When I was growing up I was part of school-sponsored sport teams, drama societies, and sci-fi clubs. What my friends and I enjoyed most, though, were the unofficial clubs we came up with on our own. While groups like Carnival Crustacea, The Diabetic Strike Force and Friends, and the Barracuda Party may have had a sillier tone than our school-sponsored clubs, we had loads of fun organizing these groups.

Online gaming can offer similar opportunities for kids to practice leadership and teamwork through forming in-game clubs—known to most gamers as “guilds.” Guilds are focused on group content in a single game or many. I’ve been in guilds where all members knew each other offline, either prior to or as a result of their in-game relationships, but most guilds are made up of a blend of real-life friends playing together with fellow players they met online.

Socializing Online

As with any online interaction, parents should talk with kids about their experiences with any guild they join or help form. This doesn’t need to be only a lecture about web safety and sharing personal information with strangers (though that should certainly be covered too). Guilds are a social space just like any team or group people may join in offline life. Parents converse with their kids about those social interests, and games should be no different.

Some guilds only play games together, but many guild members converse over voice-chat software such as Mumble, TeamSpeak, and Ventrilo. As they play, guild members chat—and they can end up talking about any subject under the sun. Talking about these online conversations with kids makes it possible for parents to provide the guidance kids need.

My guildmates and I usually just talk about the game we are playing, but everyday small talk comes up too. From guild mates I have received encouragement as I applied for a job, sympathy when my dog passed away, and advice on upgrading my computer. While these relationships have their differences from in-person friendships, social interactions with friends online are real too. I learn about new books and music  from gaming friends. Guild mates and I have worked on writing stories and creating game mods together. I have discussed everything from social issues to “Star Wars” movies with folks who started out as complete strangers, all because we shared an interest in games.

Gaming online can be a social event, and there’s no reason why a family can’t attend that event together. Guilds can be a great entry point to share the gaming hobby with family members or offline friends new to gaming. The groups can give new players a few extra tutors to learn games and help make gaming a social experience.

Online games are a great opportunity to make friends with similar interests.

Online games can be a place for real-life friends to get together.

While I lived in Houston, the city was hit by Hurricane Ike. My wife and I were among a very fortunate few who weathered the storm with no interruption to our electricity. A good friend of ours came over to our apartment to enjoy the necessary comforts of air conditioning in a Houston summer. We decided to invite our friend to play World of Warcraft (WoW) with us while we were stuck inside for a few days. Our friend had never really played a game like WoW before, but she soon became a fan. Not long afterward, our friend invited her mother, who lived in another state, to play with us as well. Soon after that we started playing with a co-worker of mine and her partner. My wife had a co-worker who teamed up with us too while his wife finished her residency. My brother’s brother-in-law eventually joined us. We soon had a circle of friends we knew offline who were playing together online. We still spent time together offline, of course, but gaming online was yet another space where we spent time together. We took on group challenges in-game, shared resources, traded with each other, and helped each other master the different facets of this online game. My wife and I joined other guilds together and met new people online as well. Some of the friends we met online we later met in person, and we still keep in touch with some of them.

Parents worried that gaming is an antisocial hobby should perhaps talk with their kids about gaming with their friends in person or online. It can be a far more positive social experience than someone unfamiliar with guilds might realize.

Families Gaming & Guilding Together

If you are already gaming with your kids, consider forming a guild with them. If your kids are playing online games, the older kids may already be into guilds of their own. Younger kids, however, might need some help getting started. Forming a guild is an excellent opportunity for parents to help their kids learn about organizing and pushing a group toward common goals. Family members and close friends are ideal guild mates for younger players. An in-person connection facilitates interactions and helps remind young players that other players are real people too. Parents involved with a child’s first guild experience can provide important guidance and can ensure that these kids are courteous online citizens from the beginning.

Older kids may not be interested in having their families involved in every facet of their online activity—in the same way that parents hanging out in their kids’ treehouse with their friends can get a little awkward. I have played in guilds with younger players. In fact the first guild my wife and I ever joined was led by kids in their teens. In that situation, however, the kid’s parents were also playing on the same server, albeit in a different guild. The simple proximity and awareness of the parents made a world of difference. These kids were typically mature and polite with other players. If they had difficulties with the game or with troublemakers online, they would ask their parents or older players for help.

In contrast, I have been a part of many guilds that refuse to accept younger players simply because these players have a reputation for creating problems. Young players can be notoriously inconsiderate and rude.

Parents involved with their kids’ online gaming activities are much better equipped to guide the kids and help them make the right choices online. It is hard to imagine young players earning a negative reputation with parental guidance or involvement. Parents becoming a part of their kids’ online life is an easy way to ensure children grow to be well adjusted socially both online and offline.

This article was written by

Jason grew up a PC gamer from the days games came on cassette tapes. He has worked as a writing teacher, and knows his continued interest in gaming creates a shared vocabulary with young people. Jason loves bringing new players into the gaming hobby. His preference is for multiplayer games–particularly ones where players can form their own communities to work together. You can catch him blathering on at length about various issues with geek culture at KitschKobold.blogspot.com.