Thursday, March 31, 2011

What's Daddy without WoW?

My husband recently let his WoW membership expire. He did this once before after five straight years of playing, but one of his friends (IRL and on WoW) persuaded him to rejoin and try Cataclysm, the latest version. He did, and he enjoyed it for a while, but he chose not to continue because, to paraphrase his explanation, he's neither into the hard-core guild work like he was in the past, nor is he into the casual encounters that less intense players do. He wants to be able to do 10-man raids, but most of his former guild mates are in new guilds and already committed to 25-man missions, and picking up random people to do quests just isn't his thing anymore.

The interesting thing has been our children's reaction to their dad's decision. They've been very concerned. What will Dad play now? What will happen to Jhaerith? For them, part of Dad's identity or personality is interwoven with being a WoW player. My husband doesn't regret the time he spent on WoW, but he feels now is the time to move on. He had an artist do an illustration of his main character, so he has that as well as many fond memories and stories of the adventures he's had. When his friends visit, they often talk about different quests they undertook. His account hasn't been deleted, so he can always return to WoW if he chooses - I suspect my children hope he does, because for them, that's part of who Daddy is.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Welcome Back Webkinz

I mentioned in yesterday's post that my favourite game is/was a children's MMO - Webkinz. I had some free time and decided to go take a look at my school Webkinz account, to check and see that all the pets were at maximum health, happiness, and hunger-free status. I ended up playing for at least an hour redesigning rooms, playing games for Kinzcash and tidying up spaces. I enjoyed it so much that I went on the family Webkinz account afterward to see how things were going. It turns out that my daughter is too good of a gardener - our dock was so full of items that when we tried to open it, the computer nearly crashed! We had over 2500 items. I spent several hours selling all the farm fresh fruits and vegetables we had harvested to the Webkinz store.

And I loved it.

I didn't realize how much I missed playing the game and organizing things. I walked through all the themed rooms we had created to store some of our special loot (keeping items in a room means that the items don't clutter up your dock). I admired the "time room" all full of different clocks and timepieces, and the "room of baths" filled with whirlpools and different tubs for soaking. I created some new rooms, like a freezer room to keep all the extra and rare food items we've collected, and a second garage to hold all the amazing vehicles we've purchased. We are richer than rich in Webkinz World - my school account has $3000 while my home account has $125 000 + and it was so much fun to redecorate, sort, send items to friends (including a $1000 coin to my impoverished school account), and play games. I'm not sure why I stopped playing Webkinz. Did I think it was too babyish? Was I embarrassed at the time I spent? Did life just get in the way? I can't remember why but I have a feeling I'll be playing it a bit more regularly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Can you be in a gaming family and stink at playing?

During the March Break, I admit that I became a bit restless with all of the spare time and no big projects to tackle. (Yes, I realize I have to learn how to relax. I'm working on it.) In the past, I used to play Webkinz a lot. Yes, Webkinz - the children's MMO. That was just my speed. I'd take care of the virtual garden (something I'd never do in real life), redecorate my mansion-like house (I used to brag that my Webkinz house was larger and neater than my real one), play games and send notes to other friends that had Webkinz. We just have one family account, which we began in 2006 and is part of the reason why we have over 70 Webkinz registered to that account (because both the boy's toys and the girl's toys go to the same place). Slowly, my girl began to take over the Webkinz visits and I didn't want to step on her toes, so I stopped playing myself. I decided over March Break that it was time I put my money where my mouth was, so to speak (especially after creating this blog) and play myself.

I asked my daughter which MMO I should join, since she participates in several. She hummed and hawed about it and said "well, maybe you can try Free Realms. You might have trouble with all the controls you'll have to use if you're in combat, but you might like it." This was not a strong vote of confidence in my favor. I logged on, created my character (Diana Echomind) and went on.

