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Living the Dream

Oh no, we aren’t a gam­ing fam­i­ly. Why would you think that? Yes, our copy of Drag­on does get passed around to every­one in the house (and I fig­ure it’s only a mat­ter of time before Dun­geon gets the same treat­ment). Okay, so we have the D&D Mas­ter Tools pro­gram installed on every com­put­er in the house, and it does see a lot of use (we’re look­ing for­ward to the actu­al release of the pro­gram — the demo crash­es a lot). And dice do tend to be found in the odd­est places, but doesn’t that hap­pen to every­body who has a cat? So we have a lot of gam­ing books — three copies of the third edi­tion AD&D play­ers man­u­al at last count, but who’s count­ing? And doesn’t every­body have a book­case devot­ed just to RPGs?

I’ve been hang­ing around gamers since high school. I was exposed to D&D sev­er­al times and as well as a very bas­tardized ver­sion of Trav­eller that was played by some friends on the bus on the way to march­ing band com­pe­ti­tions. I kept run­ning into more and more peo­ple who were into LARPs (which sound real­ly fun, although I haven’t tried one yet) and oth­er RPGs. Still, I nev­er seemed to meet any oth­er females who played, and got the def­i­nite impres­sion that gam­ing was a boys’ club. I was curi­ous, but not quite enough to try get­ting past the implied “No Gurls Alowed” sign on the club­house. Besides, every­body else seems to get into gam­ing as a teenag­er — I’m a lit­tle old to start now, right?

But then an acquain­tance from the music com­mit­tee at church intro­duced me to an old friend of hers, Sam — a won­der­ful­ly intel­li­gent, fun­ny, roman­tic, hand­some game design­er (okay, can you tell I’m in love with the guy?). (Thank you Gwen!) They played Were­wolf on week­ends at Gwen’s place, and I was invit­ed to join. Gwen and the rest of the group were very patient with me as a new­bie. Yes, all of them had been play­ing since their teen years — but appar­ent­ly they’re always will­ing to wel­come new gamers to the fold, no mat­ter how old or young (we had a 10-year-old play­ing with us and hold­ing his own).

To be hon­est, I didn’t find the whole idea of play­ing a were­wolf very appeal­ing — and that came out in my char­ac­ter, who was expe­ri­enc­ing a fair amount of angst about it her­self. I quick­ly found, though, that it can be very fun to lose your­self in a char­ac­ter who can be very dif­fer­ent from your­self, or very much like your­self but doing things you’d nev­er dare doing in your mun­dane life! And you can learn quite a lot about peo­ple pret­ty quick­ly by gam­ing with them — more so than in most social sit­u­a­tions I encounter, any­way. And it’s a good thing I was inter­est­ed in gam­ing already — it isn’t some­thing you can fake well — because I don’t think I could real­ly get along with my part­ner that well if I couldn’t share an inter­est that is so impor­tant to him (obvi­ous­ly oth­ers have found this a prob­lem).

For a vari­ety of rea­sons the Were­wolf game end­ed more quick­ly than nor­mal. We moved on to play­ing a vari­a­tion on anoth­er White Wolf game, Mage, that Sam changed a fair amount (we played in the “World of Most­ly Dim­ness” rather than the World of Dark­ness™). He called it Thresh­old Mage, and I loved it. My char­ac­ter was com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from me in almost every way — well, she was still female, but just about every­thing else was dif­fer­ent. We end­ed up with eight play­ers in that game, which I’m told is close to the max­i­mum who can eas­i­ly par­tic­i­pate in a non-LARP game. I would have very hap­pi­ly con­tin­ued that cam­paign indef­i­nite­ly, but Sam start­ed with a def­i­nite end in mind.

We’ve just start­ed an AD&D third edi­tion cam­paign in which I’m play­ing a half-elven bard. This is the first time I’ve got­ten to use minia­tures, which is rather neat. I’m look­ing for­ward to play­ing Pen­drag­on, which is anoth­er game I’ve heard my gamer friends dis­cuss. There’s been a fair amount of talk about get­ting a Changeling game going, and I’m will­ing to give it a try but I’m not real­ly wild about the whole World of Dark­ness uni­verse — I guess I see enough dark­ness in the real world that I’d rather play in a brighter place! Sev­er­al of the guys in our group love Shad­owrun, as well. Some of them do a fair amount of online gam­ing, but I don’t think that would be near­ly as much fun for me — I enjoy the real-time social inter­ac­tion a lot — I think it would be hard­er to do online gam­ing with kids around, too.

It may sound odd, but one of the things I’m enjoy­ing about gam­ing is that I get time to do my needle­work—if I’m not actu­al­ly rolling dice or mov­ing a minia­ture around in com­bat, I’m stitch­ing.

