You can be a great parent or a great gamer but you can’t be both.

Show me a the guy who has the best kept yard in the neighborhood and I’ll bet you’ll see a dad who is avoiding his family.  Why?  Because he can’t have the fancy criss-crossed mow patterns, the perfectly trimmed and pruned bushes and trees, the precisely measured weekly trimmed grass edging and those perfect little bowls around the sprinklers without spending a lot of time away his wife and kids, even though he’s just outside.  You know the type, they’re the ones you see outside manually watering their perfectly verdant yards each morning even though they appear to have a fully functional sprinkler system.  And they’re the guy you see each night, again, manually watering those “trouble areas” that look at least twice as lush and green as a mere mortal’s lawn.  Who knows why he’s avoiding his family, but I think all the signs are there, and who the hell wouldn’t take manual watering over feeding a fussy baby or diaper changing?  In the end the perfect yard guy is filling his time with yard work to limit his exposure to his family. 

So what do compulsive yard workers have to do with MMOs and the people who play them?  I think it simply comes down to this.  You can be a great parent, or you can be a great MMO gamer, but you can’t be both.  They are, in my opinion, mutually exclusive.  The reason?  It’s all about time and commitment.  By great MMO gamer I mean a hard core raider who is in a guild that is actively working through end-game content for a game like WOW.  This would in most cases include PVP achievers who are working towards a top level ranking in Battleground or Arena type PVP, not just putting in the 10 or so required matches per week to slowly grow their ranking.  I’m not referring to casual gamers who are just leveling up or playing through one or two instances a week.  I’m talking about the achiever types who are the greatest of gamers with the epic gear, mount, stories, etc.   

Back when we were all younger and single we could devote huge, contiguous amounts of time to playing games, talking about games and thinking about games.  That was great, it was wonderful and it was something that, to some extent, we have grow out of.  I don’t mean “no more gaming for you” in the Soup Nazi accent here, I just mean that balance must be struck.  And I think that when we undertake the daunting task of raising children the lion’s share had better go to the parenting side of things.  I think for most of us this forces a transition from a hard core or power gamer to a casual one.  To some though, this is a compromise that must be fought against with tooth and nail. 

I’m astounded by some of the statistics being revealed about MMO playing patterns.  From the Daedalus Project this matrix illustrates the amount of time average MMO players spend playing MMOs, compared to watching TV:


Average MMORPG and TV Hours Per Week

Male MMORPG Female MMORPG Male TV Female TV Male N Female N

11-17 25.49 24.13 6.97 5.67 91 12

18-22 23.46 22.14 6.87 6.79 342 38

23-28 19.65 20.17 7.53 7.64 439 90

29-35 19.03 21.21 7.97 6.78 396 102

> 35 19.25 25.46 8.9 8.09 306 135

They compared this to the national average for TV viewing, which is around 28 hours per week.  As you can see, gamers typically sacrifice their TV time to play games.  This lines up with my personal experience of watching a lot less TV than my non-gamer friends, so I’m inclined to buy in to this analysis.  It’s interesting that women over 35 tend to play as much as males in their teens and early 20s.  I would imagine that these two demographics have drastically different lifestyles and rolls to fulfill in society.   

For hard core gamers these averages indicate a lot of time dedicated to gaming, and I am sure that anyone who’s in a raiding guild is actually putting in significantly more time than this.  I know instances in WOW, for example, are supposed to run around three hours but there’s the time getting the raid together, the time lost when wipes occur or due to other delays.  I have experienced the entire process consuming around five hours at a time for an instance.  As the instances get harder the five hour average is even more likely due to strategic blunders with tougher encounters.  This accounts for a lot of time doing nothing but playing the game.  It’s not like TV where the content is broken up into 30 minute to one hour segments.  Typically, this is an all-out, solitary, all of your attention for the next several hours type commitment.  You can’t take a time-out in the middle to help little Timmy with his homework.  You’ve checked out, you’re gone, dead to the world, and lord help anyone who interrupts you! 

Considering that most serious raiding guilds shoot for a five night per week schedule for working through end-game content, you’re looking at no less than 25 hours of time, per week, dedicated to gaming.  This by no means takes into account all the other requisite activities such as funding armor repair bills, time at the auction house, guild activities, crafting, and similar repetitive tasks.  I believe if you factor that all in you end up with something closer to 7 to 8 hours per gaming day to support the raiding requirements.  If you consider that for most of us, an average day consists of 8 hours of work and 8 hours of sleep, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of free time anyway.  Factoring in the realities of commuting, eating, and working out, you’re left with even less.   

