft
Readers, this is Part 1 of a two-part series on families and video game play. Here’s Part 2: “Why kids love video games & what parents can do about it.”