I realized one thing right away. Even though I have watched my husband and my kids play these kind of games over and over, I stink at playing them myself. My character ran jerkily through the forest. I was able to complete one quest - one that I had seen my daughter do when she first joined. I was a pretty poor map-reader and wasn't a very effective reader of all the information on the screen. I stumbled and bumbled my way through it for a while and then logged out. It reminded me of the time I tried playing Runescape - I burnt the fish I caught (okay, that's a lot like real life!) and had no clue what I was doing, despite helpful tutorials. It also reminded me of when I played Second Life for a brief time - I was so jealous of all these people who could fly and morph their appearances at will while my poor Artemis staggered around like a little lost soul. It's not coming easily to me, not like it does for my kids, but I need to put in the time to learn the ropes. I need to be patient with myself, and crawl before I walk, then run. I need to avoid comparing myself to much more L33T players and getting depressed at what I can't do. This is the one place where I get multiple chances to succeed and no penalty if it takes me a while to do it. I'll let you know how it goes (and whether or not I end up playing with my school's Webkinz account and settling for the comfortable "what I already know" game).

Monday, March 28, 2011

The newest Pokemon Master!

Pokemon Black and White is still a bit hit in our house and regularly played. My son had a small set-back recently, because he put his DS right in a big puddle of water on the table and left it there, and the water soaked into the machine. We parents were alarmed at the potential damage, and disappointed with his carelessness. Thankfully, my husband consulted with another parent and we took out the cartridges and let it dry out naturally for a few days. He was unable to play it during that time but it seemed to do the trick - the grey shadows on the lower screen seemed to have disappeared entirely and it appears that it survived the abuse. My girl and boy identify strongly with the Pokemon characters they've created to play the game, and this is an illustration of the one my daughter plays, along with some of her favourite Pokemon in her collection.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fan of Fantage

My daughter and son play Fantage, a MMORPG. Using one of her favourite methods - the collage montage - my girl shares some of the many, many pets that you can obtain in the game. There are quite a few!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Give Love - Give Pictures

My son gives pictures as presents, and considering that just a few short years ago, you'd be lucky to get any writing or drawing out of him (signing thank you cards was an ordeal), it truly is a gift to us. I'm not sure if there are characters called Angry Moon and Angry Sun in the Kirby universe, but I wouldn't want to mess with either of them!

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Kirby games?

My husband read recently that Sonic the Hedgehog is celebrating his 20th birthday this year. The adults in the house are just shocked that twenty years means that he first came out in 1991 - how can that be twenty years? Another character that's been around for a while is Kirby. My boy, who is 8 years old, has been getting into "retro" Kirby games since he fell in love with Kirby's Epic Yarn and other, more modern, Kirby adventures. He didn't feel that there were enough Kirby games, so he created these fictional versions of Kirby games he'd like to see. Nintendo, feel free to borrow any of these ideas - especially if you can give us a free copy when you're done!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What if Mario owned a restaurant?

What if Mario and Luigi, from Super Mario Brothers, owned a restaurant? My girl and boy sat down one day and created the menu for Mario's Pizza Palace, a fictional restaurant. You can tell they've been to their share of family-friendly, themed restaurants, even down to the coloring pages provided to keep kids from getting bored while they wait for their meal. I hope you are able to read the menu (this was folded in book form and I scanned it by opening it up). I'd eat at this restaurant!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


My daughter's friend has this "thing" called Action Replay, which you can attach to your Nintendo DS and it enables the player to use "cheats" of various types on any game you play. If you have Action Replay, you are guaranteed to win any game you play because of the huge advantages it gives you.

I asked each of my kids what they felt about this and, if given the chance, would they obtain one of these gadgets.

Girl: "I wouldn't take it because I like just playing it without all the cheats. It's a better experience if you don't already know how to beat the game."

Boy: "I say no because if you already complete it, you don't need it. Would you want to cheat the game? You don't want to cheat the game, even if you complete it."

I'm relieved to hear this, because I think part of the game-playing experience is not winning right away. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again - right? Now, my own kids have become frustrated with getting stuck at certain parts of their game, but what they do is turn to YouTube to check out videos that give tips on how to overcome obstacles. There's no shame in that, especially since my husband did that very thing to figure out how to upload Victini as a gift Pokemon on their DSs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

LARPing and Writers Play too!

