New Perspectives: Not Your Everyday Superheroine
One of the major differences I've noticed, running RPGs for kids, is that they really bring completely new perspectives to the gaming table. Just the act of sitting down, for example, and defining a character with them can be a rewarding experience in examining your preconceived notions. Just recently, I created a character with Kay, an 11 year old, for the new game "Silver Age Sentinels," which is a super-hero roleplaying game. This is not the first game Kay's played. The world of power fantasies is really not her favorite world, so I knew that I would have to really tailor the setting and the scenario to fit what she likes and to appeal to her. The process of figuring out what powers her character will have was very interesting.
Kay wasn't really jazzed about the traditional super-hero powers of flight, blasting rays out of her eyes, or super strength. She did like, however, the idea of being able to look at someone and tell what they are thinking, and she did enjoy the whole "Miranda" concept of being able to move things with her mind.
I knew she would never "go" for a costumed super hero group in a four-color universe, so I decided that her story would be more like a Vertigo comic - realistic with mythic overtones. No costumed crusaders. The villains would have to be gritty and real, the situations "Buffy"-esque. Still, I find the heroic aspect of comics to be very interesting and fun, and I encouraged Kay to shape a character who fits that profile.
What was interesting to me is the shifts I had to make from the traditional four-color super hero world to shape a world that Kay would be interested in and would take seriously. This challenge meant that I suddenly became interested in the game, because it is something of a challenge to take rules like the ones in Silver Age Sentinels and shape them to a more low-key, realistic-seeming game.
I could have just as easily used the game Mage: The Ascension for this particular scenario and little would have been changed - except I was interested in playtesting Silver Age Sentinels, and also I wanted a more "comic book" feel to the powers and abilities.
In shaping her character, we created her Nemesis, a Psychic named Maximillian whose powers are more suited to mind control and the like. We decided that Max didn't like her because she was one of the only people in his life that he could *not* control, and he discovered this at Freshman orientation at the City College she attends. This guy started bothering her shortly after he realized that he couldn't just snap his fingers and control her, and he's been "messing" with her ever since: little things that she can't pin him down on, but that she feels (and rightly so) he's behind.
All of this came out of Kay's character's need for a *real* villain...not just some caped-and-hooded evil guy bent on world destruction.
Kay's character (named Christine Knight and who uses the heroic name "Crystal") use of her Telepathy powers has also been interesting. For one, I realized early on that I really didn't think she should *have* to roll dice to talk to her best friend...that was something I "gave" her for free. Then she said at one point, "I just give her all the information I have about this.." There's no rules for downloading information into other people's brains, but this is a very cool use of a telepathic ability! Here Crystal's power helped advance the plot in record time.
Now I can *see* Crystal and her friend Shade in my mind's eye: they're young college-age women who have a sense of style and who are slightly geeky. Crystal's a bit hippie-ish (she was raised in a commune where she was homeschooled all her life, by hippies who never made a big deal over her psychic powers and never made her feel strange about them) and Shade's a bit goth (her powers mostly revolve around Shadows and the uses of Shadow, she has what Silver Age Sentinels calls a "Flux Power" - that is to say, she has 45 points of powers she can assign to whatever sub-powers she wishes, as long as they "make sense" in the context of Shadow).
Crystal and Shade have a kind of yin/yang "Cloak and Dagger" feel going on, without the 80's drug moralizing. I doubt they will *ever* get into a fistfight, but you never know. But they will be going up against Max, and then there's the Agents of Shadow who are trying to accomplish nastiness in the City, and ghost stories to tell, and occultish stalkers, and who knows what else? Meanwhile Kay gets to fantasize about what it's going to be like when she's 21 and out on her own, in the big bad world, in college where, hopefully, her mind will be constantly challenged. For an 11 year old, this is heady stuff!
A Challenge: What's my Motivation?
I'm not sure if this is true about all kids, but the kids I game with need a *reason* to do what they do. They want everything to have some kind of internal logic. I guess life is confusing enough for kids, that their games have to make sense. Making internal sense is difficult - villains have to have motivations to do what they do! So do heroes. I have really had to stretch and add motivations to all my games and think on that level to be able to *know* what is driving the plot, which has made me a better game master, I feel.
Shared Experiences & Language
I can sit and talk for hours to Kay or Ray or Gee about their gaming characters. There are running jokes in our games, little inside references that we can use to talk to each other. It's fun, and it builds community in our little social group. Plus, many of the kids' friends have also taken up gaming. Friendships made through gaming can last a long time, as most of us who game know.
Kids have an amazing ability to store and retain lore. Their brains soak it up. One kid, Ray, is so good at the minutiae of the rules that I have begun using him as a verbal-interactive game resource from time to time! He knows all the little squiggly bits that I haven't yet bothered to learn.
Fun and Socialization
Let's face it, the perception is that there's not much adults and children can do together anymore. Because of the terrible tragedy of child molestation and abuse, adults are no longer universally trusted to hang out with kids. That's just the reality of the world in which we live.
But that means that it is more important to have kids spend time with trusted,. responsible, safe adults, having *positive* socialization time. Some people who game with kids might be perceived as pedophiles in waiting. Adult gamers need to pay attention to parental concerns so that they can gain and keep parents' and kids' trust and help everyone feel safe and comfortable. Kids and parents can keep their eyes open for an adult abusing this trust so they remain safe - parents, especially, need to always be involved with their kids' lives. This is one way that this can happen *and* it can be *fun* in the process.
And who knows? You may become responsible for helping make another life-long role-player. Cool, huh?