As we’ve discussed in the past, different races have different life expectancies, and as such, different notions of what constitutes childhood. Childhood, as we perceive it as humans, is a developmental stage between infancy and adulthood (or, depending on who you ask, between infancy and adolescence) and, as such, is characterised by growth, change, learning, etc. By extension, in today’s world, we tend to view children as naive and unknowing, and things to be cared for and cherished.
In a lot of ways, this is a fairly unique worldview. Throughout history, children of a certain age were treated and viewed more or less as miniature adults rather than ‘children’ (mostly pre-Renaissance; this changed the artistic attitudes towards children, but not so much social attitude), and I gather we are all at least partly aware of the history of child labour, in our societies and in others around the world. Children were in past eras, and in some parts of the world today, hired to do work in mines, factories, agriculture, etc, often for much less than an adult would be paid for the same position. Often, children also did work on their family’s farms, or in the family business.
With this brief history lesson in mind, I would like to point out that this is probably how things are done in a lot of places on Azeroth. With the wars that have decimated the population (and the number of people still out fighting, or off adventuring), capable adults are probably increasingly scarce. Also notably, as a lot of the culture of, for example, the humans seems to be very medieval-inspired, and it was certainly far from uncommon for the children of lower-class or working-class people in medieval times to engage in work, from anything from odd-jobs to back-breaking labour to bring in the bread.
Of course, I imagine a lot of you are going, “Well, hold on – what does this matter to me? I don’t play a child.”
No, you don’t, and most people on the game probably don’t – I can’t say I expect there to be more than a very small handful, and those that do probably play adolescents, better classified within the world as “young adults” than as “children”, if we go by when society sees them as being fit to be responsible for themselves. However, all of your characters would have had childhoods, and this view of the world may help you to clarify exactly what their childhoods were like. If they were from an agricultural area, they probably did a lot of farm work as a child – conversely, if they were from a well-off family, they probably didn’t do very much at all. The lower classe probably didn’t have great schools, while the upper classes may have had private tutors. The middle class may have sent their children to some kind of communal schoolhouse for children of all ages.
And this is just for humans, and possibly dwarves – whose culture we know quite well. This isn’t even covering what the childhood of an orc might be like, or a Tauren, or a night elf, or anything of the sort.
Of course, even this I’m just extrapolating from real world history, here, and not so much deriving this point from any evidence in game – as far as I know, there are no firm in-character references to what kind of childhood kids typically get – but these are things to keep in mind. We know there are orphanages in Stormwind and Orgrimmar – what would it actually be like, I wonder, to have grown up in one of these places?
On the subject of what childhood I’d also like to point out that if we take a human worldview and suggest that the age of majority falls at around eighteen, the current batch of kids has been through a lot, even as it is. To take a timeline from evidence in The Burning Crusade and associated sources, World of Warcraft had only began a year ago at the time of The Burning Crusade. Durotar was only founded two years ago. The Frozen Throne was only five years ago. Thrall escaped from Durnholde Keep seven years ago.
We are talking about very recent events. It’s highly likely that even the young children are aware of the current goings-on of the world to some extent. Now, most of you probably don’t play children – but one, this is good to keep in mind even for adults, and two, if children ever come up in your roleplay, now you know the kind of things that they do.
It’s also important to keep in mind that this is probably all very scary for a child. Post-Traumatic Stress? You ain’t seen nothing yet.