During March Break, my kids went for a play date with some dear friends. Thankfully their parents are also my friends, from back in university times, so it's good for everyone to visit. All our kids love playing video games together (Wii, DS, etc.) but today something pulled them away from their consoles - a LARP (live-action role playing) game for them I like to call "Kids vs Zombie".

I was the zombie and naturally, I was hungry for brains (and for eyes - if you ask the zombie, it takes like either grapes or bubble gum). The kids were around and I tried to eat their brains. Thankfully, they had an area of the living room which, for some unknown reason, the zombie could not penetrate. So, the three kids (my daughter and the eldest of the group had a nose bleed so she just watched) brainstormed how to deal with the dead menace lurking just outside their protective borders.

They attacked the zombie and barely got away with their eyeballs intact. They sent distractions out. They tried to offer the zombie money to stop his reign of terror. This didn't work, although it was thrilling to rescue a fallen comrade by kicking and punching the zombie and jumping on the zombie's back as it growled "must ... eat ... brains". Finally, they soothed the zombie with some music and then gave the zombie some eyeballs and brains as the zombie wanted (these were made out of paper) - but it turns out that the eyes and brains were bombs in disguise and it blew up the zombie.

This was a lot like the video games they play - multiple chances to solve the problem, exciting, action-packed, collaborative. "It's neat how they are all working together" commented my daughter as I was pummeled and then left alone as they strategized.

Playing like this is fun. I hope my kids remember with fondness the games we played together - just like I remember my mom taking out her dentures and hiding in one of the rooms leading from the hall as my siblings and I quietly crept down the path, scared silly but delighted too.

And if it so happens that their play brings them other benefits, like this writer mentions in his blog, super.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What do YOU want to play?

I think I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating, so no one thinks I favor one child over the other - my girl produces about 10X more art work or writing samples than my boy does. I try hard to share work from both children, but I have many more things to choose from when it comes to the girl. It has been just in the past two years or so that the boy has begun to create things using paper. He tends to enjoy making lists, or sign-up sheets, or cards. This was a list of the things that our boy was asking our girl to play. I should point out that we don't have many of these games. What the two of them do is pick a character from one of these games and act out scenarios. They go into his room and play pretend.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

WoW as seen by a 6 year old

My husband has been playing World of Warcraft since it first came out, about five years ago. (He'd know the precise date. I think he said it was a month after the initial release.) Our daughter was 6 at the time - she's now 11. She and her brother enjoyed watching their father play WoW and he created characters for them on the MMO. They'd tell him what to do and he'd do it for them. One of the girl's character was called Aylani and in this drawing our girl made ages and ages ago, Aylani is dealing with a Merlock. I found it as I was uploading pictures to this blog and even though it's older than the other ones I've been posting recently, I couldn't pass up the chance of sharing it, even just to compare how her art style has changed.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kirby Meets Star Wars

I've seen many a cross-over with Star Wars, but never a Kirby version. Here's our girl's interpretation.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Poptropica People

This is a drawing of our girl's character that she plays on the MMORPG Poptropica. I was tickled pink when I learned that the creator of Poptropica is the same person behind the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" phenomenon. Our boy plays it too, as well as many of the kids in my school. She mimics the illustration style of the game very well, in my opinion.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Secret Agent Penguin

Club Penguin had a version of the FBI, called the E.P.F. (Elite Penguin Force), not to be confused with the P.S.A. (the Penguin Secret Agency). The P.S.A. was one regular members could join by "being a narc" (to quote my husband). The E.P.F. was the super-secret group that you could only get into by having a special DS game. Our girl was part of the P.S.A. and our boy was part of the E.P.F. In an in-game event, Herbert the polar bear blew up the P.S.A. with a popcorn bomb. The P.S.A. did not re-group. Instead, the E.P.F. took the place of the P.S.A. and anyone could join. This picture is artwork celebrating an imagined member of the E.P.F., done by our girl.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Another Art Blitz - Be My Puffle Valentine

I was putting new pieces of art and writing into the kids' portfolios and thought I'd scan and share a few more samples. This one was created by the boy for his sister - it's the cover of his Valentine's Day card for her.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

P0wn3d by an 8 year old

"Mom, do you want to come play Super Smash Bros with me?"

