Episode 2: How do you become a Guardian?

This episode is for those who want to find out more about becoming GuardianGamers. It's also for parents who want to find out a bit more about what Guardians can do.

What does it take to be a Guardian, and what's behind the Guardians' 7 pledges? What is the spirit that drives our Guardians? 

Production notes: This episode was produced by Sarah Lai Stirland and engineered by Gabe Grabin.

Music: Architecture, Isle of Rain, Release, The Line of Beauty, Ultra, Why, by Savfk; Guardians [Classical], by Evan King; 8bit Dungeon Level ♫, by Kevin MacLeod, ♫ NO COPYRIGHT 8-bit Music; Chopsticks, by Jorge Hernandez, ♫ NO COPYRIGHT 8-bit Music; The Grand Affair, by Coupe ♫ NO COPYRIGHT 8-bit Music. /


Sarah: You're listening to the GuardianGamer podcast. GuardianGamer is a new service that offers elementary and middle-school-aged kids mentorship and a safe space to play video games.

I'm Sarah Lai Stirland and I'm one of the podcast hosts. This week, I'm going to introduce you to GuardianGamer’s Chief Guardian TJ Mick.

TJ does a lot of things for GuardianGamer, but one of the most important things he did is to establish the principles that guide the Guardians when they're playing with your kids. 

It's these principles that the Guardians use as they serve as positive in-game role models.

For example, they might show your kids how to build cool-looking houses while quickly paying off their mortgages in Animal Crossing. Or they might help them to diplomatically resolve property disputes in Minecraft. Or maybe they might show your kid how to support teammates when they're playing League of Legends. 

You'll hear TJ talk more about these principles later in the podcast, but the general idea is, If your children are spending more time in games in a Metaverse, you'd want them to spend time with people you know, wouldn't you?

Yet the reality is, is that more than two thirds of online video game players have been harassed, according to the Anti Defamation League. 

That's where TJ and his crew come in. 

He'll explain what it takes to become a Guardian, and he'll also explain what the GuardianGamer pledge is. 

For parents who are listening, you can always jump into gaming sessions at any time and talk to the Guardians yourself. 

In fact, we encourage you to get to know your child's Guardian. 

Hey TJ! Tell our listeners a bit about yourself, and why you think young kids need in-game Guardians.

TJ: So actually it happened, Heidi approached me when she had the original idea and concept, and we were kind of connected through a friend, and they knew that I am just a lifelong gamer.

I do video games. I do tabletop games. And I'm also just a huge kind of nerd of the industry or just anything fantasy comic books, all that kind of stuff. 

And so, Heidi had this idea for GuardianGamer and just to kind of get insight into what her son, Cato was doing when he would be playing these games. And she approached me and asked me if there was anything like what she was looking for, and there wasn't really. 

So that's kind of how we put our heads together, thought about this idea, and then kind of decided: “Why isn't there something like this? Maybe we're kind of onto something here.” 

And then, as we talked in had more and more meetings about this idea is starting to develop and grow and then that's how GuardianGamer was basically born

Sarah: So TJ, tell our listeners a bit about your experience as a Game Master. It’s kind of fascinating, and hardly anyone hears about it.

TJ: So that the Game Master itself is, I mean I kind of downplayed it -- calling and kind of like a glorified admin. 

But you basically, from the perspective of the game, you're kind of like a, like a game God. You can create any item. You can see everything that goes on, and you can put on, quite literally, “God mode,” which means nothing can damage or hurt you, or target you.

But it started out very simply with a kid saying that he was scammed on a trade, and lost some items, and they were, they were very rare items that you have to put a lot of time and effort and get very lucky to get, because a lot of this stuff is randomly generated. 

So, he went through his due diligence, and did everything to get these items that were very coveted, and he was approached with a trade from another player, and the player opened the trade, made it look like he was going to trade, and then basically stole the items from the, from the player. 

Disappeared, and logged out. Nowhere to be seen, and the player wanted his items back. What was happening was that nobody could find this player that stole the items. The person who opened the ticket left the name, the username, but when we would search it with our tools we couldn't find anything. 

I went deeper and looked at kind of the the log of official characters and who, what, main account that character was tied to, then an opening that up, I saw several other accounts that that player had opened up within his main user account of characters that were being deleted. 

And so once I saw a pattern of names being deleted -- including the one that the player who opened the ticket, had an interaction with -- I then began to go back in all of the logs of the deleted characters interactions and saw a pattern of this player logging in with a new character, initiating a false trade, stealing from that player, and then transferring the items to his main account and deleting the character altogether. 