How then can any parent also be raiding, much less a member of a hard core raiding guild?  I have no idea.  I can’t imagine how you can do it unless you start sacrificing things like work, sleep, eating, exercise or family.  Maybe people leverage their weekend time to the fullest to work around this dilemma.  Even if you do still find the time to spend quality time with your children, what about quality time with your spouse?  You know, the reason you even have the children in the first place?  It would seem that the maintenance of a good relationship and a healthy sex life would require several hours per week as well.  Even for stay-at-home moms and dads, there are no shortage of chores and time sinks in the day that certainly equates to an 8 hour work day.  I still think I got the easy deal by being the one who goes to work each day compared to my wife who is a stay-at-home mom.  

So come on hard core raider parents, make that final sacrifice for your children and at least plant one foot squarely  back in reality.  You can still escape this wearisome world of ours and be a great warrior, super hero, or cute gnome with a waxed mustache and a penchant for blowing stuff up.  Just don’t spend quite so much time doing it, and with such lofty goals.  Your in-game characters will always be there for you in the current or future MMOs but your family may not.  Life is fleeting, love is fleeting.  Take some time and enjoy these things because they are real and tangible and are easily damaged or lost.  Strike a balance and for the love of god, don’t start doing more yard work!

14 Comments to You can be a great parent or a great gamer but you can’t be both.

  1. September 26, 2007 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Balance is def key. Its important that you don’t sacrafice the things you enjoy, but only so long as some sort of balance within your life is maintained.

  2. September 27, 2007 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    Over at CuppyTalk ( they have some great takes on this post. What’s really interesting is the conjecture that this is indicative of bad game design or at least a problem int he way MMOs work today. I totally agree and can’t believe I missed this HUGE point in writing the post. What the hell is wrong with people making games that have these kinds of time requirements for players to achieve the high end (defined by the game) of success?

  3. September 27, 2007 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I think you are right and that there is no way you can be a successful or healthy parent/husband/employee if you are avoiding the responsibility and instead spending the time playing online. In the context of “great gamer” being the person you describe in your second paragraph, those that choose that goal are setting themselves up for failure on one of the ends. Are there exceptions to this? Of course.

    When a child is younger, the time allotted to a parent for themselves is much greater than that when a child is say 12 or 15. As of right now I get 5 hours a night to game if I choose to start playing right when my son goes to bed and play until I have to sleep enough for work the next day. Some nights I take advantage of this, some nights I do not. Balance. Some nights I tell my wife that I probably will be on for the whole 5 hours, others we spend playing a board game together or doing bills. No doubt this will change when he gets into grade school and above, but I’ll take what I can for now and cross that bridge when I get there.

    Game with people who share your goals and also obligations or completely understand them and you could possibly be this ‘great’ gamer. As with most of you would agree though, I hope we can redefine the term ‘great gamer’ in the years to come.

  4. September 27, 2007 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    (if none of that makes sense, I blame the lack of coffee this morning. Grammar be hard)

  5. September 27, 2007 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Great article, Mark. Good fact finding, great analysis.

  6. September 27, 2007 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    As someone who has 3 school age children and has been involved with raiding, I can personally agree that any activity that you focus on after work or during your family time will affect and possibly harm your family.

    I think anyone who is willing to focus and learn a skill can be great at it. The difference is how quick you need to do it. Is one night a week raiding ok? or maybe 2? If I only golfed once a week would I ever make it to the PGA Tour? Doesn’t mean I’m not as good as them I just don’t have the time to commit to becoming someone of notice on their scoreboard. Raiding is extremely time intensive. If it only takes my guild 10 runs to learn how to beat a zone versus another that takes 20, who’s better? Most would say the people who took 10 tries but what if that was spread out over 10 weeks and the other group did 20 runs in 2 weeks. Sure they did it first but who was the better gamer?

    If progress is the only way to determine level of skill then those with the most time will always have the most skill. This will most likely exclude most parents.

    For a time in EQ2 I part of an all parents raiding group. only a few nights a week and very considerate of each others family needs. We still were able to accomplish and finish all the high end raiding zones in a very small amount of runs. They were extremely good gamers but we were definitely not the fastest. When most high end raiding guilds had zones on farm status, we were just getting there. Were we poorer gamers?

    Being a good gamer takes concentration and alertness. Children I think have some sort of radar that says ” oh dad must be at tough raid boss, lets go ask him for a pony now” Only way to avoid that is to lock the door. At least when your out golfing, you are gone from the house but when raiding your there and just have to put the kids on ignore for a few. That can be bad and hurtful to them.

