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Officers' Quarters: Won't someone think of the children?

Every Monday Scott Andrews contributes Officers' Quarters, a column about the ins and outs of guild leadership.

Warcraft players come from nearly every demographic on the planet, so it's virtually inevitable that you're going to run into people from the dreaded and often misunderstood 10-16 age bracket. In my two-plus years with the game, I've dealt with all kinds, from the polite and enthusiastic kids who are always eager to help someone out and gladly accept advice about their class, to the nightmarish brats who come online purely to spread their antisocial hatemongering and basically use the game's chat channels as their personal repository for four-letter words.

At WoW Insider, we've told you of our woes and even ranted a little bit. Now one reader wants to know how to handle the younger players in a guild:

How can you teach etiquette, chatting or otherwise, to younger audiences? Should they be punished or treated differently? How patient is patient enough before severe actions have to be taken?

Patrick (Kul Tiras)

I'll never forget my first run-in with a younger player. A week or two after the game launched, my first character was in his mid-20s, doing quests with some friends in Stonetalon Mountains. One of my friends invited a hunter whom he had been questing with earlier. We set out to take down the infamous gnome Gerenzo Wrenchwhistle in his well-guarded wooden structure high above Cragpool Lake. The hunter was on his way. Ten minutes later, he was still on his way. He wasn't far from us, but he wasn't making much progress. We asked him what he was doing, and he said he was skilling up swords. We asked him to take care of that later. He slowly made his way toward us. Finally, we started clearing goblins. He proceded to run up to every mob and melee it with his two swords. I inspected him and found that the swords were a pair of identical level 11 weapons. When I suggested he upgrade them, he said he liked them because they looked "kool." When I asked him where his pet was, he said he didn't have one because he couldn't find a "kool" one. He thought it was amusing to jump around constantly, which wasn't such a good idea in this particular location. Just as we engaged Gerenzo, he hopped over the railing and plummeted hundreds of feet into the lake below. We all had a good laugh about that one, and the hunter was good-natured enough to laugh about it too.

That player wasn't a bad kid -- he wasn't being malicious or trying to ruin other people's fun. He was just having fun the way he wanted to. We would run into him from time to time, and it was always interesting to see what he had equipped and how he was fighting. It made for some good stories. But would we ever want him in our guild? Not a chance.

The easiest way to deal with younger players, if you don't want to deal with them, is to avoid recruiting them at all. Ask for everyone's age when they apply and you'll know right away (assuming they tell the truth) if they are too young for your guild. My guild doesn't have a strict age policy. We'll consider younger players if they seem mature and know how to play. But in reality, anyone below 18 really has to impress us to be considered.

If, like my guild, yours has a number of parents, they might want to have their kids in the guild with them. I find it hard to outright say no to this request. Instead, I go over a few issues as part of the deal. First of all, in a guild of adults it's very difficult to keep the chat channels PG all the time -- not that I would want to if I could. So I always warn the parents that the discussions can become R-rated at the drop of a hat, and that they shouldn't bring their kids in if they are worried about the language. There are plenty of family-friendly guilds aren't there. Mine isn't one of them. If they've been in the guild long enough, they usually know all about that already, but it doesn't hurt to reinforce the point, since it might be something they hadn't considered.

As part of this issue, I tell them that even in our uncensored chat, certain topics like racism, homophobia, sexual assault, etc. are off-limits, and won't be tolerated. We don't have room in our guild rankings for a rank with no access to guild chat, so the only way to shut someone up if they repeatedly cross the line is to remove them from the guild.

In my opinion, it's not our job as officers to teach our members how to behave in a social setting. That's for the parents to do, whether they also play the game or not.

Third, I say that I expect the same level of common courtesy from our younger members as I do anyone else. For anyone with a position of authority, "special treatment" is really just another way to say you tolerate someone breaking the rules, and I don't. I'm always lenient the first time someone exercises poor judgment (unless they deliberately ninja-loot something), but repeat offenders are a different story.

And finally, I let the parent know that I will hold them responsible for any inappropriate actions taken by their children.

Of course, it's all well and good to talk about these things, but what happens when the kid acts out and a parent isn't around? Some parents can be stubbornly oblivious to certain aspects of their kids' personalities, so always take a screen shot to back up your claims. That way, when you confront the parent about the situation later, you have better proof than your word against theirs. During the incident, you have to decide whether to take immediate action or to contact the parent(s) through in-game mail or your guild's Web site. I find the latter strategy to be more effective in the long run (if the situation isn't ruining the guild environment). As a guild leader, the worst thing you can do to the kid is kick him out of the guild, but the parents can take away their Warcraft access entirely. Also, if you attempt to discipline the child verbally in-game, the parent(s) might have a problem later with what you said.

Sometimes, however, you have to ask the kid to tone it down. Take a screen shot of this conversation as well -- you never know when a kid is going to lie and tell mom or dad that you called them a naughty word. If worst comes to worst and they just aren't cooperating, you might have to remove them from the guild, either permanently or temporarily. If everyone in the guild is being disrupted by their behavior, your members will thank you for it. It's hard to say what situation might warrant taking this step. But trust me, when you reach that point, you'll know. In the meantime, if the kid has the potential for trouble, you can always insist that the parent always be online at the same time.

For kids without parents, it gets a lot tougher. There's no safety net, and they can bring a world of hurt on your guild's reputation without even leaving Orgrimmar. If you're considering recruiting a younger member, do some background research. Check the official forums to see if they've made any inflammatory posts. Talk to their former GL and ask how he or she behaved. Finally, run a dungeon or two together and see if the player is worth the risk. There are a number of bright, polite kids that can be valuable guild members. But there are plenty who aren't as well. So be cautious and know what you're getting into.

Having younger members can be a big hassle, so make sure you're prepared for it. Just remember: Someday you might have your own children who want to hang out in Azeroth with you, so treat all players with courtesy, no matter their age!

Send Scott your guild-related questions, conundrums, ideas, and suggestions at scott.andrews@weblogsinc.com. You may find your question the subject of next week's Officers' Quarters!

Filed under: Officers' Quarters (Guild Leadership)

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