My kids are on March Break, so naturally they are spending a lot of time doing things they enjoy. That includes a lot of video game playing. I like playing most video games with them. Super Smash Brothers Brawl is not one of my favourites. I stink at it. I. Stink. Badly. Yet, my son still invites me to play.

I asked him why he wants me to play this game with him and his reply is "because I love you". I suspect there are other reasons behind it. A colleague talked to me about honourable and non-honourable PVP play, and I think my boy demonstrates both when he faces me in Super Smash battle. The noble warrior in him is patient with my lack of abilities and likes to teach me how to play. ("Mom, remember to press 2 to grab something.") The gloating braggart in him just enjoys thrashing a lower-ranking opponent thoroughly. ("I'm not telling you how to use that. Ha ha - I kicked your butt.") I think he also genuinely enjoys spending time with me doing something that he loves and is good at doing. It certainly is a boost to his self-esteem when he wins a match - which is why sometimes, when he's having a rough day or feels "overly challenged" by one of his games, he will play Super Smash by himself but set the computer opponent's level to make it super-easy to defeat. My own patience wears thin after an hour of being pummeled with neither mercy nor any hope of improvement in my playing abilities - the boy is a master of "trash talk", for sure - but if he can tolerate doing things for me that he's not fond of (cleaning up comes to mind), then I can spend time doing the same for him.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gendered Gaming Approaches to Pokemon B&W

I'm neither a big fan of the word gender nor am I enamored with the politicized arguments that usually accompany the use of the word. However, the alliteration suit the title and this observation is a bit about the different ways my boy and my girl approach their playing of Pokemon Black and White.

My husband was much more eloquent in his part of our conversation on this topic. We've sat beside the kids while they've played Pokemon on the DS and we've noticed they tackle the game in very different ways.

Our boy is a strategist. He levels just the right amount of Pokemon types to just the right level to defeat the gym leaders as quickly and efficiently as possible. For him, it's about collecting the right kind of Pokemon to win.

Our girl is a story "immersionist". She reads out loud all of the cut scenes, chooses her Pokemon based on her affection for them and plays slowly through the various scenarios, stopping to "smell the roses" in the game.

We think that each player could benefit from mimicking some portions of the style of the other. Because the boy rushes through the dialogue and often doesn't read it, he misses some of the tips the NPC (non-player characters) offer. He would probably benefit from going a bit slower to pick up the clues hidden in the story arc of the game. Because the girl spends more time with the Pokemon she likes, her team is uneven and prone to losing when they face a Pokemon of a certain type. She would probably benefit from a bit of strategic playing, like leveling up different categories of Pokemon (i.e. ground type or fire type) so that when she faces an opponent who has a weakness against a certain category, she can offer the best fighter for the task.

However, just to mess up any easy "boy vs girl" analysis, both our son and daughter love doing the music videos featuring the different type of Pokemon, including the sounds they make. Together they'll sit, creating and comparing the video productions they assemble. Pokemon Black and White is a popular game with girls and boys, and especially with my two.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The "Main Gamer" of the Family

In this blog, I often talk about what my children are doing in terms of gaming.
Well, my husband, who is a writer and blogger, gave an interview found here about his blog, his role-playing game history, and playing other games with his family and friends.
He's been too busy to compose posts on here, so maybe this link will give a different perspective.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Final Chapter of Left For Dead 2 Kid Commentary

"Super Ultra Man" and "Silver Moon" made 4 consecutive tapings for Left For Dead 2. This is the final installment - I promise!

