A few weeks ago, I posted about my friend and guildmate Necropoke who learned what it was like to play video games as a kid again. Coincidentally, around the same time, I stumbled upon a thread on the official forums from a younger member of the WoW community. (S)He was fed up with being treated like, well, a kid. I think the title of the thread was, “Why is Being Young Bad?” It concerned guild age requirements (e.g. 18-and-older or 21-and-older, etc) and the poster’s frustrations with “ageism.”
I found myself at quite the crossroads when I read the original post and some of the subsequent responses— the more sincere, non-trollish ones, anyway. Half of me wanted to tell the OP that, while the argument was valid, there are many many reasons why guilds, especially guilds that host raids or have a vast amount of resources, would prefer older members; it wasn’t just a number thing. The other half of me wanted to commiserate because I was once a young whelp on the frontiers of the Interwebs, and if it had not been for the older crowd accepting me into their ranks as the token “kid sister,” I was virtual fodder for chat trolls.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to do this chronologically (Nozdormu would be so proud of me). I’ll start at the beginning, when I was that young whelp on the chat room frontier with nothing but my wits.
Looking back at my younger self, I recognize all of the linguistic tools I subconciously employed as armor on the Internet: perfect spelling and grammar, knack for larger words, imitation of the dominant players on the field (AKA “The Regulars”). In real life, humans often make a statement when they enter a room by carrying themselves in a certain way. Some walk straight with long, fluid strides and head lifted; others may walk with short, clipped steps and hunched over. If there was a way to make “a statement” in text-based communications like a chat room, those linguistic tags definitely marked me as an erudite and mature individual. Most had pegged me at 24, if not older. None of them could have guessed me as being a mere 14 years of age.
The other side of that linguistic coin is hyperbolic language behavior: the overuse of swear words (especially the F-bomb), blindly picking out words from a thesaurus, etc. In other words, an individual is trying way too hard to show a certain quality, and is detrimental to their platform. Hyperbolic language often weakens a person’s position because it’s so unnatural and artificial; so much so that it actually gets annoying and gives away their true nature. People don’t like fake. They like fake even less when poured out in massive quantities. But, I digress…
Had my situation been translated to an MMO, I don’t think anyone would have thought twice about having me in their guild or even have me serve as an officer. I used to be part of this online RPG (a bit like an MUD) of sorts that was based on Stargate:SG-1 around the same time and was asked to carry out “official” tasks by the guild I’d joined. There was something involving war and enemies and something or other… The person running the website/MUD had promised battles with other guild groups; I was tasked by my “commander” to work with a team to gain intelligence on these groups. Of course, nothing came out of it since those battles were never instituted but, hey, I was filling out Excel spreadsheets and color-coding the information!
In short, I was a reliable, well-spoken teenager whose mental age and behaviors belied my chronological age. So, naturally, I sympathize with the other rare eggs out there who are stuck with stereotypes even though they’re nothing like their so-called peers.
Yet, as an older— dare I say, adult?— individual, who takes care of the majority of my guild’s recruitment, there are a lot of risks that come with those on the younger end of the age spectrum.
Let me say now that it isn’t the standard, “Oh, kids are nothing but troublemakers,” argument. I’ve seen trouble stirred up by young, old, and everything in between. They’ve all been dealt with the same way: a swift boot to the behind. And we tell them as much, too. It’s in our guild manifesto… Well, what we would like to have pass as a guild manifesto, anyway. “There’s no excuse for douchebaggery, assholianism, and plain belligerent idiocy.”
No, when it comes to the younger folks, we have two main concerns:
1.) Schedules and Time Management: If I were still in contact with my friends from the Stargate MUD or any of the old chat rooms I used to haunt, they could tell you that the #1 thing I’d frequently bring up was, “Well, my mom has X, Y, and Z planned so I might not make it…” or, “My mom needs me to do N chores so I can’t be online.” I wasn’t in charge of my schedule. The needs and wants of my mom and school and other projects and obligations came first. Similarly, I’d hope that any sane-brained teenager would find themselves in the same frustrating, but responsible boat. It’s a matter of respect and the ability to prioritize. The one or two younger folks our guild had the privilege of meeting and liking in the past often fell off the grid because of time. They either came online at odd times or just became inactive altogether.
2.) Language Filter: I’ve heard enough horror stories about someone’s parent commandeering their child’s WoW account and/or character to berate the guild, guild officers, guild master, server population, etc. about their use of language or choice in conversation topics. “You’re ruining my poor baby’s innocent, virgin eyes and ears, you monsters!!!” While I’m inclined to say that most kids have probably heard worse from their friends at school, I’m also responsible enough to own up to the fact that, as an adult, I shouldn’t be perpetuating that sort of behavior. I’m also responsible enough to put responsibility on the individual: If you participate word fencing, it’s your choice. That’s why I’ve come up with a disclaimer that warns about what might be tossed around in guild chat, raid chat, or Vent. And I point out that the child’s parent be aware of this as well. I have no doubt that my guildmates will automatically put a latch on their “dirty” words if my daughter ever plays on her own; it is a different matter, however, when it is a kid coming to us an individual. I’m no fan of tossing around curse words but I’m not about to make fifteen other people swear an oath of silence, either.
The theme, as you might fathom, is responsibility— for everyone. On the one hand, we adults have the responsibility of being stand-up citizens for the upcoming generation to emulate. On the other hand, we’re not some sort of free babysitting/tutoring/behavioral therapy service. We take people as they are and we, similarly, expect people to take us as we are, too. If there was anything I learned from my younger self, it probably wasn’t my sparkling wit or expansive vocabulary that made people think I was much older than I actually was. It was the fact that I owned everything I said and did. When I screwed up, I didn’t say, “I’m just a kid!” and attempt to pass off blame. No, I apologized and accepted the consequences.
My daughter is a budding geekette and, eventually, she’s going to journey into her own realms of adventure. If she meets an unsavory sort, I’d hope she’d have wits enough to get the hell out of Dodge or fend for herself, instead of having someone else “rescue” her. And if she gets someone mad at her, I’d hope she’d have wits enough to solve the problem herself. As a parent, I’ve slowly learned that there are situations that I must handle for my daughter, and situations where I must step back and be an adviser. There’s only so much hand-holding that can take place before it becomes detrimental to the development of an individual’s sense of responsibility.
And that goes for all parties.