Gaming: The Next Generation
First, let me say that unlike a lot of the blogs I post, this is not informative, but cathartic. You’re not going to become a better gamer from reading this post. It’s not a review of something cool coming out. This is something I need to write down, and I want to see what other people have to say about it.
I’m going to be real here, for a minute. Gaming as a kid was a source of fun, certainly, but also a source of great stress for me growing up.
I started gaming with some neighborhood friend’s when I was eight years old. I was hooked when my assassin won the friendship of a pet cat that changed into a panther three times a day (from Palace of the Silver Princess). I was excited to climb into my parent’s car to tell them about it. I was shocked when they frowned and said, “That game is satanic.”
It was 1985. This was both the height of gaming’s popularity, but also the height of the various Dungeons and Dragons Controversies which centered largely around the belief that it was intrinsically involved with devil-worship. Jack Chick published “Dark Dungeons” (viewable here,) which captures what many people though at the time. Most probably didn’t give it any thought at all, but just accepted it because their neighbor or minister said it was satanic, or they saw something on 60 Minutes about it.
Really, why or how that came to be perceived that way is irrelevant. The fact was, my folks seemed to believe, even if halfheartedly, that it was true. Strangely, they didn’t entirely keep me from pursuing it. They just didn’t like it. I struggled with that as a kid. Being really into something, and knowing that my parents, who I loved very much, thoroughly disapproved of it left me with a bit of a pit in my stomach sometimes. I’m almost certain they thought it was just another phase; a passing interest that would come and go just like other interests had in the past. They investigated it a little bit, and nothing obviously harmful seemed to come from it. But even into college, they discouraged me. To this day, I hesitate mentioning gaming to them, despite the 30 years that have passed since that first game.
I have children of my own now. While I showed my daughter the game when she was younger, she didn’t embrace it, and I didn’t push her to. My son, however, asked about it and pursued it, and recently asked to play “my game” and so, a few weeks ago, I decided to let him give it a try.
Perhaps because of my history, I’ve felt strange about children playing games… Felt strange in a way that shocked me… gnawed at me. I went to SCARAB a few years ago, and saw a group of children (ages 8-11) playing a ‘kids track’ series of games based on the Warriors by Erin Hunter. I’m not sure if it was the time of the day (the kids would have been playing for probably 4-6 hours by then) or the windowless room they played in, or just my history, but I felt bad for them. Sick almost. It felt wrong to have kids inside rolling dice and imagining adventures rather than outside and acting them out, if not living them. I recalled, however, that as a kid, I would have killed to have the chance to go to a gaming convention, and probably would have loved something that spoke to fiction that I loved and was familiar with. I went again to SCARAB earlier this year, saw a similar table with similar kids, and despite the obvious joy I saw on their faces, I felt uneasy.
With that as a backdrop, I began making a character with you 5 year-old son, using pictures from the book and summaries of character roles to allow him to make his choices. We used 5th Edition D&D which is classic and streamlined enough not to overwhelm him with choices. He went with a rogue, based on a picture of strong but secretive agent of some sort in a tavern early in the book. I ran through some feats, summarizing them and he picked one I wouldn’t have, but which turned out to actually be very good. I pulled something out of my head and we started playing.
I put a single ally, a priest, in his party and described them as old friends that had grown up together in their small town, and had decided to go off to check the ruins of a castle nearby, chasing rumors of gold and jewels said to have been lost beneath the old keep.
We fought some goblins, which he was a little timid about, but when he saw he could gain the upper hand, attacked with gusto. He tended to enjoy the idea of being unseen more than anything else, and greedily captured as much gold as he could before a mob of goblins chased him and his friend out of the dungeon.
I have a vast collection of Dwarven Forge, and so we were able to do this right. The encounters were three dimensional and all details were present, including a swiveling secret door. When we wrapped up, he begged me to continue, obviously having fun.
As a young boy who grew up into a man with reservations about D&D, especially as it related to his children, I felt mixed emotions as he pressed me to continue. In many ways, when I first became a father, I hoped to create my own little gaming group and share with my children all the things I had done and still hope to do. This moment was a realization of something I had contemplated for decades. It was an indescribable feeling (I can’t put it into writing… but numerous emotions, not all positive, tugged at me).
We played on. I finally crafted a final confrontation with the evil wizard commanding the goblins, adding an NPC fighter to balance out the small party my son was guiding. As the wizard stood to challenge the party and call forth zombies to march against them, my son surprised me.
“What do you want, thief? Say, before I destroy you.”
“I’m here to join you.”
“Hubba-wha?! You want to join me?”
“Well, then your first task is to slay your friends! HAHAHAHA!”
“Okay, I kill them.”
“Yeah, I kill them.”
“Uh…. okay, you chase after them, and they curse you as they flee the dungeon.”
“And, uh… you become a menace to the surrounding countryside, raiding and pillaging with your goblin companions, building the power and influence of the wizard you now serve.”
So… My son appears to either be a sociopath, or has the makings of a great game master some day.
He has pressed to play again, and we have revisited it but sometimes it becomes more about the setting and figures than about the game itself. He remains young for the game. But I still feel that hesitation, and want to hear what other parents have felt or how they have acted in introducing their children to games.
Monte Cook has kickstarted No Thank You, Evil as a starter RPG for families, and maybe something like that would be better suited (though it sounds like my boy needs a game called, “More Evil, Please” from his last game). There are a variety of second and third generation gamers that are introducing the next generation to the hobby, and various products that support that goal. Maybe I need to just get over it and let him play.
In the end, I think that exposure is good, but moderation is essential. This will start as an occasional thing and we’ll see where it goes as he gets a little older. The only thing I know is that I won’t be passing on to him condemnation of his interests, whether they be this or something else that I don’t fully understand, but instead will seek understanding myself and encourage him to be who he wants to be.