And he did it so many times -- there was probably eight or nine characters that were deleted this way -- that he was basically getting away with it. 

And the fact that when we would look in that character wouldn't be that would be enough to close a ticket. No one else was persistent enough than this player to to keep going. And that's what caused me to look deeper. And I found this player. And he was active and online. 

I banned his account, sent him a letter, stripped him of everything, made it so he couldn't play the game anymore. And then just because of the persistence of the player that opened the ticket, I felt I should meet him in person, quote unquote, so to speak. 

And so I saw him playing the game and I appeared to him as the Game Master, which is kind of rare in the game, you know, that kind of a rock star move, I'll be honest with you, uh, you know, I just kind of appeared, it's kind of like, “Oh, Whoa! No way!” type of thing. And yeah, I told him: “Hey man, you were persistent, and we understand you and I feel your pain, and I caught the guy, and you weren't the only one. He did this to other people, and because you did this, you actually helped other, this happening to other people who didn't know that they could come to us with this. 

And I gave him, you know, the, the items that were stolen from him, gave him a “Thank you.” And he was, he was extremely grateful. And I still remember that because of how grateful he was, and the fact that he expressed to me that he felt like no one cared. 

But he felt like his time was important and that you know we should, and I felt the same way. So like, I felt like a hero at that point.

Sarah: That wasn't the only time, though, right? What about the time you fought off some rabblerousers in a virtual reality game?

TJ: Oh yeah, so on the, the Oculus Quest 2 actually it was on the Oculus Quest 2. And so I'm playing Echo VR, and I'm in the lobby, talking with a couple of new other new players in suddenly a group, a rowdy group just bust in there that I was shocked because this is my first time experiencing this on the VR platform, but it just goes to show that it happens. And yeah this rowdy group just comes in and immediately starts cursing and calling people names and making fun of. We are all little robots, so we all kind of look alike, but you can have stickers on you in different color things. There's always some sort of cosmetic angle to this. And so just making fun of people's colors making fun of people's voices and accents and yeah it was really jarring situation. And those players were reporting. But before all of that takes effect they were still there trying to greet people, and I just took it upon myself to lay down a little vigilante justice on my own. 

TJ: I called their attention over to me and I brought them over to a zone that was an open combat zone with sparring, kind of trick them to come in there with me, and then started started combat with them, you know. 

And I just said: “Hey you we can we can, you can sit there and make fun of other people that aren't into it, or you can come over here and we can play this game a little bit and you can get whatever's bothering you out.” 

And that kind of, it actually turned the situation a little bit fun because, as I was taking them all on myself, the other people that they were picking on eventually jumped into the fray and started helping me out. And so, what started out as just a bullying session, suddenly became an actually fun and I got, I broke a little bit of a sweat because it's a VR so I'm actually doing the exercise there so I got a little exercise out of it too, so it actually switched that situation around. 

Now the ending of this isn't that we became friends, you know this isn't a fairy tale. They did get booted out because they were still using language and saying things inappropriate as we were doing this contest. But it was, it turns something very stressful into something a little bit light hearted at the time before the issue was actually solved. 

It poofed out. The moderators got ahold of them and push them out of there, they just suddenly were all there fighting together and then all of a sudden all of those guys vanished. That situation was very stressful from that point of view, being one of the ones that was bullied, would be very stressful and intimidating. Not even the fact that everybody says, oh it's just words it's online, but this isn't necessarily true. That's not how our bodies actually respond to these kinds of stress triggers, it's beyond our logical thinking of it sometimes emotions just happen. And when somebody calls your name, it just feels bad, whether you know who they are or not. And that can trigger and ruin an entire game experience. It's happened to me personally, I was above it now because I learned through the hard trials and listening to this stuff over and over again. How to deal with that. But even now, even as a grown man when you hear certain things that don't feel good, it still hurts a little bit. 

Yeah, I mean I'm not a scientist but, I, but, I know my feelings, and I know what I've experienced, and I know that there were times that jumping on a game which is supposed to be my safe space my free creative zone, and having that ruined by someone on the other end of the screen, just because they, that's how they get their pleasure it ruin an entire day, you know, an entire night. I would just be, you know there in times I would just be depressed, and they would want to jump on the game anymore which is supposed to be my salvation, and my solitary I didn't even want to jump on that anymore because that was just taken from me and ruined is just kind of, is just a bad place to be in emotionally, and that happens.

