My name is Eric. I'm the father of five children and in addition to being a game producer for Simutronics, I worked for over six years as the Product Manager of Simutronics' Multiplayer Roleplaying Game, DragonRealms. I understand, as a parent, that you feel concern for your child's welfare in the mysterious and sometimes cryptic realm of text-based on-line games. To help you understand what we are all about, I've written this letter to inform you about our company, our games, and the sorts of activities you can expect your child to be participating in.
The majority of our games are text-based multiplayer games run by our IFE (Interactive Fiction Engine). Each of our IFE games supports a unique environment in which users role-play (that is, play act) their characters. Like actors on a stage, when players role-play, they assume the identity of the character that they have created, acting as if they were a real adventurer in a strange new world.
If you've ever read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy or C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia; if you've ever seen the movie "Neverending Story" or Disney's "Fantasia", then you will have an idea what our games are all about. We create fantasy worlds in which players get to pretend to be the characters of the book rather than reading about them. In many ways, our players are writing their own story.
As far as winning the game goes, that is entirely up to the players. They decide what the goals are within the game, and then work to achieve those goals. Some may want to be the most powerful Mage, or the most respected Empath. Some may simply want to play the role of an honorable Warrior who rescues people in distress and combats the evil monsters that invaded the land. Some players measure success by the amount of personal wealth that they amass. In the end, it's the player that decides how their story will play out and what it is they want to achieve.
Many people play our games at the same time, from various online services and the Internet. As players wander around the game, they will encounter other players and be able to interact with them in a variety of ways. Interaction between players can take many forms, from simply sitting in the town square chatting with other players, to working together to solve a puzzle, or heading off into the wilds in search of adventure.
Indeed, the mechanics of our games emphasize cooperation rather than competition. Players must work together in teams in order to effectively fight invading creatures, or solve complex puzzles. They are not encouraged to compete for resources or combat each other in battle. Communication skills are utilized with regularity, encouraging improvement in language, typing and grammar skills. In addition, the anonymity granted by the simulated text-based environment allows shy children to feel less threatened and freer to socialize in a healthy atmosphere where player interaction is regulated by a staff of over 150 GameMasters.
Few online gaming companies have more experience than Simutronics, which has produced online games for ten years. We have received the prestigious "Member's Choice Award" from AOL, the "Online Game of the Year, 1993 Award" from Computer Gaming World Magazine for CyberStrike, and received both teenage and child approval ratings from Microsystems.
At Simutronics, we care about promoting a family atmosphere that can allow players of all ages to participate in and enjoy our games. Day and night our GameMasters monitor for public incidents of vulgarity, sexually explicit language, unlawful conduct and harassment. Repeat offenders may find themselves locked out of the games for a period of time up to three months, or indefinitely. A safe, healthy environment is very important to our staff, which specifically designs the games in order to promote teamwork and creativity.
There is a lot of talk these days about the dangers of the Internet. Much of these concerns are similar to the concerns we all have as parents when our children go to the shopping mall or camping or even school. We want our children to be safe but still be able to enjoy their life. When a child has a problem at school, he/she can go find a teacher who can then protect them. When a player has a problem with someone in our games, he/she can instantly contact a GameMaster for help.
In many ways, our games are a safer place than the local park or playground. Your child can simply log off if needed. Safety is as close as typing QUIT. If someone harasses your child in real life, he/she may not be able to get help right away. In our games, help is as close as typing REPORT. Wouldn't you feel better if your child in real life could get help instantly when needed?
While our games are maintained as a safe environment (GameMasters work hard to keep it that way), the same common sense cautions apply to our games as they do to any place you allow your child to attend. While GameMasters have the capability to monitor anything that happens in the game, they can't monitor everything all the time. So, we highly encourage you to watch what your child is doing in the game. Pop in unexpectedly from time to time and watch and ask questions.
But does that make us a "G" rated game? No, we consider ourselves a "PG" or even "PG-13" (we have some graphic descriptions of violence in our combat) game. It's not for every child. Naturally, we encourage parents to guide their children in the use of the game. Our standards might not be your standards.
Our game has thousands of other people who can potentially interact with your child and we cannot guarantee that they will behave themselves appropriately all the time. There's nothing that we can put in place that can replace you as a parent. No matter how safe we make the our games, we hope that every parent will still monitor their child's activity in the game.
I've watched my child (aged 13) play DragonRealms and she has become a better reader, a better typist (she went from hunt and peck to touch typing), learned how to communicate more clearly, learned better how to interact with others responsibly and has grown socially and creatively. I believe this can happen to your child as well. In fact, they'll be enjoying themselves so much that they won't even realize how much they are learning.
Simutronics Game Producer
P.S. If you ever have questions about your child's behavior in the game or have other questions which this letter didn't cover or answer adequately, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.