    All in all I think being a great gamer can be done by anyone, but if its leader-board status you seek then your children and family will suffer for your fame.

  7. September 27, 2007 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Interesting article, but I find it rather heavy handed in its assessment.

    This sort of “You are the devil if you do X” kind of article doesn’t settle well with me (and no I’ve not been on raids in years so I’m not being defensive.) This kind of holier than thou rant could be applied to so many things. Take game developers for example, they work insane hours, often 6 or 7 days a week. Should we write an article saying:

    “You can be a great game developer or you can be a great parent…”
    “You can be a great lawyer or you …”
    “You can be a great social worker or …”
    “You can be a great President of the USA or …”

    I also find your definition of great somewhat odd. Raiders are great? Ok. Then does that mean everyone else sucks? I know it is semantics to a point, but still. It seems the wrong way to state this.

  8. September 27, 2007 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Brent, at the moment you say “be a great X” it all becomes subjective.

    Your getting people talking though about an issue that is effecting what I call the “powerpad generation” more and more everyday. So if that was the point of your writeup, it worked.

  9. twistah's Gravatar twistah
    September 28, 2007 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    28 hours of tv a week as an average ! Holy cow ! Well, guess they’re great tv-watchers then ;)

  10. September 28, 2007 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    Wow! Great comments on this. Yes, the point of the article was definitely to get people talking about the time parents are devoting to a form of entertainment that requires a sustained and significant investment to achieve success or ‘greatness’ for lack of a better term. I think Cuppy really found the bigger issue in the whole thing which, to paraphrase, is, ‘why are game companies making games that require this kind of time commitment?’ I mean, what casual guild will make it through WOW’s BC content before the new expansion is out? A huge percentage of gamers never see more than a small amount of WOW’s content because of the time sink requirements. I can’t speak to other current MMOs with serious raiding content but I’m betting they’re similar since WOW is just a refinement of the previous generation of MMOs. What the hell is up with that? Why target only the manic achiever types for the lion’s share of the content?

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that you can apply the article to any topic in order to prove that it’s irrelevant. I spent a good deal of verbiage carefully qualifying the title of the post to point squarely towards those who will settle for nothing less than elite in-game status. Those are the specific people I’m talking about, not people who work long, crazy hours. You can always argue that by working hard they’re trying to provide financial stability for their family which is also important. I think coming down on people who are putting more than 40 hours a week into a career would certainly be heavy handed and holier than thou. Gaming is optional though. It’s a choice and a trivial one at that. And no, I certainly don’t think raiders or hardcore PVP honor grinders are great. I just meant to say that by the in-game definition of success they are the ‘great’ ones. If only people were impressed by my hordes of discarded low level alts…

  11. September 28, 2007 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I get the gist of it, and I agree in principle. As Brent points out though the use of the word “Great” is largely semantics though he goes down a path that I don’t fell Marks post warranted.

    I think that as gamers we all know exactly what Mark means, at least those of us how are parents. To the rest of you … why the hell would you read a topic titled “You can be a great parent or a great gamer but you cant be both” for anyway? Just kidding expand your mind.

    Its the beginning about the lawn obsessed father that makes the point more than everything else that follows in my opinion, (my neighbor is one of those guys).

    Gaming like its another career simply isn’t an option for a parent, spouse, partner, not if you want to keep that “tag” anyway.

    It is all about balance, but it begs the question. Why are games designed in such a way that by default those that spend the most time in-game end up having the bestest, mostest, and sexiest stuff?

    The reason is of course because the target audience for most of these games simply isn’t a parent/spouse/partner.

    What Marks article is pointing out in a lateral sort of way to any developer that would listen is that there IS, in fact, a market for a well made game that doesn’t require catassing/poopsocking/givinguplifeforthegaming.


  12. September 28, 2007 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Catassing and poopsocking? I don’t even want to know…

  13. Pai's Gravatar Pai
    October 4, 2007 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    It is all about balance, but it begs the question. Why are games designed in such a way that by default those that spend the most time in-game end up having the bestest, mostest, and sexiest stuff?

    The reason is of course because the target audience for most of these games simply isn’t a parent/spouse/partner.

    The way around that, actually, is to make content that can be worked toward in pieces, that add up to a certain amount of ‘time played’ without requiring you put in that time all in one 5+ hour sitting. That kind of system would work just fine for parent/spouse/partners, because even though the reward will take the same amount of time, it’s manageable in smaller chunks of ‘real life’ time each day.

  1. By on October 4, 2007 at 12:50 pm
  2. By on January 7, 2008 at 11:12 pm

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