Kids playing Story Games with adults

edited February 2008 in Play Advice
I ran a mess of Story Games at a local convention over President's Day weekend: "Primetime Adventures", "Dirty Secrets", "With Great Power...", and "A Penny For My Thoughts". In the program book for the convention, I listed "Dirty Secrets" as "18 and over" due to the mature nature of the game. But for the others I thought playing with kids would be fine. I've run D&D games for kids (five ten-year-olds in a year-long campaign!) and I've had adults and kids at the same table of traditional RPGs at conventions without much difficulty.

Based on my experience with kids and adults at the same table for a Story Game, I'm going to list all my Story Games at "18 and over" in the future. The creativity of adults and the creativity of children did not work well together. In these type of games, everyone needs to be "on board" with the creative ideas at the table or they won't have fun. PtA in particular really needs players to veto ideas they aren't going to enjoy.

I had one PtA game where the kid at the tables wanted the show to be "anime teddy bears with machine guns". The adults at the table clearly weren't on board but they didn't want to crush the creativity of a child by vetoing her idea. But if they didn't veto the idea, they weren't going to have fun. They were put in an uncomfortable situation by the nature of the game and the nature of the group - not really anybody's fault. All four of the Story Games session I've run/played with a mixed group of adults and kids had similar problems.

So that's my advice - don't run Story Games for mixed groups of adults and children. Has anyone else had similar experiences? Contrary experiences?

Comments

  • Posted By: scottdunphywanted the show to be "anime teddy bears with machine guns".
    I'd watch that.

    Not story games specifically but, I've had some games were children were playing. Results were mixed. I generally prefer just to play with adults.
  • Out of curiosity, what was the relationship between the kids and adults involved in the game?
  • Posted By: komradebobOut of curiosity, what was the relationship between the kids and adults involved in the game?
    Out of the four games:
    - 1x both parents were players
    - 2x one parent was GM (i.e. my kid)
    - 1x no relationship with other participants (but mom sat at the table and watched...kinda creepy)

    So I don't know if that biased anything. I don't think it did really, but I'm unlikely to gather more data on the subject.
  • edited February 2008
    Posted By: WillHPosted By: scottdunphywanted the show to be "anime teddy bears with machine guns".
    I'd watch that.

    And I would have had no problems GMing it. When I run PtA I try to be hands off unless I think I can add something cool into the stuff the players are creating; I want it to be their show. The problem here is that the other players weren't feelin' it and were reluctant to veto because it was a kid. And, of course, this was just one example.
  • During OrcCon I was in a game of Roanoake that had a 12 yo and a 13 yo, both girls. One of them was rather disruptive, the other, not so much, but I (being a dad of a 3, an 8, and a 15 yo) "assisted" the 12 yo. I think the game turned out alright because of it. The game was run by Eric Boyd, who did an excellent job GMing, considering the situation.

    I was also in a game with Judson Lester last year at a Strategicon, I don't remember which. In this game there was a 10 yo (?) whose dad was at the table. It was terrible, the dad didn't care or pay attention to the kid and he was incredibly disruptive. The kid was throwing dice at people and the dad just, kind of ignored it. Luckily the kid left after about an hour and the game turned out very good.

    So, I totally get the idea that kids can be a disruption. However, Eric Boyd said, "We need to start playing with the kids to make sure the hobby stays alive." I agree with this. So for the next con I'm going to playtest 2 adult only games and 1 kid friendly game of unWritten. Hopefully, I can get some kids interested in story-games, or some such.
  • How old were the kids?

    My most recent experience was at DundraCon. In a Spirit of the Century game, there was a kid (the son of another player, or at least they had the same last name) who I'd guess was about 14 or 15. The only problem he really had was trying to get a sense of what pulp was like. But with the help of a mostly pre-gen character (we all chose 6 Aspects, 5 Skills, and 3 stunts during a taste of character creation) and following the rest of our leads and asking for advice, he was an exceptional player. But SotC provides a bit more structure than PTA or APFMT, so that might have helped, too.
    Posted By: scottdunphyAnd I would have had no problems GMing it. When I run PtA I try to be hands off unless I think I can add something cool into the stuff the players are creating; I want it to be their show.
    I haven't played PTA a whole lot, so you probably have more experience with it than me, but based on the advice I read from PTA pros like Christopher Kubasik, JDCorley and Judd Karlman, and what I've seen work in my own limited experience, you should be an aggressive producer. Shoot down what won't work. Try to get everyone to contribute. Make sure that pitch session gets 100% buy in. Especially at Cons. Did you end up going with tommy gun toting teddy bears? If not, did the kid refuse to buy into another option?
  • It's my experience, that 11+ yo's can handle playing with adults. They aren't always the games we want to play, as adults, but they can handle it. But, then again, I've struggled with 13 yo's and younger. So, really it depends on the child... Which at a con I don't think it's worth risking if you're concerned about it.
  • Veto-ing can only take place in an atmosphere of near-equals socially. It is absolutely goddamn right for grownups to worry about veto-ing a kids' idea. Whether that happens in PTA or "where do we want to go for dinner tonight", there's a power differential that is the real dynamic in control no matter whether we put a weak overlay of a game over it or not.
  • edited February 2008
    I've written about this pretty extensively at the kids-rpg yahoo group (and said essays were then published in a book on the subject). I've also got a 7 year-old who's coming with me to play Warhammer 40K this weekend.