And just to reassure people ... my children don't watch any rated R movies (and I'd even be hard-pressed to name a PG-13 movie we all watched together as a group of four). We don't use profanity as part of our regular vocabulary. We've had "the talk" several times with both kids - and they alternate between thinking it's icky or funny. We talk about what they see on the screen and any topic is open for discussion. We aren't negligent parents who are unaware of our children's gaming habits and viewing practices. In fact, we find gaming unites us with common interests and fascinating topics of conversation. After all, I learned new definitions for "witches" and "jockeys" thanks to the other members of my household!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

More Left For Dead 2 from a fresh perspective

Now that I've solved my Blogger audio problems, here's part 2 of "Super Ultra Man" and "Silver Moon" 's commentary on their dad's game play.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gaming Commentators Make Their Internet Debut!

I hope I know enough about Blogger to make this work!

My kids like to watch gaming videos on YouTube. Often, as someone is playing a particular game, there will be commentary provided. This is such an enjoyable activity at my house that my kids have created fake YouTube commentary personalities for themselves. The boy is Super Ultra Man and the girl is Silver Moon.

The other day, their dad started to play Left For Dead 2 online with some friends. In the past, the kids have watched their father play this game. Before you become appalled and offended, let me explain - I know the material is "not suitable for children", but they watch it with the sound off and with their dad right next to them to answer their questions. They aren't the ones playing the game, but they are participating, in a way.

I asked them if they would like to do a commentary of their dad's game while he played and we could record it using Audacity. They agreed enthusiastically. The unfortunate thing about the taping was that we couldn't capture the usual dialogue that goes on between the kids and their dad. They ask lots of questions and he answers them.

Below is my attempt to upload part 1 of their 4-part commentary. If it works, I'll post the other 3 sections. They also plan on doing ones for their own games, but I'll provide video and audio for that. I couldn't do video for this one because I wanted to respect their privacy (especially in case some zealous person is horrified by the idea that an 11 year old and 8 year old are watching monsters get slaughtered in a game and tries to report me).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pokemon, A New Era

If my calendar is correct, Pokemon Black & White has just been released in North America. My family has been anticipating this event for a while. We pre-ordered the game (two copies: Black for the boy and White for the girl) and even before we could order the game, my husband has been watching the Japanese version of the cartoon (subtitled into English by Japanese fans) online with the kids. The neat thing is watching them absorb the Japanese aspects of the show. For instance, the kids know the Pokemon by their Japanese names, which are sometimes altered for the Western audience. They also have strong opinions about which names should be kept in the original Japanese and which names are acceptable translations / alterations. Both kids can sing the opening theme song - in Japanese. Most of the episodes end with Professor Oak giving a status report and adding his own, cringe-worthy haiku poetry; the girl always moans and the dad always cheers when the corny poems appear. The kids feel proud that they've had a "sneak peek" at a show that probably won't make it to Canadian/US airwaves for another year at least. The art reflects the characters they've met while watching the show with their dad.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pikmin 3 - Not a Nintendo Leak

This drawing was created by "the girl" with input from her brother. This is how they imagine Pikmin 3 might look. They also imagined what they would look like if they were fellow space travelers like Olimar. I think they did a pretty good job of "Pikminizing" themselves (or should I say "Olimarizing"?).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pikmin Yearbook?

Late one night our son created this drawing and solicited the rest of the family (as you can see from the instructions in the upper right hand corner) to write messages about Pikmin. The illustrations are all by the boy. The "communist comments" about Pikmin as unpaid workers are by me, because I always thought they did a lot of things for Olimar with no payback. The picture is currently hanging on the family fridge. No comments from the boy yet (or the girl) on mommy's opinions. In the past when I've mentioned how the Pikmin lug rocket parts around the planet for the astronaut with no reward, I was told by my son that Pikmin do it because they like Olimar, they are his friends and they like to help.

Other Parents Are Doing it too!

