Monday, February 20, 2012

Reverb #5: Kids at Play

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #5: Have you ever introduced a child to gaming, or played a game with a
young person? How is gaming with kids different than gaming with adults?

I have been thinking, and I don't recall ever playing with a child. At least, not since I stopped being a child myself. I don't have kids, and most of my friends and gaming buddies don't have kids, so it hasn't really come up much. I'm sure that at some point I will remember "that one time, at a gaming con", but it's not coming to me now.

I am currently gaming with a teenager, the son of our GM. It has been, honestly, frustrating. He's getting much, much better. But, early on, it was very difficult. The differences were pretty classic. He was immature. He didn't get the point of delicate, tricky, careful negotiation of hazards, preferring instead to blow through hurdles in a blatant power fantasy. He had a very short attention span, and couldn't sit and wait for other people to do their things (and given that we have eight players, that's a problem). He also has a crude and broad sense of humor (unfortunately shared by a number of the other players *sigh*).

Gaming with even younger kids would require a very significant shift in a lot of assumptions about roleplay. A lot of these can be seen pretty simply just by looking at media that caters to the age group. If you are running for a group of 8-year-old boys, grabbing plotlines and imagery from GI Joe cartoons should serve you well. The biggest things to keep in mind are pacing (kids are generally served better with smaller but much more frequent bursts of action), complexity (it should be pretty clear who is good and who is evil, except for one or two characters who are there explicitly to cross the lines), and appropriate themes (not only toning down the sex and violence, but avoiding adult themes like whether charity handouts foster entitlement and inhibit self-reliance).

Also, don't think you have to dumb down the rules for kids. If you're talking about age 6, then, yeah, you probably need to tone down the math. But, I know a hell of a lot of gamers who worked out AD&D all on their own before they were 12. If you are willing to help them when they struggle, and reward system mastery when they manage it, you might just be surprised at how quickly they pick stuff up.


  1. I play with a good friend of mine and his three kids. Occasionally a fourth guest kid joins the party. It's great! The youngest one usually wants to read Elf Quest comics within the first hour. I think the key is to keep gaming sessions short.

  2. That's really cool. My lack of play with kids is largely a matter of circumstance rather than choice. I don't have kids, most of my friends don't have kids, and most of the con games I play don't attract kids.

    That's a great point about keeping the sessions short.