    What my thinking and experience has taught me about this relates back to the old threads on geek social fallacies, and such. Which is, very basically, that RPGs are a social activity, and you should do them only with people you would socialize with. And only in the manner in which you socialize with them.

    So Bob's question is key. Would you play with kids you didn't know? Would you go to a movie with them? If you wouldn't socialize with them otherwise, why would you to play an RPG?

    But what about your own children? Well, yes I socialize with them, but it's in the context of myself as parent, and they as subordinate child (I think most will agree that parents who treat their children as peers are creating a dysfunctional family environment). So when we play, I play not in order to have the same sort of fun that I have with my actual peers. I play in order to entertain my child (which, sure, is entertaining), but always with an eye towards pedagogy. Yeah, I teach him as we play.

    Not just about facts and figures. RPGs are also a wonderful tool to teach about values.

    But it's very simple. Don't change the social structure at all between you and those you play with, and everything will work out fine. The geek fallacy that you should play with folks just because they want to play the same RPG as you do applies. Get to know the person first, and then, if compatible, play the RPG within that social context that you develop.

    So JD, if by "worry" you mean "give it some thought" one can only agree. But I leave it to each parent to come up with their own specific parenting methods. And these should apply to the game, if they're well thought out. For instance, if the parent punishes their child for using certain "bad" words normally, letting them get away with it in a game in the name of creativity is probably not a good idea (unless the parent can tell that the child isn't trying to get one over).


    Note that this still leaves a lot of room for interaction. You could, for instance, play with kids you didn't know, if the context was of something like a class, where you as GM were essentially the teacher. With content strongly controlled by you, and done in order to teach playing RPGs, or about the subject of the RPG. "Instant Mentor" is definitely a viable social contract.

    The one that's not viable is 40-year old man is buddies with 8 year old kid who wants to play with teddy bears.

    Mike
  • Mike,

    That's very interesting!

    But adults do play games with kids, at least in my world--like when a family gets together to play Monopoly after Thanksgiving dinner or something. It seems to me that, within the context of the game, everyone is considered an equal participant, not enacting their usual subordinate/dominant roles. Can you unpack this a little?

    Thank you for the thoughtful post.
  • You're equal as a contestant, of course... otherwise it's cheating. But, again, the parent will interrupt play if the children are misbehaving. A parent may well punish any cheating they detect (with a peer you have to threaten to leave the game or actually do so).

    Social level stuff.

    No, player roles in an RPG do not change. If the child is the GM, then he has the rights and responsibilities of being a GM. But that doesn't mean a parent shouldn't, for instance, stop the child and correct his grammar in the middle of some exposition. Even if he wouldn't do that with a peer. And the adult will probably take the lead on setting up when the game ends so everybody can get to bed on time, not the GM.

    Within the context of the duties each player has in a RPG there's a wide variety of perspectives you can take on how you are interacting with the other players. If you're GMing, and would normally have a gratutously violent scene at a certain point, you might well change that for children. Or include moral lesssons that you would omit as patronizing for another adult.

    Another way to put this is that, just because you're doing an activity with a child that you might otherwise do with an adult, that doesn't mean you suddenly have to treat the child as an adult. But people make this mistake. You're still the parent, or teacher, or uncle, whatever, and you should act in that role on the social level. It's an easy thing to slip into taking on the role of being a child with a child, or of expecting the child to be an adult. It's just problematic.

