Saturday, 2 June 2012

On Gaming with Teenagers and Ageing

The weekly game of LotFP I'm involved in (as a player) has been an interesting experience, as the players are divided between old fogeys and yoof in roughly equal measures. The DM, Patrick, is I think 29 (though he'll correct me on that). Then there's me, 30, and a 31 year-old. On the other side of the adult/child divide are David and Adam, affectionally referred to as the "gruesome twosome", who are 16 or 17-ish; Adam is a nephew of one of the other players, and David is his strange friend. This is a new thing for me, as for my entire gaming life, such as it is, I've gamed with people who are broadly my age or older.

On Wednesday the gruesome twosome brought along two more friends. I viewed this with a little trepidation; I don't get along with anybody below the age of about 25, unless they have breasts and nice dimples, so I wasn't expecting it to be a great deal of fun. This is compounded by the fact that the "gruesome twosome" have a tendency towards the...chaotic. And in real life, not in alignment terms.

Yet, surprisingly, it went very well. One thing I noticed is that the youngsters were actually quite keen to be deferential to us seniors, looking to us for their lead on a number of occasions. But I also noticed that age-old truism in action: the older you get, the more conservative you become. The younger players at the table's approach to the game can be best described as devil-may-care. There's a corridor? Let's charge down it. There's a room full of bats ahead? Let's kill them. There's a load of old crates in the room? Let's search them. On a number of occasions this resulted in extremely awkward and dangerous results, and yet the natural exuberance of youth meant they never really learned their lesson.

By contrast, the oldsters were caution personified. We spent the initial, lengthy encounter essentially hiding in long grass while the others did everything. In the dungeon, I was trying to parlay with the creatures we met, and frightening off bats by yelling and making noise; anything to avoid a fight. Every corridor we came down had pebbles thrown down it to make sure there wasn't a trap. We made clever use of spells to avoid direct confrontation.

Patrick is a much cuddlier DM than I am, and he was also going easy on the newbies a bit, which I think was fair enough and probably the correct way to play it. But I think, in a more rules-as-written version of the game, it wouldn't have been long before the PCs of the youngsters were all dead.

It made me realise something that we all know already: D&D was originally a game for adults. Gary Gygax was 35 or 36 when it was first released. Dave Arneson was a spring chicken at 26ish. These weren't nerdish teenage boys, young, dumb and full of cum. They were nerdish men. The game rewards the kind of caution and conservatism that adults will bring to the table.

This means that in its purest form the game is best enjoyed by grown-ups. And yet it has, throughout most of the past 30 years, been a preserve of adolescents. I believe this may be one of, if not the, major explanation for the gradual kid-gloving of the game over the preceding decades - adolescents, particularly adolescent boys, are idiots. You can't leave them in charge of a game like OD&D without them abusing and misunderstanding it horribly, which in turn leads them to think it is broken and unfair. And thus: 4e.

27 comments:

  1. I'm 30, born about a week after you I think. My sheltered life has given me a youthful complexion.

    And *you* searched the crates Glister Worg. (and found a medusa comb)

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  2. BAH I say.
    The game should punish _both_ heedless lunacy and indecisive caution. This is the lesson of all great ensemble tales of heroism--it's not just "be nice to the guy playing Worf" it's "sometimes the guy playing Worf is right".
    Yesterday the girls managed to kill a 10th-level necromancer medusa in one round because of a chain of events started when one of them thought "y'know I'm gonna run right past this undead boar everyone is prudently executing and see what's in the next room"...
    Part of good GMing is that every playstyle at your table should be _exactly the right one_ for some situations which means all the others could be _exactly the wrong one_

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    1. I say Bah!! to your Bah!. The difference is not between heedless lunacy and indecisive caution - or at least it shouldn't be. It should be varying shades of the in-between (decisiveness levened by prudence, the amount of which varying on the player and character), all of which complement each other.

      You can investigate the room past the undead boar cautiously, for instance. This might be slightly less prudent than what the other PCs are doing, but it is not the same as being heedlessly lunatic.

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    2. Well it's all terribly abstract and shades-of-greyish without an example in front of us, isn't it?

      I suppose you'll just have to run a G+ game so I can see what you're on about.

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    3. Watch this space. I have plans.

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  3. You can't leave them in charge of a game like OD&D without them abusing and misunderstanding it horribly, which in turn leads them to think it is broken and unfair. And thus: 4e.

    On the bright side, the existence of 4E means the clots have a game of their own that does the things they like. The Leeroy Jenkins crowd are no longer trying to warp what was intended as a thinking man's game to fit their testosterone-poisoned view of the world.

    Also, heedless berserkers are like trapspringer sheep you don't even have to pay for.

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  4. Also, I think the distinction you;re sensing is less "old and conservative" vs "Young and aggressive" and more "experiences with the system and used to the freedom it gives you" and "new to the system and all kinds of excited that you can do whatever"

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    1. That's a fair point, actually. The only way to be sure is to do some empirical tests with young people who are experienced and old people who are inexperienced, to see.