A friend of mine re-tweeted this blog post about a father and his young daughter together on Second Life - the MMORPG that has been much maligned in the mainstream media. I read it and really enjoyed his observations. I know I was trying to just do one post a day, but this one was worth interrupting the schedule.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Who and Where in Free Realms

This drawing summarizes the different characters you can play and the different places you can visit on Free Realms, a MMO that "the girl" enjoys playing right now. It's a free MMO but you can buy a membership that allows you to exceed the level 5 cap non-members face. She received a membership for her most recent birthday.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fantage Fashionistas

"The girl" created this and dictated the explanation to me:

"It is a picture of characters from Fantage. I have made outfits for them by combining different outfits, hairstyles, and surfboards/hoverboards. They also have pets. The rating is how good I think it looks - my favourite one is the one with five stars."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Upcoming Art Blitz Explained - Starting with Crown Kirby

I've got pretty creative kids. My daughter loves to draw and write and has done so on almost every and any imaginable topic since she was young. My son has just begun to draw and write for fun at home, mostly based on the games he plays. As you might imagine, we have binders of their "portfolios", and those are the ones saved after some pretty ruthless weeding by me. For the next few posts, you'll see some drawings from the most recent crop - I have not yet even begun to examine their portfolios for material. I'll try to explain what each item is, but I'll be brief.

The picture attached to this post is done by "the boy".
It is a visualization of a new power-up that he imagined for Kirby.
Kirby can get new powers by combining two already-existing powers.
This is what would happen if you combined all the ones that P lists.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Important Things To Know As a Gaming Parent - by Cracked

Do you remember Cracked Magazine? When I was a kid, it was kind of like Mad Magazine, making fun of any and everything. Now, it's an website with lots of articles and videos. Sometimes there are funny things. Sometimes there are lame things. It all depends.

While doing some pleasure reading on Cracked, I read this article I had read before on The 4 Most Important Things To Know As A Gaming Parent and despite the use of profanity (which you won't find on this blog), it actually makes some interesting and valid points. I think the biggest point was the final point: communicate. Gaming can provide shared experiences and lead-ins to some pretty big conversations (hearing a song on the radio once led us to a huge discussion on a specific aspect of religion; we would have never initiated a conversation with our kids on this topic on our own). The comment section of the article (if you can get passed all the silly and ridiculous ones) is also revealing.

(P.S. If there are any Brock University teacher-candidates reading this blog, then "hi" *waves* and you may also want to check out my professional blog for other non-game stuff.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How To Join A Guild

There are times I need a tape recorder, because my memory doesn't cut it.

Explanation of terms, in brief, for those who don't play: Free Realms = a massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), free but can also buy memberships. Guild = a group or team on an MMO that goes on quests together. WoW = World of Warcraft, the biggest MMO in the world, needs subscription.

Our entire family (father, mother, daughter, son) were all in the basement. Three of the four were on computers. Son and daughter were on Free Realms. Father was writing. Mother was watching (too tired because of sore throat). Son had to make a new Free Realms account because he lost his login information. Within two minutes of "joining" the game, he received two invites to join a guild.
Mom: Are you going to join them?
Son: I dunno (hovers over accept and decline)
Mom: Well, how do you decide which guild to join? M, did this happen to you when you first signed up? P just got two invites in less than two minutes.
Daughter: Well, the one I'm in now they asked me to join.
Mom: How'd you choose them?
Dad: I bet it was because of the name (of the guild).
Mary: They asked me and they seemed nice.
Mom: What about you J? How many guilds have you been in for WoW?
Dad: The first one I joined by accident. Something popped up on screen and I clicked it and I was a member of this guild. The second one I joined because I knew the people and they seemed nice, but then I found it wasn't going anywhere. The next one I joined matched what I wanted to do in the game and the people were nice, but (continues to explain)
Mom: Hey, are you guys hearing this? It's good stuff!
Dad: I was mostly just telling you, since you asked.

I just thought it was neat that the criteria adults and kids (at least in my house) used for joining a guild were so similar. At first it seems random (because I know daughter was in another guild before her current one), then based on how "nice" people are, and (if I can predict / project), then based on common goals or objectives in combination with compatible personalities. This is kind of like how students choose their work groups. I guess that means as a teacher, I need to be patient to see them learn how to judiciously choose partners and widen their criteria (or help them see that). Just because the study group is called "Justin Bieber forever" doesn't mean I should automatically join it. (Btw, happy birthday Justin, from a fellow Pisces!)