As senior director of business operations for World of Warcraft, Jennifer Hauer is committed to ensuring that millions of players around the world have a great experience both in and out of the game. Hauer is also a WoW player who embarked on her most important journey—motherhood—when the game launched nearly 18 years ago.
“My son’s birthday is in April, and Mother’s Day was always special for me,” Hauer said with a proud, yet wistful tinge to her voice. “He was three weeks old at my first Mother’s Day and this one is bittersweet as it’ll be my last with him in the house. He just turned 18 and he’s headed off to college.”
The silver lining of the last year spent in quarantine has meant precious extra time with family—more shared meals, heated ping-pong matches, and of course the family tradition of playing games together.
The family that games together, cosplays together.
“I can’t overemphasize how much World of Warcraft has woven into the story of our relationship and our family history,” she said. “When he was old enough to sit on my lap, we’d play together. I decided to play a warlock and I always had my minion with me—an imp. So, my son, being my little guy and hanging out with me gaming together, was my Imp,” she said.
In World of Warcraft, an imp is a mischievous little cackling demon pet that follows a warlock around, chucking bolts of fire and spitting out silly one-liners like “This was NOT in my contract!” and “Ohhhh, sure, send the little guy!”
“It became a phrase we used in the family,” she explained. “You’d invite someone to hang out and play video games by asking ‘Would you Imp with me?’ and that’s what we call it to this day.”
Hauer originally thought of gaming as pure entertainment, like passive TV watching, but as she grew as a parent and as a gamer, she learned how to weave real-life lessons into their game sessions.
“During early childhood, you usually have the card games—A is for Apple, B is for Book—ours was A is for Azeroth, B is for Blood Elf. He was so excited when Q was in the rotation because Q was for Quest!”
In Hauer’s experience, one of the main benefits of fantasy language for early readers comes from all the words you have to sound out phonetically.
“We used World of Warcraft as a teaching tool, especially when it comes to reading,” she said. “We found that having something interesting to read was critical to him being able to focus on it and care about what he was doing.”
Hauer’s Warlock (right), her son’s Orc Death Knight (center), and her wise-cracking imp (left) have been saving Azeroth together for more than a decade.
“A lot of books aimed at younger kids aren’t very interesting, but when we’re reading about Thrall and Jaina and meeting characters with apostrophes in the middle of their names, like Vol’jin, you’re really focused on reading,” Hauer said. “So, we made it a point to read all the quest text out loud–it doesn’t matter how long the game takes when you’re playing as a family.”
Their adventures in Azeroth also led to impromptu math lessons. “We’d have to kill 10 boars, then we’d get 6 down, ‘that’s 60 percent, now how many do you have left?’ and he’d do the math,” she said. “As long as you meet your kid where they’re at, you can find ways to reinforce what they’re learning.”
Games like World of Warcraft provided Hauer’s family with an opportunity to model the kinds of behaviors they wanted their son to learn. “Things like sharing, problem solving, being nice to people, collaborating—those are the kinds of things that games like World of Warcraft, which are so collaborative and so goal-focused, can really teach,” she said.
“I found it to be a really effective way to parent. It’s a shared passion and to this day he’ll tell me about new games he’s trying out—with a special interest in their business models,” she laughs. “He was really happy to tell me about when Call of Duty added non-binary characters because he knows that inclusion is important to me, it’s important to him, and it’s just plain important.”
Parental opinions on video games range from laissez faire, to luddite, and everywhere in between. For Hauer’s family, it was important that gaming was always a shared activity.
Hauer also discussed online behavior with her son from an early age. “We talked a lot about unacceptable behavior, and about how when you are talking with someone online, you sometimes forget that they’re a person on the other end,” she said. “We talk about how he treats women, girls who game, and always making sure he’s respectful and appropriate with them.”
“It’s just important to be kind,” Hauer added. “I think it’s easy to call out the bad behavior, but we also have to draw attention to the people who are doing it right. If you put Twitch.tv on while you’re cooking dinner to watch a streamer who you think is a positive role model, and your kid watches you embrace it, they’ll be better able to understand why this is the right way to do things.”
While her son is headed off to college, Hauer believes games will continue to bring her family together. “I’ve already made him promise that he’s still going to play World of Warcraft with me. I met another mom at Activision Blizzard who has older children and she’s been able to stay close with them for more than a decade by playing online games together,” she said. “It’s mom life goals.”