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Soapbox: About the Industry

Gaming With Children

by Sandy Antunes
Jan 09,2003

 

Gaming with Children

As the hobby 'gentrifies' (literally, the perception that "I'm older and so are my friends, and we _are_ the hobby, so gamers in general are probably older"), more and more of us are gaming with mixed groups of adults plus their children.

While pundits will endlessly debate the 'morality' of various roleplaying games and supplements, and discuss whether the themes of violence and power fantasy are appropriate for children, that is not our goal here. We are assuming you are a reasonable adult, and therefore will be running a good, moral game-- one with just the right amount of age-appropriate violence, conflict, ambiguity, politics, romance, and sex.

There are really two approaches to gaming with children. Method A involves using modern technology to supplement the tabletop game experience. To wit, you plunk a movie into the VCR and then game while the kiddie is distracted.

Some people find this method less than satisfying. "Gee, let's enjoy a time-honored rich oral tradition of storytelling and social interactivity-- but first, let me distract the kid with commercial-ladened pap." So, for those 'gaming purists', we look at Method B, a time-honored way to run a game with the kids actually participating.

To run a game with kids and adults isn't that different from the usual run-time experience. Since many gamers are in an arrested state of development anyway, you can use the same approaches to customizing the session. A 9-year old is the same as having a gun-nut adult, a 30-year old elf fancier is much like a 12-year old elf fancier. only with less character cross-dressing. So really, you've probably already handled this sort of issue before.

As a bonus, children (in general) have been relentlessly profiled and analyzed by psychologists, so there is a wealth of material that helps you, in advance, shape the game to maximize enjoyment for all.

The hopes and dreams of a 9 year old are very different from those of, say, a teen, so good GMs running games with children should understand what their players are likely seeking in a game in terms of developmental milestones and social goals that the child is currently working out in their life.

Herein we indicate the different developmental stages of children, and what they seek in a game. We include ACOA* in this writeup. A special thanks to David Millian's fine handout on kids & gaming, from which I cribbed the first 3 age ranges, developmental foci and goals. Don't blame him for the rest of this, though, as I used, ummm... unpublished research and uncitable references. Yeah, that sounds good.

Age Range Developmental Focus Goal of Game Play Game Designer Focus
7-9 Rules and morals Slay evil, kick butt dungeon crawl!
10-12 Peer & family interactions Be part of the team wilderness adventures!
13-15 Identity issues Personal epic quests!
16-17 Peer relationships Hide gaming habit from peers dungeon crawl!
18-22 Hedonism Try to score with GM's date experimental multi-GM troupe storytelling
23-30 Career achievement Sneak gaming into work envir team-building exercises
31-40 Family or Cats Bewail lack of time, gaming group buy game books, read, repeat
41-80 Reflection and abstraction Explain that you invented gaming dungeon crawl!
81-99 Pragmatic Fatalism Pass time between meds storytelling

*ACOA = Adult Children of Adults, don't laugh, there are psychological groups focused on this non-unique population!

So the upshot of all this is, you should customize how you run the game (not just setting and rules, but goals and game focus) based on the needs of your players. And, set your expectations for each game pragmatically, based on what you honestly think the players can handle.

Remember, you want the game sessions to be fast, fun and fulfilling. just like a really good orgy.

Which, now that I think of it, probably shouldn't be the recurrent theme of your game with children.

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What do you think?

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All Soapboxes

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  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
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  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
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  • Our reason for existence

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