Looking through the strange selection of games presented on DriveThru, I have three, not quite related, thoughts:
1. a kid themed or "soft" setting game may not be the answer to getting the kids hooked (see below) ;
2. why not play Lego Heroica? ;
3. I want to steal other people's children to play the Dungeon! boardgame with me.
As I decelerate into my fifth decade of life, it seems to be blind fate, that has procured me with a nil chance to spawn little ones upon which I can project my joys, fears, prejudices and/or personality shortcomings. No Frankensteinian experiments for me! No pitter-patter of little geeky stormtrooper feet. ;)
Back when I first played Dungeons & Dragons, it was coming in for a lot of flack (early 80s), and that was way before Pokemon cards hit the playgrounds and were clearly of a much more straight-forward evil. As a young teenager, I defended D&D for it's cultural and educational value (but you also have to remember that nearly all children-to-teens know that citing anything as "educational" was a sure way of getting Santa to deliver). I thought I was fighting for the misunderstood underdog. According to me, D&D had made me a genius in Maths, English and History, inspired me to notice geology, nature and architecture, to draw, and later, to express and be loud in drama. I would bat aside myths of spell casting witchery and heavy-metal Satanism. Although no-one was actually hunting role-players, an ominous threat was ever present, because my parents would absorb misinformation, like the mindless sponges I thought they were, and they could act fast: dining table hosting of games could be revoked at the last minute, I could become grounded, with friends turned away at the door. Perhaps, thinking back I had defended the hobby like an angry paranoid drug addict - seeing conspiracy at every turn, if only people understood, they wouldn't want to deprive me of the magic.
A friend's mother had rung my mother and suggested that they should organise a tennis club, specifically for their children who were playing this sinister game. In all of this fresh air and racket wielding was just a hint of clean Christian fun, which would mould us into well-balanced morally grounded sin-free pre-adults. I think my mum was not entirely convinced and had probably encountered this type of busy-body before. She laughed it off, and perhaps realised that her clumsy PE-hating boy might find tennis just a little too healthy. (Side note: as a youngster, I'd attended the Scouts once, but it was on the same night as Blake's 7, and missing one episode was enough for me).
When some teen problems later occurred, I was banned from reading my RPG rulebooks, and stopped from going to games, but this may have had more to do with the mistaken belief that if I had nothing to do in my spare time I would choose to revise for exams. Hmm. Naturally. Anyhow. "Maybe the depression will go away dear, if we deprive you of familiar things you like..." That was you-don't-understand-me teen stuff vs. protective parent logic (perhaps now it's all about the confiscation of knives, hoodies, I-pods and blocking Live-play MSN- "Aw, Mum! I HATE you!" etc.).
I think we're originally talking about child gamers here, not teenagers, .... I think the point I'd planned to get to was that it seems so strange that it's the parents who are trying to sell role-playing games as a concept to the children (and not the other way around) especially if they're pushing those archaic styles of play with the pencils, paper sheets, coloured dice and combat matrix reading. "Sorry, Dad, I just want to finish my homework on the iPad. Can't mum play with you? She understands all that old stuff with the dusty boxes and the smelly books."
I mean, is it possible to talk to kids about RPGs without describing it as "World of Warcraft before graphics cards and consoles"? Am I the only one thinking that suddenly tabletop RPGs sound like those jokes about grandparents having no toys apart from a piece of coal, a tangerine and a wooden horse (and the tangerine had gone off)? It's all true, before 1965, all of the world was in black and white, and toys were basically whittled figurines - now mistaken as religious fertility symbols. At 12 you started an apprenticeship in an underground steel mill or had a baby and most of your childhood games were actually variations of how to avoid being beaten by the parents, relatives or neighbours, because in those days you were allowed to hit other peoples kids and it was expected of you and you could leave your doors unlocked and no-one would steal anything except foreigners who couldn't be trusted because they were foreign and didn't understand our honest ways etc. It's all true, believe me, no really, ask yer dad.
A three year old showed me how to play on a Wii the other day. Naturally, I had to defeat her at ten-pin bowling and table tennis (just to prove a point). Okay, she beat me at some sort of frisbee game - the one with the manic happy-then-sad dog. I mean, even wires on consoles must look exotic and retro to these kids. I'm still impressed about the Talisman board being in colour!
Perhaps this our chance to rewrite history and claim that D&D was played with chalk and blackboard slates. throw in some marbles and a tin soldiers, perhaps a spining top, and it's all good wholesome Victorian fun for all the family (Sunday fun before Papa had to go back down t' pit and Mama had finish washing rags outside the Workhouse...).
It's really great to read about a new generation of gamers bonding with parents in this way. Maybe we're like the hobby-railway enthusiasts, or scaletrix drivers. letting the children into the attic, showing them the diorama and controls - but don't touch that button, only daddies are allowed to touch that. I'm pretty sure that dedicated Lego hobbyists are pretty strict with which sets they let the kids play with. Our "inner child" vs. the real child. Get out, haven't you got texts to send?
Unless I was gaming with very young children I think I'd avoid child-like settings, perhaps this is because it brings me back to my own childhood where I despise the cuter characters and child protagonists - I identified with archtypal grown-up heroes (or at least teenage heroes). I liked my fantasy to be played straight and absorbing. Hawk the Slayer and Krull, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars were infinitely preferable to Neverending Story, The Goonies and Caravan of Courage An Ewok Adventure. As an adult I really like the kids in ET, and I think I buy in to the idea of "family" movies better than I used to. Mum once once described the Doctor's assistant Leela as "something for the dads to watch" - I must ask her why she watched Doctor Who - I think it was to do with plot solving and mild scary peril, judging by the sort of programmes she likes now. Okay, I've gone off the point. The question is, if your kids want to play muscle black magic dealing killers, can you cope with that, or is My Little Pony with some numbers more the sort of thing the kids should be playing?
Random aside: if you're into the psychology of children relating to heroes in fairy tales I recommend dipping into Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment which blew my mind just a little at college and led to the devising of the dubiously titled Edinburgh Festival play "Grimm Realities". But that was another life, and we shall never speak of this again.
I'm pretty sure I really know nothing on the subject of inter-generational gameplay, and I have never been forced to weigh up educational merits verses fun, or justify the moral abandonment of stealing tomb treasure being "okay" because "it's a goal related reward". Only recently I was struck very hard in the face with the idea that many games (or at least the ones I truly enjoy) are nakedly capitalistic on so many levels. Competition, wealth acquisition, renown and power. (I love it) Which, incidentally, was part of the inspiration of the title of this blog. Of course there's that bit where you have to share the wealth with others in the party, but it's done with a begrudging attitude and the glaring subtext of "I could just kill you now and take your share". Would I worry about navigating these moral minefields? I mean I struggle at work daily, trying to avoid being sacked because I think some words and ideas are very funny, whilst the rest of the grown-up world seems to I'm being some sort of an unprofessional monster (at this point I want to pretend to you that I'm actually primary school teacher... but that would be lying and the judges told me that it would never happen... actually the truth is in fact much scarier...)
Anyhow, I suspect this is probably what I'd be like as a dad playing games with his sons:
(Fast Show - Competitive Dad - http://youtu.be/0MigZFRWYHg )
Educational merits (or worries) aside, perhaps it's just important to "have fun" - which reminds me of that immortal D&D/RPG ethos that there are no winners or losers, because you "win" by having fun. Cheesy, yes, but curiously applicable to all forms of creative play.
Anyhow, gamer-parents, I salute you!
To sign off, I especially liked this entry on Daddy Grognard.
Teach Your Kids to Game Week - on DriveThruRPG - with links to Facebook news and groups.