(STAR) Online gaming ranks as one of the most accessible forms of electronic entertainment and as a result, Web users are visiting gaming websites more frequently.

According to a recent Comscore World Metrix study on websites offering online or downloadable games, 25 percent of Web users are visiting gaming sites and nearly 217 million unique visitors visit them on a regular basis. A typical online gamer goes to a gaming site nine times in one month, the report said.

Kids and young adults are the biggest markets for online games.

In the Philippines, with the proliferation of Internet cafés and network gaming centers, coupled with cheap Internet access, online games, especially massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) like RAN Online, Audition Dance Battle, O2Jam, Ragnarok Online and Flyff are hugely popular with kids. They are competing with TV, which for the past 50 years, has been the main choice of entertainment.

Online gaming takes on a new meaning

Yet online gaming is not a fad, nor is it a lifestyle — it is a way of life. Whole economies are being built around online games and they are getting bigger and better. The players themselves are cashing in on online games, using their skills and know-how to propel themselves further in the game, enhancing their online and offline status.

But as the popularity of online gaming grows, critics and alarmists are raising a ruckus on how easily players get obsessed over its persistent and immersive worlds.

Everquest and World of Warcraft, two very popular massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), became the targets as some players became too fixated over them and news of their irrational behavior were publicized and reported.

Here, Ragnarok Online was the first MMOG that became popular among Filipino gamers.

Today, RAN Online, a free-to-play MMORPG, ranks number one on the list of Filipino players.

In spite of the publicized reports, parents shouldn’t be too concerned. These instances are rare and the obsessive players are a very small minority compared to the millions of Filipino gamers who are managing their game habits appropriately.

Online game supporters believe that online gaming, managed properly, can benefit players, including kids. It teaches them to interact with other players, as well as builds their social, organizational and even economic skills. It promotes critical and strategic thinking as well.

Moderation is key and parents need only to temper their children’s online gaming routines. Here are examples on how some parents manage it.

Parents and kids in control

Eric Rodriguez, a US-based Filipino doctor, has a 13-year-old son who plays RAN Online and World of Warcraft.

“My son has been playing World of Warcraft since last year. Back home, he was playing RAN Online and he had a lot of friends playing it. I let him play it because it’s campus-based and he liked it very much,” he said.

Rodriguez said his son used to be shy but when one of his friends told him about RAN Online he began to get into the game. In months, he became more outgoing and started to play as the party leader.

“It wasn’t instantaneous. It took months, but letting him play that game was a good thing,” he said.

Rodriguez said he allows his son to play as long as he finishes his school assignments and projects and maintains his high grades. “And definitely no playing until midnight,” he added.

Manny de los Reyes, editor-in-chief of Speed Magazine, a monthly consumer electronics magazine, has three children who play video and online games. He lets them play as long as it does not adversely affect their studies, behavior and overall attitude and they don’t get addicted to it.

“My 13-year-old son plays RAN and Warcraft III DOTA every weekend and on holidays and vacations. My two daughters play PS2 games, mostly SIMS, Barbie and Disney games,” he said.

De los Reyes said his children can only play when they have done their homework and reviewed for any upcoming quiz. He added that his kids are prohibited from playing if their grades are low or if they have upcoming exams.

Tanya Obedoza, a data and research officer in a consultancy firm, has a seven-year-old daughter who plays Xbox games and flash games from Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Barbie websites. She said her daughter used to play an hour a day but now plays an hour for two weeks or even less.

“She only plays when we’re at home since we wouldn’t want to risk her mishandling the gadgets,” Obedoza said.

She allows her daughter to play video games, saying, “I want her to be familiar with technology. It makes her familiar with the PC which is undoubtedly a staple in the future. It improves hand/eye coordination, and helps her get acquainted with technology. It also presents a way of learning new things and skills.”

Jude Perez, an entrepreneur and Internet café owner, has two sons and their favorite online games are RAN Online and MU. They also play PlayStation games.

“I let them play Friday afternoons after class and on weekends only, except Sunday afternoons because it’s study time for them,” he said.

Perez believes that allowing kids to play video and online games instills the value of caring for something important to them. He said it also helps in molding proper attitudes, social skills and discipline.

De los Reyes echoed the same, saying games, especially the well-crafted ones (and those that aren’t too violent), can help expand a child’s curiosity and imagination, which he added should help their creativity as they grow up.

Balancing real life with virtual life

Rodriguez said that while he’s not obsessed with games, there were a number of times when he became so immersed playing games during weekends. “There was a time when my wife became a PC widow during weekends. I got so addicted playing Diablo II. But I cleaned up. I had to be a role model to my kid. And the fact that my wife threatened to blow up my PC convinced me utterly,” he quipped.

Obedoza, a player of Granado Espada (GE), an MMORPG developed by Ragnarok Online creator Hakkyu Kim, easily balances family with her gaming habits. She spends most of her free time with her daughter, while managing her socials either on weekdays (for important meetings) or on weekends.

In spite of her hectic lifestyle, Obedoza is as much as a GE fanatic like the rest of the gamers who remain captivated by GE’s unique features and rich historical backdrop. She said she still makes it a point to play the game as often as she can. She’s even planning to integrate GE into one of her hobbies, which is, costume playing or cosplay.

For Perez, he plays competitively and is considered to be one of the top ranking players of RAN Online. “It’s part of my life and I have to play it and continually increase my level to maintain my spot,” he said.

Be in the loop

Parents shouldn’t be too concerned about the lure of MMOGs. Like everything else, everything should be done in moderation and they need to make that clear to their kids.

“My daughter doesn’t play if I’m not at home, so I suppose this also helps. Of course, you need to impose rules to ensure that the video games that they play, time spent playing with video games, playing with other kids, reading, etc. are well-balanced along with the rest of the other aspects of life — family time, school, etc.,” Obedoza said.

For Perez, he plays online games with his children and tells them to be polite and courteous online. “I tell them to be generous with co-players and not to burn bridges with opposing players,” he said.

Rodriguez said, “I’m no psychologist but I think online games are just like video games. If your kids are playing the game too much, and they’re obsessing over it, you should look into it. The best way is to talk to them, make them aware that it is still just a game and like any game it has to end. Be firm about studying and gaming rules. Be involved in your child’s life. To me, it isn’t a lifestyle anymore, it’s a way of life and you need to live with it and make it work for you.”

Tips for parents and kids to play it safe

Educate yourself. Become familiar with game ratings. The ESRB (Entertainment System Review Board) rating in most PC games tells buyers if the game has violence or mature themes. Get games that are appropriate for your children.

Monitor. Watch how your children play and react to the game. Make sure you can easily monitor the PC that they are playing on.

Set rules. Before they play, tell your kids the rules when they go online. Set the play-time limit and tell them to play only with their off-line friends, and never chat with strangers. Tell them not to give any personal information, including their names, pictures and where they live. If they engage in chatting, convey to them it’s not safe to meet a stranger in person.

Check game chats and messages. Ask your children to inform you when they encounter a player who uses inappropriate language or bullies them. Then check out the offending players’ names and block their messages. Then report them to the game administrator through chat or e-mail.

Be involved. Play with your kids. It’s one of the ways to safeguard your kids in the online world.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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