Do you understand the language of the game? How do you know what is happening in the game?

My children, just being children, naively introduced me to a game on the iPad. It was free to download and my oldest was playing with the youngest. They were having fun and I enquired what was going on. “Maman, look, it is so cute, you can grow monsters.” It was indeed cute and funny, and we all got hooked on the game. We all grew habitats, collected gold and grew tomatoes. All together, for a while.

You probably think I am going mad at this point!

I think it happened over a holiday period, so we went all back to more typical routines, the game phased out for them, but I continued to play. I felt it helped me switch off from the outside world and anything going on, some time away from the reality, a bit of an escape.

I got to know the game well and learnt the language of the game. I joined groups on social media trying to find out tactics and strategies. I read lots of posts: some positives and controversial. There was mention of players needing to pay gems during races to get in teams when I had always refused to pay money in the game. There were complaints from parents who were saying their child was kicked out before end of race so they could not get rewards, but they had contributed and done everything they could to stay in the team. I also looked into the global chats in the game. Some language use was pretty atrocious, with some evidence of racism, homophobia and sexism and many players asking people in charge of the game to do something about this and take actions. I was there to play the game so I did not bother too much about that, but I was glad that I had an insight into the game as a parent.

Being part of an active team helps you through the game

Races were tougher because I was not part of a great team. I then encouraged my husband to join to help with team races. We were able to share something and discuss tactics to develop the game. We were still not evolving and there was not much spirit so it made it difficult to qualify for races and more interesting rewards. He left the team and found another much more active and fun team. His game evolved and mine stayed behind. I became frustrated about his evolution in the game and rewards so I convinced him to get me in his team.  As a co-leader, he was allowed to invite me in. Yes, better leadership, more camaraderie, more play, more rewards. It was promising and running smoothly. The game was evolving nicely.

The team was great but some players were still not putting their effort in. As a team game, where all need to contribute to earn rewards, it became frustrating again. The leader started to become more absent. Co-leaders tried to recruit as much as they can at the end of each race and wars to try to replace the ones who were not contributing. I asked one of the co-leaders if my children could join the team. They all had an account. I explained this would allow team race to run more smoothly as we would be able to contribute more promptly.

Sharing the game with the children

Although I had some concerns about some conversations in the global chats, the team chat was always positive and amicable. I did not have concerns there. I was also there to support their game and chat when needed.

Children started to play again. There was a great sense of effervescence in the house. We were all talking about the game. Children got excited they could get great rewards. We started to all play as a team, discuss strategies, help one and another out. It was great to see them all enjoy gaming together. When they game, they often play separate games which is not ideal for socialisation and sharing experiences so I was really pleased about this. One of them started to write messages in the chat room, I was able to keep an eye on context and responses, so it was all going well. I was able to coach them into what they should say or not. Doing this together was brilliant! We were able to talk the ‘same language’, share something, show each other progress in the game and help each other out. They taught me a few things or two, like abbreviations in chat room, which I had no clue about! It felt as it brought us together. We were talking the same language, sharing time playing together.

Creating some team rules for fair gaming

The more active players decided it would be a good idea to create a set of rules so that players coming in the team know what we do. The team did not want to associate with players and teams requiring paying for gems, but we also wanted players to know they must contribute to wars and races, and long-term no participation has consequences on all players. Basically, some players were not participating and waiting for rewards to be collected, which is not fair on players overall. The leader had been very absent and his participation was questioned. Active players then took actions to plan next steps. It felt it was unfair on all players for leader to not be present and contributing. Options were discussed like co-leadership, but as the team was his, it was difficult to decide anything else. Amongst all of this, there was a discussion about compulsory participation to a gaming app so that all players would know strategic actions. I then stepped in and I explained that as we have children in the team, I did not feel this should be a rule. It seemed too complicated and unpractical for children to part of another chat room. I was cautious, I did not like the fact it was away from the game, it appeared more intrusive. However, all conversations in that app had been fine so far…

Pressure on others can go too far

Discussions with the leader evolved further. Many active players decided it was enough. The leader did not seem to understand the point. Angrily, he eventually decided to step down to be a co-lead, which meant the leadership was handed over to another player (all players can be kicked out, but the leader). By stepping down the leader was promised amenity and protection from being kicked out of the team. The ex-leader then decided he wanted his team back and started harassing people. There was an argument with another player. The ex-leader now co-leader kicked out the other player and this created even more fury because the player was losing all rewards from war. The ex-leader started to be abusive to other players and sending private messages. There were arguments with lots of abusive language. The next day, a message was received from someone we did not know asking whether he could have his friend’s team back. He explained that his friend (the ex-leader) had committed suicide the night before and he had said he was upset about losing his team before the incident…

It was all a hoax! The ex-leader was tracked down having been active on social media, and was found to have created another team. It shows to what extent people are prepared to go to pressurise others in such a negative way. Thankfully, my children were not part of these messages. I had protected them by saying “no” to the other chat app.

Do you play with your children? Do you know what games they play? Do you understand the language of the game? Do you keep an eye on how safe the game is?

I am writing all of this because I would like to raise awareness amongst parents. With an insight now into gaming, I find it fascinating the social pressure, language use and gaming behaviours. I am also cautious that children need to be protected from some of this material and conversations as it could cause emotional reactions. Unless you were fully involved in the game, you would not know to what extent it is a safe online environment.

Let’s face it, online gaming will not go away, technology is here to stay, so let’s learn and play…with our children…and teach them skills to deal with these situations.

Let’s embrace playing together and sharing what is happening online. With boundaries, coaching and a safe online environment, it can be fun to share online experiences!

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