Sarah: So what do you like about being a Guardian?

TJ: I like the feeling of helping and I really get a strong sense of that with that with GuardianGamer. I also like that it's new. 

And with this particular model I get to set my own availability, so it's like a my own boss. and so I can set when I'm, when I want to do these gaming sessions, I can set my rate for these gaming sessions and when I am on the clock. I'm really just playing games with with kids and helping them out in talking to the parents and bringing the parents into the adventure as well, which, you know, to me I find really fun and, in and of itself, and I'm ultimately in the long run, I'm keeping someone safe

Sarah: So TJ Can you remind listeners how this service actually works?

TJ: Yes, alright! This is the important part, right?  So, if you want your kid to play with a GuardianGamer solo or with a couple of their friends, you go to Guardiangamer.com, create an account or login if you already have one, and then you'd browse through the Guardian profiles and book a session with the GuardianGamer of your choice. 

Just before the game session starts parents will receive a notification email with a link to the secure chat. The kid clicks on a link from the device, we'll be using for the chat, it could be a computer, phone, tablet, just make sure it's something with a microphone and a browser and it connects them to the Guardian gamer and then they're ready to go in during the session you can always invite another friend from your guardian gamer account that sends them a secure unique one time guest link to the session. 

And if they're already a member, there'll be automatically logged in with their account.

Sarah: Tell our listeners some of the requirements of being a Guardian.

TJ: Yeah. Also, another great question so I mean having experience and being comfortable working with children and engaging parents, is a huge thing that's the main thing of what we do. Also having a passion for gaming and strong sense of community, something that I really look for in particular, just having a good positive attitude right just being a good positive person with a strong moral background, wanting to do the right thing, and obviously experience in coaching or child development, teaching that kind of stuff is a huge plus. And we also ask that you just be the master of the game that you want to coach in the master of your craft.

Also important knowing about the gaming industry or the games that you're playing, and their cycles when their seasons are coming what's becoming available that's also a huge thing because that can save you a lot of what we like to call grinding which is playing the same thing over and over again to obtain an item gamer lingo. You could do that but then if you know that this next cycle that item is going to be available easier, it's probably a better reason to wait so that's knowing about the games and the seasons is a huge plus as well,

Sarah: So TJ, can you briefly explain what the “GardenGamer Pledge” is?

TJ: Yes, Sarah, so we came up with a set so far of seven principles that the Guardians game by and teach to the kids during the game sessions, and we have them listed on the front page of our website if you want to check them out.

Sarah: Okay, so the first one is be supportive. It sounds obvious, but what do you mean?

TJ: Yeah, definitely the pledge to be supportive. So basically just be open minded, engage the kids encourage the ones we're having trouble in certain parts of the game, you know, and congratulate them when they do better so encourage them when they're through those tough parts that they can get through it and you're there for support. And then when they get it congratulate them on every success. 

Yeah, let me run through these for you. So the second pledge is the pledge to lead by example. Pretty self explanatory, we want to be the change that we want to implement in the online gaming community, so things like being helpful to other players using appropriate language, not cheating you know the basic stuff.

The next pledge is to facilitate imaginative play kind of a tongue twister I know but that's really how you can kind of develop socially and problem solving skills, is by opening that imagination up and we definitely want to encourage the ability to play in imagine these stories as we're playing through games like Minecraft,

Sarah: What about number four?

TJ: Yeah so pledge number four is to enjoy yourself but not anyone else's expense. I mean, games are meant to be fun right so we definitely want to promote enjoying and having fun within the game, but we don't want it to infringe on anyone else's success or their fun as well so just keep it simple. Don't be a jerk, basically. Yeah. And so that's just as this is a sneak peek, there's gonna be more of that, when you get introduced to our guardians we'll expand on this a little bit more.

Sarah: I like the next one. “Be the mentor until you must become the student.” Tell us a bit more about that.

TJ: Yeah, of course, I think you could see kind of the martial arts movie influence in that one there that I have, a little bit? [Laughs] 

But yeah it's basically, we want to be leading these sessions, and we want to be teaching and showing the kids in these sessions how to react to the games. Have fun, use their imagination, but sometimes part of that development is allowing them to take the reins and so you have to know in be ready to take a backseat, when the child and the kid is ready to spread their wings and to really take control the session, you got to be ready for that because that's also a huge part of their development is being able to take what they've learned and teach it to someone else.