    Mike
  • Honestly, I was just scrounging for tips on what to do and what to avoid, since I'm thinking about doing a convention game at the local gaming convention in a couple months. The context is that it would be in the kids' game room ( Kublacon is very family friendly/supportive in this regard).
  • Posted By: alejandroI was also in a game with Judson Lester last year at a Strategicon, I don't remember which. In this game there was a 10 yo (?) whose dad was at the table. It was terrible, the dad didn't care or pay attention to the kid and he was incredibly disruptive. The kid was throwing dice at people and the dad just, kind of ignored it. Luckily the kid left after about an hour and the game turned out very good.
    I wanted to elaborate on this as a contrast this to the social-contract level stuff that Mike is talking about. Part of the reason the kid in that game was disruptive was that he was bored. I'd designed the game as a political intrigue situation (with a bit of a messianic con game on the side), and it didn't occur to me (not being a parent) when Paul said "I put a kid in you TSoY game - I hope that's okay" that there wouldn't be much for him to enjoy there. A 10 year-old just doesn't have the handles to grasp and enjoy intrigue, so yeah, he wanted to know when we would get to the stabbiness, and there wasn't stabbiness readily to hand.

    Also: Alex is being really kind. The other players were great, and we salvaged something from that session, to my amazement.
  • edited February 2008
    Posted By: komradebobHonestly, I was just scrounging for tips on what to do and what to avoid, since I'm thinking about doing a convention game at the local gaming convention in a couple months. The context is that it would be in the kids' game room ( Kublacon is very family friendly/supportive in this regard).
    If I were to run a game at the Con Jr. at my local convention, I would try something like PtA. As long as it's all kids (except for the GM) I think/hope it will work great.
    Posted By: Alvin FrewerHow old were the kids?
    In no particular order 11, 10, and 14. With the 14-year-old there was less of a creativity clash, but I think she was uncomfortable expressing her ideas to the group. Pretty much what you might expect from a teenager who's starting to understand the adult world.
    Posted By: Alvin FrewerBut SotC provides a bit more structure than PTA or APFMT, so that might have helped, too.
    I haven't played SotC yet, but I do think structure and player creative control/agenda are the key differences here. I've run lots and lots of traditional games at conventions and have had kids at my table many times. Sometimes it was great, sometimes the kids were disruptive, but never did I think to blame the game-style. In all of the Story Games cases above, the kids weren't acting out or trying to be disruptive. They were doing their best to contribute.
    Posted By: Alvin Frewer...you should be an aggressive producer. Shoot down what won't work. Try to get everyone to contribute. Make sure that pitch session gets 100% buy in. Especially at Cons.
    I totally agree with this advice. I like to think that's what I do as well. I just try to avoid injecting much of my creative agenda, but I do push hard, ask lots of questions, and get people to veto.

    In my experience, the "100% buy in" is a much bigger hurdle with a mixed group of kids and adults.
    Posted By: Alvin FrewerDid you end up going with tommy gun toting teddy bears?
    No.
    Posted By: Alvin FrewerIf not, did the kid refuse to buy into another option?
    In the end, sort of. I don't want to go into the ugly details, but the pitch session ended without us playing and I started over without the kid. Not in anyway her fault or her parents' fault, just the way it was.

    I think the rest of the discussion here is terrific! The points made about gaming with peers really helped fill out my thoughts on why Story Games with mixed groups weren't working.
  • I haven't run any games with kids in them since I was a kid (or have I ... I have a vague memory of some kids in a 40k game I ran at Gaelcon years ago ... but i could be wrong), but when I was a kid I used to run games for my Dad. This was mostly an extension of the stories he used to tell me as a younger kid, which turned into stories we told together as a somewhat older kid, which turned into actual RPGs when I was about 12 or 13. I loved those games, they were what you might call "quality time" between us. Maybe he didn't like them as much, but he never let on. He certainly didn't stop me and correct my grammar, that would have destroyed the social contract we were playing under and really pissed me off in addition.

    that's not a criticism of Mike choosing to do that, but styles of interaction vary wildly
  • Mike is spot on.

    When I play board games with my son, I tailor things so he both wins and loses - important things to learn. We're not on the same level! But he's learning games, and I don't need to win the whole time - it's kind of beside the point. I point out tactics and options to him - I wouldn't do that to an adult opponent, unless we were both learning the game.

    When we play role-playing games or related activities, I set up things so they're comprehensible and manageable to him. I don't introduce story elements that he's not ready to handle. Political satire, sexual relationships, references to literature and movies he hasn't seen - what would be the point? I'm doing something fun with him, and teaching him story creation procedures and cooperative brainstorming. It's a way different kind of fun than yesterday when I was drinking wine with my buddies and playtesting a new design requiring knowledge of Europe in the 1800s and a toolkit of sophisticated impro and social interaction techniques. But it's an intensely valuable thing nonetheless. I treasure the role-playing with my son. I would trade any campaign anytime for half an hour of good play with him.
Sign In or Register to comment.