You ask, beg, even sometimes threaten, but your kiddo still claims they can’t pause their game. Why? What’s going on? Tell me, have you ever had a conversation like this?
“Why can’t you just pause your game?”
“I told you, I can’t pause it. It doesn’t work that way.”
“It’s a game. Just pause it and get down here.”
“Ugh… The game doesn’t pause.”
“Whatever then, I don’t care. It’s time for dinner. Just come down.”
“I can’t. Their jungler’s down and we’re about to towerdive on mid. And it’s ranked.”
“You can jungle your mid or whatever later. I already told you, it’s time for dinner. Get down here”
I can’t imagine I’m the only parent that’s had this talk. It’s infuriating and can be confusing. Why can’t they pause their online game? I mean… It’s a game. Why can’t they just pause it? Even if it’s online, it’s not like the internet’s going to pick up and leave — So why does your kiddo insist they can’t just stop?
Well, here’s the thing, in some cases, the kiddo is actually right. If they’re playing an online game, they simply can’t pause it, mostly because the game is being played with many other people at the same time. That’s what makes trying to pause or quit a little more complicated. What would happen to the other players if one of them paused their game? Furthermore, what happens if one of them just drops out in the middle of play?
Now, that said, there’s a big difference between not being able to pause their game, and not being able to stop playing or log off, there are just some elements inherent to these kinds of games that make simply quitting a little nuanced.
Nuanced? Riiiiight. So, why can’t pause their game, exactly? Why does it being online matter?
The nuance, mainly, comes from the addition of other people. Something to remember about online games – in general, they’re about two things: Competition or cooperation with others. In many ways, you can think of them as either sports matches or group projects – depending on the game.
For that reason (well, actually there’s a lot of reasons, but anyway…) it’s important to know and consider what your kiddo is playing. For example, taking a cue from the “like a sports match” side of things, some very popular multiplayer games like League of Legends, DOTA2, or Overwatch are played in discrete “matches” — similar to a game of basketball or chess… That is, if chess was played by 10 people at once, the pieces were animated and shooting at each other.
In a game like this, stopping in the middle of a match will almost always guarantee that the team your kiddo is playing on will lose, and that will often have an impact on the ranking and status of all the other players.
Wait, ranking? That’s actually a thing? Kiddos take it that seriously.
Not just your kiddos, plenty of adults do too. There’s actually a whole esports scene dedicated to this kind of thing, and lots of online games have a fierce competitive component. Going further, as touched on above, many of the biggest and most popular online games – like League of Legends, for example, have players slotted into teams. Imagine watching a football game where one team had one or two more players on the field than the other. That’s a pretty big advantage.
To discourage this, games will often track how many times players disconnect mid-match and it can ultimately impact how they can play, and who they can play with. So, quitting in the middle of a game has real (if still virtual) consequences for your kiddo and others.
Now, all that said, let’s get real. It is a game; it’s your kid; you’re the parent. If you need them off the game, some minor frustration to a tiny handful of strangers on the internet is really not a big deal – but, this hopefully gives you a little context for why your kiddo’s protests waver between loud and… well, really REALLY loud. They know if they leave, they’re going to let down their team, and that can impact their ability to get others to play with them in the future.
I get all that, but how can I cut down on the drama every time I need them to get off the game?
For this, the key is to understand what game your kiddo is playing, and knowing – generally – how long that particular game lasts, and making sure that fits in the time available. If they have ten minutes to play, and are trying to play a game that takes 20-30 minutes, well… that’s a recipe for moaning, wailing, and gnashing of teeth… probably for both of you.
So, before your kiddo starts playing an online game – particularly if there’s a “hard stop” like dinner time coming up, engage with them, find out what they’re planning to play. If dinner’s in 20 minutes, it’s probably not a good time to get into a League of Legends match, but a couple of rounds of Halo or Overwatch would easily fit in that space.
Now, unfortunately, there’s not a hard and fast rule for exactly how long a particular game takes to finish, but there are some guidelines. Games like League of Legends or DOTA2 can take as long as an hour, but in most cases, they’re usually around 20 minutes.
