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Saturday 12 May 2018

Classic Rant: "RPGs for Kids" are not Really For Kids

Today, the RPGPundit goes after a group notorious for how well they handle the slightest criticism of anything they do: Parents. Oh, also, millennial hipsters, who are just as renowned for their thickness of skin. Let's do this thing.

I really have to question why it is that the makers of what are supposedly "RPGs for kids" always end up making an RPG when you play kids?

Because when I was a kid, I NEVER wanted to be a kid. I wanted to be an adult. That's what kids want.

You know who really wants to play kids? 20-somethings and 30-somethings filled with melancholic nostalgia for their lost innocence, or some kind of total bullshit like that.

(when I was a kid, there's no way I wanted to be this:)

(What I wanted was to be this:)

Or this:

Which again reinforces to me that so much of the "roleplaying with kids" thing is not about the kids at all, but about the parents and adults. It's more a selfish thing than anything else; even if (hopefully) most of the kids involved are still actually having a nice time.

The only kid I ever GMed (who was 9 when he started with us) got to play in my Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign as his "rpg for kids". He did not play a kid. He played a gender-fluid wizard with a penchant for reckless ultraviolence and destruction of life and property. Actually, first he briefly played a Dwarf, then the ultraviolent gender-fluid wizard, but you get the point!

The whole cutesy-poo "kids" thematic of games like the two in the images above and a few others I've seen popping up is not meant to appeal to kids, it's meant to appeal to adult gamers.  
At best, adult gamers who are parents, showing them a safely sanitized and bowdlerized cleaner-than-G-rated imagery because apparently the second you actually pop out a kid your brain chemicals make you forget what it was actually like to BE one, and what you really like as a kid. 

At worst, to college-aged hipster millennials who are facing a future of working for minimum wage at food co-ops while paying off that $200000 student loan they got for taking that Maori Studies Degree minoring in Interpretive Feminist Dance, and thus spend their time pining for an idyllic an uncomplicated childhood that never actually was.


Currently Smoking: Brigham Anniversary Pipe + Image Latakia

(Originally posted February 27, 2016)


  1. I would agree with you if the two RPGs you cited (Hero Kids & No Thank you Evil!) were aimed at 9-15 year old kids. However, they are not. They are aimed at a younger demographic who isn't ready to join in their older siblings D&D games. No Thank you Evil is aimed at ages 5+, while Hero Kids is aimed at ages 4-10. Most kids aged 5-7 or so aren't ready to portray adults in a typical adventure campaign. Now, once they cut their teeth on games like these, they'll rapidly hit the limitations of those systems and be ready to play more complex games, and they'll be better able to envision themselves as someone other than who they currently are. Maybe even a Dwarf or a "gender fluid Wizard". :-) There's a place for all kinds of games. Declaring "game x" as being strong bad is quite exclusionary and limiting. Games like these won't be for ALL kids, but they will be just great for some kids, and I'd hate to see some gatekeepers declare "game x" as being unworthy.

    1. There is a chance that at 4-5 I might have been too toddler-like to still feel like these games would be cool. By ages 6-8 I would already have been quite certain, if given the choice, to play "star wars" instead of this stuff. And to want to play Han Solo.

  2. I disagree that 5-7 year olds aren't ready / willing / interested in portraying adults in their play. I've never heard a kid on a playground say, "Let's play baby pirates!" No ... kid play is both imitative and imaginative. They want to real deal: cowboys, dinosaurs, aliens ... but will settle for marketed pap (directed at parents) over nothing. For the 5-7 set, I've noticed that many love to play animals ... animals with big teeth who can crunch their foes into a pulpy mess.

    "No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty" - C.S. Lewis

  3. I've never understood Muppet Babies and other properties like that either but someone is putting their money where their mouth is hoping to appeal to them so more power to them and their gamble.

  4. Leave it to Pundit, who does not appear to have any children (nor mentions any in the post) to claim what he believes is best for kids using assumptions from his own anecdotal memories (which, by the way, it is well documented that distance in time alters our memories of events significantly).

    But that never stopped Pundit from mouthing off about things he knows nothing about.

    First off, I have first hand experience with these games AND am a father of 3 children ranging in age from 4 to 7 years in age.

    Pundit is completely wrong.

    The most popular kids shows for the under 10 crowd on TV feature kid and teen aged heroes, not adult ones.

    Odd Squad
    Rusty Rivets
    Paw Patrol
    Dora the Explorer
    Teen Titans
    Sunny Day
    Go Diego Go
    I could go on and on...

    Any parent that has spent more than 5 minutes with Cartoon Network or Nick Jr knows this.

    Do you know why these cartoons and live action shows are popular? Because the children identify with the young actors or characters on the show more than they would with adult characters.

    Second, not only does Pundit not know a thing about what kids like, he hasn’t even played these games with kids... so he has no freaking idea what kids do and do not like.

    Not only have I played Hero Kids with my own kids, I also played similar games with my nephews as they grew up. I have roughly 15 years of experience in the realm of playing various RPGs with elementary age kids.

    Pundit doesn’t know jack about this.

    1. So, to start off you completely discredit yourself by revealing you haven't actually read the Blog entry (or worse, read it really poorly- which was it?) by claiming I "don't mention any" children in the post, when I clearly DO.

      Second, almost everything you named on that list of TV shows is for toddlers. If your kids are older than about 5 and watching most of those, they're mentally retarded.

      Teen Titans is a show featuring 'teen aged heroes' but to kids teens are basically adults: they get to go out, unsupervised, do exciting shit on their own, and when you get to a certain age teens are even more cool 'adults' than the adults because they're not boring moms and dads, they're rock stars and movie stars and their favorite youtube celebrities.

      Also, there's a difference between watching cartoon shows and live-action you engage in. As someone pointed out in a comment to this post, no one at the playground wanted to play pretend of being a Muppet Baby. They wanted to be GI Joe or Jem & the Holograms or Han Solo or Batman.

      Show me a 9 year old who will testify to wanting to be Dora the Explorer and I'll accept you're not entirely full of shit.

    2. Well, it goes to show that you don’t know shit about those games as they are intended for a younger audience.

      Also your reading comprehension is shit because I said you didn’t mention having or playing with your own kids.

      Playing once with a 9 year old is not extensive experience playing games with kids.

      My original point stand. You don’t know jack about what you are criticizing.

    3. Schyeah, cause when you have kids you automatically know only the best and correct choices to make for them. There's no chance to fuck up, no siree.

  5. Opening caveat: you're not wrong about adults enjoying some of these games (which is fine).

    However...No Thank You Evil is popular with the kids I've played it with, I'm afraid to tell you. The kids I know - especially the girls - enjoy both colourful bouncy stuff and heavier stuff. The parallel boardgames Mice & Mystics and Stuffed Fables have had similarly positive reception from the younger relatives I've played them with (...especially the girls).

    One thing that might appeal (about No Thankyou Evil) to parents more than kids, but which doesn't render it escapism-for-adults, are the obvious "educational" aims of the game. You can dislike them if you want, but it's also something that bypasses your main critique.

    As a final aside, and I doubt you'd disagree, it's also a business play - "family storytelling games" are a way of selling RPGs in the expanding game market. Relevantly, the two boardgames I mention above - Mice and Mystics and Stuffed Fables - sell heavy in the gamestore I work in. They sell to a mix of the above motives - both escapism and a need for a family game appeal to people. So, separate from the issue you raise, there's good business sense in the move.