Clash of Clans–The Social Internet on Training Wheels

In my last post, I talked about using online gaming to teach children online skills. Recently, we’ve been doing this through Clash of Clans.

Clash of Clans is a combination of a tower defence game and Farmville. Players harvest or pillage resources to build bases to defend against other players. Players can form clans, groups that share resources, chat, and fight as a team to win wars.  Each clan has leaders, co-leaders, and elders, with varying degrees of clan management capabilities.  As such, clan members’ online interactions can be regulated by the leaders and co-leaders of the clan. This dynamic makes clash of clans a great game for learning some of the lessons of online safety.

Our 3 magic rules

I started playing Clash of Clans soon after my son picked it up. He started a clan, and I was soon a co-leader.  Fairly early on, we put in place several simple rules for being in the clan.

  1. Only people we know can join the clan: This game is played by adults and children all over the world. By only allowing people we know, we end up with a safe environment that includes kids and parents who share the same ideals. I imagine as the kids get older, we will relax this requirement for other games. After all, on the Internet, they will encounter many strangers and need to learn how to interact with them. But today we have a few seven-year-olds in the clan, so it’s reasonable to restrict who we allow in.
  1. No inappropriate language: Because we have young clan members and because we want to be decent people, swearing and racist language is forbidden.
  1. No jerks: I stole this rule from someone who uses it when building real-life work teams. In general, we all want to work and play with people who aren’t jerks. Someone might be good at their job–or great at the game–but if they’re mean or obnoxious, they can still ruin the experience for the people around them. So, we disallow jerks. Defining “jerk” seems like an issue, but in real life, it really isn’t. This isn’t a court of law. I don’t think we’ve ever had a disagreement over whether someone’s being a jerk.

One of the nice, non-obvious effects of this sort of rule is that it encourages leaders to be kind. There have been times we’re I’ve been contemplating taking an action to strengthen the clan (i.e. make us better at the game), but then decided not to because it was a mean thing to do. I would be breaking the “no jerk rule”. In a game with a bunch of adults, maybe that doesn’t matter. When trying to teach kids that treating other people well is more important than winning at a game, I think that matters a lot.

I am The Law!

Every one of these rules have been violated more than once. Much of the time, I view this as a good thing, since it typically leads to a discussion about the rule and its consequences. The consequences vary, from a warning, to temporary booting from the clan, to a permanent banishment.

One of the rule violations I’ve found surprising is kids making racist comments. I think in every case, these comments haven’t originated from the kid, but rather from music, TV, or movies. Typically, the child doesn’t even realize that they are being racist. Thus, such comments provide an opportunity to for discussing racism.

A second interesting scenario (which has also happened more than once) has been someone lending their device and account to someone else, and having that individual grossly violate our language and jerk rules. Typically, the rule violation by the borrower is deliberate. They see trolling as fun, with no negative consequences to themselves.

However, in our clan, that isn’t the case, because we know everyone in the clan, and most of the trolls as well. The account owner is typically booted for several days and demoted, which causes them frustration and anger. This anger is usually directed at the troll, who sees that there is a negative real-world consequence to their trolling. What’s more, sometimes the troll’s parents find out about it, which leads to productive conversations there, as well. Consequently, the player learns about the risk of sharing accounts and the troll learns that being a troll can be a bad idea with actual real-world consequences.

The bottom line

The real-world consequences of online interactions are the key thing that I hope my children will learn from these “Internet with training wheels” social games. I want them to understand that, just because the interaction is online, doesn’t mean that they won’t hurt someone’s feelings if they say something mean. Things they do online can come back and bite them in the real world. If they learn these lessons at ten, I hope it will reduce the chance of them learning about the real-world consequences of things like sexting when they’re four years older and the training wheels come off.

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