Other games, like Overwatch or Halo or Call of Duty – Single rounds can be over in 5 to 7 minutes (but, depending on the ruleset they’re using, full matches can take 40-50 minutes). So if your kiddo is playing something like that, it’s a good idea to understand if they’re playing casual or competitive modes. In casual modes, it’s easier to drop out after a round, in competitive play, you typically are expected to play for the entire match.
Time Guidelines for Top Online Games
- MOBAs (DOTA2, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm) — Around 20-30 minutes per match
- Shooters (Call of Duty, Halo, Overwatch, Battlefield, Counterstrike) — Around 5-8 minutes per round
- Note: I’ve had some helpful commenters point out that if your kiddo is playing in a competitive ruleset, there are often multiple rounds in a single match, so an actual game can take 20-40 minutes to complete
- Card Games (Hearthstone, Elder Scrolls: Legends) — 6-9 minutes per match
- RTS (Starcraft 2, Warcraft) — 15-30 minutes per match
- Fighters (Tekken, Street Fighter, Injustice) — 5-7 minutes per match
- Sandbox Games (Minecraft, Roblox) — Varies, depends on the specific rules of the server
Yeah, my kiddos play World of Something or Another. They tell me the same thing – they can’t just pause their game.
Ah. Remember there are two main types of online game? We’ve been talking about the first – Competitive, but what about the second – Cooperative? How much time is needed for those?
Well, I have some good news and bad news here. For these types of games – for example, World of Warcraft. The time commitment is usually higher, but, it’s much easier to bring in a substitute. So, if your kiddo is playing with a group of friends in the middle of an adventure, and real life calls, it’s pretty quick for that group get someone in to replace your kiddo’s role in the shenanigans. So while completing an adventure (your kiddo will call it a “raid”) can sometimes take a couple of hours, it’s much much easier to quit mid-stream — Though, I’d still expect the moaning, the wailing, and the gnashing of teeth.
Okay, knowing all that, say I decide to let them finish up. How do I know when my kiddo’s at a good stopping point?
What you’re looking for are “win conditions” – basically, that means whatever round, match, adventure, or whatever-they-call-it of an online game has ended. Even if you’re not watching, it’s pretty easy to guess when that happens: it’s usually accompanied by loud cheers or dejected groans, depending if it ended in victory or defeat for your kiddo. For the most part, each online game has a general cadence. As noted above, some are very fast – over in 5 minutes or so. Others are longer, lasting 20-30 minutes, so with that in mind, if you know what they’re playing, you can get a mental gauge of how long it might take to finish.
Well, I let my kiddo have time to finish, but it’s taking waaaaaay longer than I expected. What do I do?
My recommendation if something goes long is to engage with the kiddo again. Straight up ask them if the game or match is almost done, and drill down for specifics on what happens when it ends. In every game, your kiddo can identify the “win condition” for you – the state in which one team wins, the other loses, and the game or match ends. Similarly, in most cases, the kiddo can give you a generally reasonable estimate of how much longer it will take to reach that point. Then, using the guidelines provided here, you can check those estimates to make sure in your kiddo’s zealousness to keep playing, they’re not trying to sneak in time for one more match.
…Not that my own kid has tried that… at all… like, in the last hour, at least.
So, if it looks like the end will be too far out, or if all else fails – just call it. Yes, it’s absolutely true, if it’s an online game, they can’t pause their game, but there’s not a game made that you can’t simply turn off. In that event – once the kiddo has finished whatever inevitable combination of raging and sulking will come from that event – talk to them about the game. Learn about it, and together discuss better ways to manage their time so that they won’t get stuck mid-game again.
So I can let my kiddo play online games and still keep the peace?
You can. While it’s true your kiddo can’t pause their game, it is entirely possible that your kid can play online games without it being a war of wills. And that’s great! For your kiddo, online games are a ton of fun. The thrill of besting the competition or of working together with friends to defeat a seemingly unstoppable foe and walking away with some of the best equipment in the game are experiences traditional single player or offline games cannot provide. From a parental point of view, these games can teach sportsmanship, strategy, problem-solving, leadership, and communication. But, unlike traditional offline games, they also require additional forethought and time management to enjoy them in a healthy and relatively drama-free way. With the information here, you should have the tools you need to help you and your kiddo fit those great experiences into a schedule that works for them and you.