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    2. Well my "tests" with experienced and inexperienced people who are all the _same_ age (20's) seems to indicate I'm right.

      But, as I am frequently told by angry anonymous internet people: I and my decadent metropolitan cohort are outliers and my experiences are irrelevant.

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    3. I was just about to say exactly that.

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  5. "This means that in its purest form the game is best enjoyed by grown-ups. And yet it has, throughout most of the past 30 years, been a preserve of adolescents. I believe this may be one of, if not the, major explanation for the gradual kid-gloving of the game over the preceding decades - adolescents, particularly adolescent boys, are idiots. You can't leave them in charge of a game like OD&D without them abusing and misunderstanding it horribly, which in turn leads them to think it is broken and unfair. And thus: 4e."

    You have written the introductory abstract to the thesis which is the OSR movement. Respect.

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  6. I laughed at your comment about 4e! My husband and I are on the old fogey side too. I don't like playing with teens at all.

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  7. Boldness pays off sometimes. I've seen it at the table.

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    1. Of course. I'm obviously talking about things in aggregate terms.

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  8. In my experience inexperienced 8-12 year olds lack the caution to play OD&D as intended and the interest in codification to play 4e as written. The latter might emerge in the post-tween period, but New York Red Box's resident high school student was as eager to trade the 4e rules-defined style for OD&D's wahoo openness as his character was to poke out his own eye and replace it with a possibly-magic one he found in a dungeon. You're on to something important, but I think it's better to say that 4e is what you get when the kids who grew up playing TSR editions and thinking they were broken and unfair reach the age where they are old enough to be lead designers. It would be great if a lot of well-considered market research on what actual teenagers want is taking place at WotC R&D, but it's always safest to assume that folks are designing for themselves first and foremost.

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    1. That's kind of what I meant, actually, although you're right - it wasn't stated explicitly. The kids who grew up thinking OD&D and 1st edition were broken are today's game designers.

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    2. And the kids who played OD&D and 1st Edition are today's lead game designers.

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  9. My experience DMing 4e for my teenagers and their friends is that they simply want to run thru the dungeon hacking anything that moves.

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  10. I don't think this is at all true. I'm 19, and I ran this spur-of-the-moment game for another 19-year-old a while ago. He was up against a single girl in a burger shop - the dungeon proper was in a secret entrance in the freezer. She had no weapons.

    He scouts the place out, finds that the front is alarmed, then goes around and breaks in through the back. He severs the phone lines and lights, then plays cat-and-mouse with this girl for ages and ages. Finally it gets too hot - he drops a shovel and she starts coming for him with it - and so he moves back out, undoing everything so that it looks like he's never been here. Then he circles around and goes through drive-thru like he wants to order a burger, whereupon she totally spills her guts and lets him into the shop so he can help her against this cat-burglar. Eventually he manages to convince her that the whole thing must have been her imagination, and gets her to ally with him to go down into the dungeon.

    Every young'un I've run a game with has acted like this. "I prod it with the pole. Nothing? Ok, throw the duck at it. Nothing? Maybe the trap only activates when a human steps on it..." I'm talking about people who were raised on Nethack and Dark Souls, though.

    Probably some people are cautious and some aren't, and it doesn't have much to do with age.

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  11. Probably some people are cautious and some aren't, and it doesn't have much to do with age.

    no way! :O

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  12. As far as I know, both Klaus and Boyd (the two lead fighters in the teen group mentioned here) do have some experience with D&D (or D&D-type games), but like you say perhaps they have different expectations.

    I remember that my first action in an RPG (playing Apocalypse World last year) was to draw a gun on somebody. Perhaps there is a connection between inexperience and expectations, rather than age.

    I think the more important contribution of age is something that you don't mention: culturally, 18 year olds today are different from 18 year olds thirteen years ago.

    I had my first mobile phone at 18; Klaus and Boyd have probably had theirs for at least five years, and they have been better connected, both through their phones and their computers. They have different social artifacts that litter their conscious and subconscious. When we were 18, things like WoW just didn't exist - at least not in the "resolution" that they exist now.

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  13. You're an old foggy at 30. Dear gods, what does that make me at 45.

    Regardless, bully for you to include those chaotic teenagers. I have written about mixed age groups before and why I think they're important. I also think the trend towards age segregation of young people is a general social problem, but that's a bigger topic.

    So yes, this is a game for grown-ups, but we become grown-ups by doing grown-up things. Reading this post made me very happy that someone is still helping the new gamers do that.

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    1. To be fair, it's my DM Patrick who deserves the credit.

      I agree with you about age segregation. It's one of the many things that worries me about The Way Society Is Going.

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  14. I think it has less to do with age or experience, and more to do with gaming (in the widest sense) experience. I have run games in which my wife, my mother, and my sister have been the players. None of them has any experience of gaming, and, importantly, no experience of computer gaming. They were crazily cautious, but then, they expected that a fights would be realistically deadly and that wounds would take weeks to heal, as you would if you hadn't been 'schooled' on the conceptualizations of combat and Hit Points that are common in computer games.

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    1. wife, mother and sister must make a great group. :)

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