Sam is invit­ed to run LARPs or one-shot games at var­i­ous cons from time to time, so I’ll prob­a­bly get my chance to try that soon enough. He wrote a kids’ LARP that he ran at our church a few years back and ran it as part of the children’s pro­gram­ming track at Drag­on Con in 1999 — it was a major suc­cess. That led to being the direc­tor of Kid Con at Drag­on Con 2000, where he of course did anoth­er LARP. He also ran a children’s LARP as part of fam­i­ly week at the Omega Insti­tute for Holis­tic Stud­ies this past sum­mer.

Sam plays D&D with our kids (as well as what­ev­er oth­er kids end up here) when­ev­er we can make time for it. They played the old Star Wars RPG after we all went to see Phan­tom Men­ace togeth­er (and there’s a lot of excite­ment about the new ver­sion com­ing from TSR), and the girls recent­ly start­ed play­ing the Sailor Moon RPG with a friend of theirs. Katie has been ask­ing when she’ll be old enough to play Mage — parts of the Thresh­old cam­paign were def­i­nite­ly rat­ed PG-13, but I sup­pose Sam could prob­a­bly run a Mage game suit­able for kids.

Gaming As a Parent

Or actu­al­ly, with your kids around. I didn’t real­ize it was an issue, since I’ve only gamed with kids around, nev­er with­out! It seems some peo­ple think that you can’t game with chil­dren present, or some­thing like that — I’ve encoun­tered sev­er­al peo­ple who said they stopped gam­ing when they had kids. Well, Sam’s kids have been around gam­ing through­out their lives, and Katie’s been around it for the last cou­ple of years, and we haven’t had any prob­lems. We do make sure we game here or at anoth­er house that’s already set up for kids, and we make sure we have things set up to keep the kids busy — videos, Playsta­tion games, what­ev­er (since our kids don’t usu­al­ly get much “screen time” videos and Playsta­tion games are a pret­ty big treat for them). They love gam­ing nights because we have more junk food around than usu­al and don’t real­ly enforce their nor­mal bed­times. They often want to sit in and lis­ten to the game as much as pos­si­ble (they are shooed away for some parts of the game — if any­thing gets real­ly nasty/​dangerous for our char­ac­ters, etc.). It was nec­es­sary for me to explain the nature of role­play­ing to Katie in the begin­ning — oth­er­wise, if my char­ac­ter got upset or hurt, she got upset because she thought I was upset. She under­stands that much bet­ter now that she’s play­ing her­self.

For­tu­nate­ly the folks we play with do under­stand that occa­sion­al­ly kids are going to inter­rupt a game with requests or minor crises or just the need for some atten­tion, and the kids under­stand that we’re busy and keep those to a min­i­mum while we’re play­ing. Since we play with sev­er­al oth­er par­ents, too, we use round-robin or trib­al par­ent­ing — if there’s either sus­pi­cious silence from the kids’ part of the house, or sus­pi­cious amounts of noise, who­ev­er isn’t imme­di­ate­ly involved in the cur­rent play goes to inves­ti­gate and deal with it.

Gaming With Kids

Actu­al­ly, Sam has said a fair amount about gam­ing with kids on his own web site, and he knows a lot more about it that I do. I’ve had sev­er­al peo­ple ask me, though, how I can let my kids get into gam­ing, or even watch us game as aduts, as they seem to assume gam­ing is a Bad Thing.

We do make sure the kids know the dif­fer­ence between fan­ta­sy and real­i­ty, and we find it good for them to see that some­times bad things hap­pen to your char­ac­ters through no fault of their own — no, life isn’t fair, and nei­ther are games. They also see our char­ac­ters being cre­ative in work­ing through prob­lems, and deal­ing with per­son­al­i­ty con­flicts with peo­ple they must coöperate with in order to achieve what­ev­er the cur­rent goal is — all valu­able life lessons.

The way Sam runs games, at least, the kids quick­ly find out that no mat­ter how good their char­ac­ters are at fight­ing, com­bat isn’t the best way to resolve most sit­u­a­tions. They learn to ques­tion what they’re told, to look beyond sur­face appear­ances, and to think crit­i­cal­ly. They’re start­ing to get a decent instinc­tive grasp of prob­a­bil­i­ty from work­ing with dice and char­ac­ter sta­tis­tics. They’re learn­ing that all actions have con­se­quences — and while we rein­force that in every day life, of course, there are some con­se­quences that we as par­ents won’t let them expe­ri­ence in real life that can occur in games (for instance, if they do some­thing real­ly stu­pid, it’s very like­ly that some­body in the game dies). In one game Genevieve was play­ing a cler­ic, and she abused her pow­ers by using them for per­son­al gain. The deity she served imme­di­ate­ly took away her pow­ers and she had to spend much of the next game ses­sion doing penance to that deity for her behav­ior. She remem­bered that les­son for a while.

Links

These are a few links I’ve book­marked while learn­ing more about RPGs.


Last updat­ed Decem­ber 19, 2000