Photo Credit: Wizard 101
My 10-year-old sonlet’s call him “E”is addicted to what can best be described as a kids’ version of Second Life, a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) called Wizard 101. I knew nothing of the game except that it gobbles up hours of my son’s week, so I conducted an interview with him over pancakes one Saturday morning.
First a bit of a primer:
Wizard 101 has a free, online version and naturally a more extensive paid version. In the game, kids assume personalized wizard roles and travel across different environments. They use spell cards to win duels that bring them rewards and higher levels of access within the game. Wizards can see each others’ avatars and communicate with one another, but if your kid’s under 13, he will only be able to write and receive messages in “menu chat,” choosing from pre-set phrases.
As E and I talked, the sun beamed brightly through an open window as if to say, “Hey, shouldn’t you be playing outside?”
My son explained that he first saw Wizard 101 advertised on Nickelodeon. Now, eight months later, in addition to being a Harry Potter expert, fried-tofu lover, Charlie Bone book fan and Sponge Bob devotee, he’s also a “Level 37 storm wizard currently working in the world of Marleybone.”
My mind instantly flashed back to awkward high school days of imagined goblins and elves, hit points and multicolored dice. But that was before massively multiplayer online games. In Wizard 101, where everything is displayed before you, having an active imagination is like having a tail: pretty useless, especially if you’re sitting down.
“I’m on my way to defeating Meowiarty to get out of Marleybone,” E said. “At level 42, I get my last storm spell, Stormzilla. Then I’ll get the badge ‘Master of Storm.’ Right now, I’m at ‘Oni Slayer’ because I defeated the Jade Oni, a giant green elephant.”
(Note: Originally, E said he “killed” the Jade Oni, but then asked me to change it to “defeated.” He thought parents might not want their kids to play if they think they’ll be killing green elephants.)
To E, the best part of Wizard 101 is dueling. That, and updating his house with furniture. He proudly told me he turned his house into something similar to a bar. It’s decked out “with root beer mugs, a counter and a couple of stools I bought in Wizard City,” he said. (No wonder he loves Crate & Barrel so much.)
But what concerned me most as a parent was the part about chatting with real-life strangers. Sure enough, E has about 40 wizard friends he’s never met and knows nothing about.
And while my son only menu-chats with these people, he admits, “It could be a two-year-old from Antarctica for all I know.” Or it could be a 45-year-old creep from Tallahasseeyou just don’t know.
My son, who created his own avatar, said the community elements don’t interest him much. I asked if he could imagine a game without any duels or missions, but one that allows him to chat openly with complete strangers. In other words, Second Life.
“Torture,” he said.
“Good,” I said aloud.
At this point, E’s younger twin sisters started to vie for attention, so we wrapped up the interview and spent the rest of that beautiful day in a dark bowling alley throwing heavy balls down long alleyways.
E got a much-needed strike in the last frame. (Thank you, inventor of the bowling alley bumper, whoever you are.) As I recall his wide-eyed, drop-jawed reaction, I’m reassured that both his feetat least for noware still firmly planted in the real world.