Sarah: Okay, and so was about number six, be resolute, not indignant, that's interesting. How did you come up with that one.

TJ: Yeah, that one, there's a lot of things we call it rage quitting when it comes to games you just you, a player gets so upset with the performance of their team or their own performance, that they just give up during the game, that's not really an option it's not fun for everybody, you always want to play the game to the end, you don't want to give up even if things get frustrating, and it's okay to address politely, other players, and to say hey, Let's not give up, let's keep going. Or hey, you shouldn't be giving up like that we should we should still be a team and team up and let's finish strong.

Sarah: I assume a GuardianGamer wouldn't be rage-quitting …? 

TJ: Yeah, exactly because then that goes up to the principle of, you know, leading by example number two, or pledge number two. 

They're definitely not going to be the ones rage quitting, and then they just want to kind of enhance, and let you know hey there's a different way of approaching these situations.

Sarah: And then number seven, keep it playful, not personal. I play tennis, so sometimes I end up shouting or yelling, but not like at the other person -- just yelling at no one in particular in frustration, or just sort of letting out, letting stuff out.

TJ: Definitely close. It's okay to show emotions, frustrations, excitement, and things like that. But then also more on a personal level, we really do care about the privacy of the children, the parents and even the gamers in that aspect. So while it's okay to have a few things in common with your GuardianGamer that you're going to be playing with, we'd like to keep it focused on the game session and the goal of the session. 

Just feel minimizing some of the small talk and chit chat and making it about the fun, the gameplay and the skills. 

I mean we specifically point out things like politics, religion, other personal issues should really be kind of left to the privacy of the gamer, as well as the parent and the kid so you know. 

Sarah: And are you recruiting?

TJ: So as chief of Guardians I'm always actively recruiting. I like to look at official game forums like Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox to find active role models within the community who were kind of already trying to help out young and new players on their own. 

Also if this sounds interesting to you. You can jump onto GuardianGamer.com and just click on “Create an Account.” Fill out the info, and make sure that you click the “I want to sign up as a Guardian” option. That's the important part. And then from there we start the application process, schedule your interview, and background check, and at that point you can actually start building your personal profile right away. 

And if you pass all the application steps. Your GuardianGamer account gets verified and you're ready to go. 

Sarah: OK, so you've got that part down. What about the interview -- what kind of questions do you ask?

TJ: Yeah, as far as the, the interview questions, we asked things like “What's your greatest gaming achievement? When did you have trouble convincing your group to agree with your strategy online? And what's your experience working with kids?” and that's basically it. I mean once you have, once you're in, you have access to our forums and our Discord with helpful resources and community full of other guardians. 

Sarah: How do the Guardians get discovered? 

TJ: As far as finding them, they do have profiles. Every Guardian once you sign up, you get to create your whole profile. You can put some pictures in there. We encourage that you describe your your hobbies, gaming interests and hobbies while you're doing what you're doing. There's stuff for all of that on the profile and then you show up on the marketplace. 

So from the parent in in kid perspective, you're browsing the marketplace for the type of gamer that either is available during the time that you want to game, or you can search by the type of game that they like to play because they can list that as well, so if you're looking for somebody in Roblox in particular, you can select that, and it will pull up all of our gamers and our all of our GuardianGamers that play Roblox. 

Sarah: What other responsibilities do the Guardians have?

TJ: As far as the format, it's a little bit free form but we do have structure because we like to fill out the quest log. 

So it's basically preparing them for the answers that they're going to need to fill out in the Quest Log: What's, what kind of game is the kid interested in? Why are they interested in it? 

What did you guys do? What was the goal for the, for the game today? 

We kind of generally train them not so much to bog down the gaming adventure, but to chronicle it as the co-star to the lead that is the kid.

Sarah: So what are your final thoughts as we wrap up this session for guardians TJ?

TJ: We want to train the people to be the upstanders, you know the, the morally positive role model. 

In all of these situations through their game play, you want to be the change that you want to see, where we're kind of the light right now that that's going to show it in with GuardianGamer -- teaching these sort of things by example to the next generation of kids. 

That's where the change is going to start because once they get older, they're going to be doing the same things, and it's going to take all of us reporting bad players and griefers, and acting as a community positively to make that change. That's it has to be active, and that's the only way it's going to happen,

Sarah: Thanks so much TJ. Well that's it for this week, make sure to check out the next episode. It features the voices of many of the other guardians.

Meanwhile, share this episode with your friends try out the service, or sign up to be a guardian and happy gaming everyone!

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