Young-Adult RPGs

edited October 2012 in Story Games
I'd like to talk about something that's been on my mind for a while: the relationship between YA fiction and roleplaying/story-games.

For starters,

- For someone designing a YA game, what would some interesting themes and subject matters to touch on?
- What are the challenges/social issues involved in marketing a narrative-style game to that age group?
- For supers/saving-the-world-style games: Isn't romaticizing teenage vigilantism kind of reprehensible, not to mention difficult to justify fictionally?

And futhermore --

- What is our (especially American culture's) obsession with teenagers anyways?


  • The biggest themes I see in YA fiction from an admittedly outsider perspective are Alienation and Romance. Not fitting in with things, adults trying to control you, trying to figure out who you are. Having a crush, being in a relationship, the constant undercurrents of sexual tension. That's all stuff I see in Twilight and Hunger Games and their ilk. Also Buffy.
  • edited October 2012
    For my generation, Star Wars and the X-Men had a similar position, which is why those RPGs were great for us.

    As for the vigilantism question, kids fantasize about being adults, or if they don't, they fantasize about having the power to be effective and the freedom to be effective. Middle schoolers fantasize about high school (High School Musical), high schoolers fantasize about college (Real Genius). A realistic portrayal of vigilantism in a teen supers game would destroy the feeling of empowerment and freedom to explore that the young player seeks.
  • That's true - those two themes are pretty much what everyone focuses on when writing for the genre. I wonder, though, what else is out there? Like, say, dealing with newfound independence, or shedding childhood delusions ("good guys always win the end!", and such).

    Also, something interesting I've noticed before about these kinds of discussions: how people mostly point to modern works. The best YA novel I've ever read was Catcher in the Rye.
  • edited October 2012
    I'm not too current on post-millennial YA fiction, but as a kid, I was always fond of stories that give the underdog a supernatural or otherworldly advantage. Or maybe not supernatural, maybe just something that's rare for a kid like being a master of martial arts or something. It always gave me the shivers whenever the kid that was getting bullied suddenly can fight back. I probably would have liked Karate kid more if I didn't have such a strong disdain for Ralph Machio.

    As a kid, two of my favorite stories were the Nintendo Power novel for Blaster Master - where the tween protagonist embarks on journey with a mysterious (and cute) girl in their super powerful tank - and Gary Gygax's Cyborg Commando where the young adult (I think he was like 18 at the beginning of the story) gets drafted into a secret project to turn ordinary humans into powerful cyborg soldiers to do battle with the giant alien bugs that are invading the planet. There was a love interest in that book too.

    So, for me, the exciting elements of YA fiction were the potential romance as well as the feeling of power over the things that threaten my happiness (like bullies). It was not at all about actual sex so much as female companionship and romance. Also, I was not into love triangles, sexual tension, or "finding oneself". Those seem to be themes more common to modern YA fiction.
  • Also really important, yep. The empowerment aspect shows up in a ton of YA.

    There was a blog post somewhere which outlined the authors three essential qualities of YA roleplaying. IIRC, they were something along the lines of "relate it to subject matter they're familiar with", "realize the power-fantasies of youth", and "allow the players to express their individuality". Anyone able to dig up the link?
  • edited October 2012
    The most powerful theme for adolescents, I'm guessing, would be something along the lines of identity vs. uncertainty. Not merely "fitting in" or "expressing individuality" (though both are good subthemes), but more broadly how dealing with uncertainty drives us towards particular identities and what new uncertainties those identities might generate... on and on and on...

    (But that's assuming the Adolescent Psychology book I studied from got it right. It sure did stress identity and uncertainty lot.)
  • I'd have to dig it up, but a while ago I read an article that posited that dystopia is a major thread in YA fiction (The Hunger Games being the most visible example) because in an important sense it reflects the experience of having adults trap you in a school and having other kids make it more unpleasant.
  • YA Literature and RPGs? Well, Twilight is awful, but Monsterhearts is awesome :) On that note, could we get an AW hack of Cybergeneration?
  • When I was working on The Afterborn (YA AW), there were a few things I discovered in playtesting that weren't emphasized enough in the most recent drafts:

    -- the divide between adults and teenagers is a HUGE thing and needs to be central to play; adults should be totally alien and completely unfair in the way they use their arbitrary authority; even friendly adults (see Dumbledore)

    -- ...but the adults are also obviously incompetent or blind to the real dangers, which requires the teenagers to be active and do things that matter, either in large ways (save the world) or just in terms of addressing issues in their lives

    -- the choices the young adults make become part of who they are; there is pretty much no separation in teenagers' minds between self and performance/experience; you are what you've done and felt

    -- people in general, though especially teenagers, confuse different powerful emotions with each other (like fear and sexual attraction for example, or love and hate); I'm not sure how to capture this exactly, but it's definitely a thing in YA fiction
  • @Burr That's really good stuff, especially the game-like loop of it. Hm...

    @Neko_Ewen I can see that, especially since the big themes in dystopia are class-divides, pre-judgement, and oppression of freedom.

    @J_Walton All really good insights. Come to think of it, hearing about The Afterborn inspired me to make this thread :D
  • I thought of something funny today: We already have Twilight-style paranormal romance (Monsterhearts) and Hunger Games-style dystopia (The Afterborn), so all we need to complete the YA-cliche trifecta is a Harry Potter/Percy Jackson-style urban fantasy hack.

    Then I realized "Oh goddamnit, here comes a new project".

    Let's see where this goes.
  • For those with an interest in YA fiction, I highly recommend Scott Westerfeld. The Uglies series in particular is excellent.

    The thing about relationships in YA fiction is that, reflective of the age group, they are filled to the brim with hesitancy, embarrassment, and false starts.

    There's usually a big thing (at least in the character's head) that interferes with the romance. He's a different religion. He's from a rival faction or crowd. He's a supernatural beast. He's another contestant in a blood sport tourney and I'll have to kill him to survive. You know, stuff kids face. :)

    If there's no big blocker, there's nothing to heroically struggle against for the sake of your romance (though often the heroic struggling is more internal and emotional, rather than external and physical - often best if it's both).

    Having players identify the big blocker explicitly would probably be an effective RPG tool for helping those relationships feel right. And then you have to reinforce the blocker - preferably by rewarding the player when they play to it, rather than just having the GM push against them.

    Usually the character does just as much to reinforce the blocker and assume that it's true and necessary as they do to overcome it.

    Bella Swan fights against the notion that she is too fragile to fraternize with vampires, but then starts doing super dangerous stuff because it makes her feel closer to Edward's protective presence, which is totally stupid and self-destructive (and kind of annoying to read), but it's a perfect example of YA relationship logic.

    So you need ways to encourage characters to make totally stupid logic jumps that the players may have difficulty understanding. I think reinforcing the blocker may be a lightweight way of helping with that.

    (And don't just call it "the blocker". That's a dull and inelegant word. But it's the one that comes to mind at the moment.)

    The key to the blocker is that the character believes in it at some level, even as they call it unfair and fight against it.

    Actually, that sort of unresolved dual-mindedness is a big theme among young adults that is often reflected in YA fiction. They hate and despise the unfairness of something, but they repeatedly act in a way that reinforces the need for it. Reflecting that tension mechanically would be key in developing a YA RPG.

    I think Monsterhearts maybe encodes it partially in the Dark Self mechanic, but I'm not sure, not having read it yet. So please correct me if I'm wrong on that.
Sign In or Register to comment.