Baby bats and new gamers…

My other major hobby besides gaming is DJing a goth and industrial music show on a local community radio station. A few people expressed surprise that someone over 40 would be into goth, seeing it as a teenage thing. The fact is goth is a scene with people ranging from their teens to their fifties. To the point that we even have names for the stages such as “baby bats” and “kindergoths” for teenagers, gerigoth for goths in their 30s, and elders for even older goths.

What’s important is that baby bats and elders are part of the same scene and see each other that way. It’s especially important that the elders see it that way to keep the scene healthy. In fact, part of my mission statement has long been, “Responsible elders don’t let angsty teenagers grow up Emo. They’re ours.”

Sadly, while RPGs were like that when I joined the hobby in the 70s it seems to have died off. People generally play within their broad peer group and usually a mixed adult/teen group happens when a player’s child joins the game.

I was in a wargaming club at 11 and while much of my early D&D play was with my peer group by 16 I was routinely playing in a group that was made up of adults more than teenagers. While total size and teenager count varied for most of the period it was a 6 person group with 2 teenagers, 3 married adults (including one couple), and a single guy in his 30s. My experience doesn’t seem uncommon. Ron Edwards notes over on the Forge that among his early groups were groups of “Mainly older people with a sprinkling of teens who tried to do adult things as much as possible. “. He also notes “Significantly, many groups, even the teen ones, included women in their late twenties who were interested in role-playing and not at all concerned about the propriety of hanging out with boys ten years younger.”

This makes sense given when Gygax and Arneson created D&D they were in their 30s and 20s respectively and meant it for their peers. Today, RPGs are a “kids” thing to many people, including many teens and college students just learning the game (before you say “college students aren’t kids” I’d point out that we tolerate adolescence well into 20s now). These people will not stay in the hobby past college for the most part. They will grow up and move onto “adult” things. My father waited well into my 30s for this to happen.

So why did people like myself stay with something from our childhood well into middle age? Because instead of being a kids thing for us, RPGs were our first adult experience. It was the first place adults treated us as peers. I don’t think I can overestimate the value of this to both myself and the hobby.

People talk about an old school renaissance in terms of systems, rules, and play styles. I’d like to see one more part to it. I’d like to see people getting teenagers in their game, be it OD&D, D&D4, or even World of Darkness. I can think of nothing more important to the long term survival of our hobby than teaching teenagers just learning it that it isn’t one of their last “kid” things but their first adult thing. For all the talk of getting new blood few people recognize we get plenty but we keep little.

Last Saturday at a comics and gaming con I met one of Houston’s goth scene promoters and we discussed how to keep the baby bats. Now I just need to find some DMs who want to keep the new gamers.

3 thoughts on “Baby bats and new gamers…

  1. i can’t help but wonder if the difference between the goth scene and gaming isn’t a public space vs. private space issue?
    it’s totally “safe” for a 35 year old (or 50 year old) man to be seen socializing with much younger individuals in the goth scene because this happens almost exclusively in (ostensibly public) clubs. but RPG tends to happen in the home — in the basement/den/attic specifically. and i think one thing that’s changed radically since the 70’s is that sense of people trusting their teens to be “alone” with -anyone- who is more than just a few years older.

    ps: you owe us a _LOT_ of play lists for the radio show at this point, buddy 😉

  2. Yes – the litmus test for the success of the Old School Revival (so-called) will be whether it can compete with D&D 4e and the World of Darkness in getting younger players interested. I'm realistic enough to doubt that it will be able to do so, which is a pity.

  3. The most important thing we do in Adventuring Parties' afterschool class isn't to teach RPG rules. We thought it would be, but I've pretty much given up on it. (Here I think our OSR background shows through; programs in Israel get kids to follow the rules because they have a commercial agenda, and the Roleplay Workshop does because Becky is an educator who designed teaching the rules to be the same as teaching math, consequences, etc.)

    What we do that matters is to show that playing pretend is something that grownups like us take seriously, and to give that same consideration to whatever crazy rules the kids just invented.
    – Tavis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *