My little savages

RyRy
edited April 2013 in Story Games
So I want to talk about my kids. Especially the older one.

She's five. So she's small. But she's even small for a five year old. But she's fast, thinks quickly, and she's cute as a button.

She wants to play Dungeons and Dragons. More specifically, she thirsts for goblin blood. While we've played house lots of times and had adventure stories with Mario and Luigi, her very favorite games are when she pretends to hit stuffed-animal monsters with a cardboard sword.

On the one hand I want to give in and share this world of D&D that I loved as a (10 year old) boy and that I rediscovered through the OSR. I want to show her these dungeons and dragons.

But on the other hand, I don't like the violence, the power fantasy, or the use of the concept of "others". I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of someone who regularly prevails because they're violent, and even less comfortable with the idea that violence makes us stronger, rather than ruining us. I don't think it's okay to kill them because they're goblins.

But my daughter craves these things:

- Winning
- Being strong
- Not being the smallest
- Clear paths to victory
- Getting stuff
- Getting stronger at regular intervals (she thinks my younger one will get substantially taller on her third birthday)
- Being morally right
- Squashing those who aren't on her side

What should I do?

Comments

  • edited April 2013
    1) Accept that she'll grow out of it.
    2) Play HG Well style Floor Games with her for now instead of D&D. Wait a year or two.
  • Hmm. Regarding the issue of the "other," I wonder if there is a distinction between "other" and "monster." You know? Like, to an adult, a goblin might be a metaphor for a "race," so it's bad to kill a goblin because it's a goblin in the same way it's bad to _____ a ______ because she is a ________. And, one certainly doesn't want to encourage proto-racism where it can be avoided. But, to a little kid, a goblin might not be a proxy for a human. A goblin might actually be a goblin -- an evil thing made out of evil -- and not human in any way at all. A goblin might be monster qua monster. Is it bad to kill monsters? Is it bad to kill a black widow spider in your bedroom because it's a black widow spider? Is it bad to kill a rabid raccoon? Maybe not.

    I don't know. Tough issue. I have to think more about this.

    I agree that 5 is definitely pretty young for play violence beyond the level of He-Man, the Super Friends, or the Dungeons&Dragons cartoon . . . Whether the violence in those shows was over the top is difficult for me to determine since that's what I was watching when I was five, and the extent to which I have been ruined as a result is unclear.
  • First, +1 to Parenting for considering the issues involved. Good on you. Second, I wouldn't presume to advise you on parenting (that may be better asked on another site).

    BUT - IF you go ahead; on the matter of games...

    I was going to suggest "A Faery's Tale" but you specifically mentioned OSR D&D. It occurs to me that your little one might not grasp the rules anyway; I suspect the interest is more story than game ("let's pretend") - Yes, level up. Yes, let her role dice. Yes, consult your charts and books and look concerned or relieved. But shape the events any way you (and she) want!

    The violence need not be graphic or deadly. It's a well-known fact that the "+2 Wooden Sword of Goblin Whacking" drives off goblins who reach 0 Hps. And what an opportunity to teach that perhaps not all goblins are bad or that not all fights can be won by whacking things.

    What does she fight for? To save the forest? To help her friends? To defend the weak?

    And should she take candy from a witch or get in a stranger's carriage? What happens if she forgets to say "please" and "thank you" to the king/ogre/dragon?

    And how nice it would be to have a guardian angel along to whisper advice in her ear. A spirit guide. A talking cat, perhaps.

    I'm not saying you should let her play - I'm just saying: kids will make-believe on their own, anyway. A little guidance; a whisper in the ear; a sneaky life/moral lesson here or there. Well, we have T.V. do that for us already; what do we need pretending/imagining/role playing games for?
  • Kids still believe in monsters. This is okay because eventually they learn that "others" are not like monsters. And you can probably sprinkle in some not-so-bad monsters to be her friend and that will work fine.
  • The OSR D&D has generally been a setting of black and whites.
    * D&D's good and evil are not just absolutes, they're so absolute you can cast spells that observe them, that target them. Good and evil are physics and there are materials, creatures, entire planes of existence that can be declared inherently evil with a straight face.
    * I get that you feel it's not okay to kill because they're goblins, but if it's D&D? Yeah, it kinda is. It's even a moral imperative - goblins are always stealing and pillaging and murdering stuff. Not sometimes, not to feed their family, but always. It's what a gobby does.

    Let kids have their power fantasies. It's frustrating to be a kid, and it's okay to beat the snot out of a plushie or an orc to let off steam. I'm sure there'll be great advice in this thread about how to leverage it - with great power comes great responsibility, etc. Teach some lessons about the futility of vengeance? But if she can articulate an interest in doing this, she should have the opportunity to explore it, not get adultsplained to.
  • I'd say fictional violence isn't absolutely a problem, as long as you and your kids keep it fictional. That's the heart of the pretending game: it's just pretend. And believe me, 5 years old is old enough to know the difference (and too late to correct the base of a personality and principles, except by traumatizing events). On the best possible case, I'd say fictional violence prepares you for facing real violence. It isn't the best preparation, of course, but it gives you a base in the same way lion cubs play with each other to prepare for hunting and socializing when they are older.

    I see how much you love your daughter, but protecting her from violence forever won't work better than teaching her how to deal with violence from others or her own.
  • I think AMBayard has it right. "Violence" isn't just limited to humans; that's what gets all the attention and the moralising, but we have all those systems in us that make it possible because we are geared up for fighting bears and wolves and whatnot as required. So I don't think it is surprising or worrying that you child has such instincts, and in fact I'd worry rather more at the attempt to suppress it; this is part of what human beings are.

    Also, like it or not, the exercise of violence is self-affirming and confidence building. It is a way of exercising control over the world.

    Last, I grew up in South Africa, so I feel I have a fair degree of insight into othering. While the idea of goblins et al being a kind of training in othering makes a kind of sense even to me, the reality is that it was never done that way in SA, and I don't know of it being done that way anywhere. Instead it was done by legally enforced lack of contact; there were never any personal encounters to undermine or contradict the stereotypes that circulated. Some UK research bears this idea out, with racism most prevalent in areas that had the least proportion of immigrants.

    All of which leads me to suspect that fighting goblins isn't going to have the effect of creating that kind of othering. Even if they are irredeemably capital-E-vil, if you fight them you at least have to think about them, deal with them; if you will, construct a theory of mind for them. And that's just about the opposite of the way that bigoted societies seem to work in practice.
  • Ryan,

    Awesome.

    How do you know that she craves "goblin blood" specifically, and just, say, being the winner of a fight over something worthwhile?

    I would imagine that, just like lots of kid's media (e.g. cartoons, fairy tales), it's easy to include fighting and adventure while leaving out the violence per se.

    Does she have some favourite books or movies? I'd talk to her about those, and then model the game roughly on that story (kids are usually not bored by retellings, so even if it goes into pure emulation she'll have a good time). One advantage is that you can discuss why the hero of the story does things a certain way, and why s/he makes certain decisions, which gets you both talking about the "why" behind the various adventures and conflicts.
  • Let me just say, this thread has been awesome so far. Yes, violence is a part of life. But I feel like there aren't enough influences in her life telling her to be skeptical of strong passions and easy answers.

    I realize I'm asking a classic story games newbie question: "My players keep pushing the game to be about killing monsters and taking their stuff, but I want it to be about philosophy and relationships and the things the Buddha taught! How can I trick them into playing how I want them to play?"
  • edited April 2013
    Goblin mechanoids. Which are robots that goblins operate like a puppet at a range. Establish tha the mechanoids are actually stronger than goblins (say, have her oversee one goblin use a machanoid to fight another goblin and the goblin is weak against it and runs). And she can beat up mechanoids fairly aptly.

    The fun thing, of course, is to go into psuedo narrativist territory and, amongst the dungeon rooms and power ups, tuck in a scene where one goblin is using a mechanoid to bully another goblin who is quite little and crying. She probably will just destroy the mechanoid, but maybe she'll come to sympathise. Even as difficult as that is when you feel in a vulnerable position (when you're little). Though unless you're okay with using force, keep in mind she also might just slay the little goblin as well (that's narrativism - not always what you find comfortable) and if that's too much (lines and veils?), maybe give it an escape route it has a percentile chance of escaping by.
    I realize I'm asking a classic story games newbie question: "My players keep pushing the game to be about killing monsters and taking their stuff, but I want it to be about philosophy and relationships and the things the Buddha taught! How can I trick them into playing how I want them to play?"
    If you treat gameplay like a conversation, then part of the conversation is going to be killing and taking stuff. If you want to engage them, then you have to accept that. Also part of the conversation/game is going to be philosophy and relationships and Buddha stuff and if they want to engage you, they have to accept that.

    Sometimes relationships are BS, philosophy dissapears up it's own butt and the Buddha is sociopathic - you might be due an argument from them as well.

    If either side just wants to hard line, eh, I don't think it works out.
    Also, like it or not, the exercise of violence is self-affirming and confidence building. It is a way of exercising control over the world.
    Control as in 'one rule for me, a different rule for you', yeah.
  • things the Buddha taught
    If you meet the Buddha in a dungeon, kill him and take his stuff. (he won't have much though)
  • Cat is a good game about fighting monsters in your home that's very positive and fun.
  • edited April 2013
    On the one hand I want to give in and share this world of D&D that I loved as a (10 year old) boy and that I rediscovered through the OSR.
    1) Accept that she'll grow out of it.
    This struck me as a pretty funny juxtaposition.

    My two cents on the goblin question: include good goblins and bad goblins. Distinguish the bad goblins based on their actions, not their race.

  • Hmm. Regarding the issue of the "other," I wonder if there is a distinction between "other" and "monster." You know? Like, to an adult, a goblin might be a metaphor for a "race," so it's bad to kill a goblin because it's a goblin in the same way it's bad to _____ a ______ because she is a ________. And, one certainly doesn't want to encourage proto-racism where it can be avoided. But, to a little kid, a goblin might not be a proxy for a human. A goblin might actually be a goblin -- an evil thing made out of evil -- and not human in any way at all. A goblin might be monster qua monster. Is it bad to kill monsters? Is it bad to kill a black widow spider in your bedroom because it's a black widow spider? Is it bad to kill a rabid raccoon? Maybe not.

    I don't know. Tough issue. I have to think more about this.

    I agree that 5 is definitely pretty young for play violence beyond the level of He-Man, the Super Friends, or the Dungeons&Dragons cartoon . . . Whether the violence in those shows was over the top is difficult for me to determine since that's what I was watching when I was five, and the extent to which I have been ruined as a result is unclear.
    I definitely agree here. Consider that a kid understands these things a lot differently than an adult. There could be subtle racist undertones (though I don't agree in this case) to this issue, but that's not what a kid will pick up on. They know that the gap between a human and a monstrous people-eating goblin is a lot different from the gap between one human and another.
  • So you have a 5 year old daughter that wants to play around with the idea of violence and you're afraid that by playing with her, that you'll be encouraging negative behaviors. So I'll be a bit blunt here. That fear is pretty much the same as the fear that, as your daughter enters puberty, that if you talk to her about sex and contraception and where babies come from and all that, that you'll be encouraging her to have lots of sex. And hopefully you know that by not talking to your child about sex, all you teach them is that they should hide their inevitable interest in sexuality from their parents.

    This, then, is an excellent opportunity for parenting practice. (I'm not trying to imply that you aren't a good parent. I'm working with the assumption that good parenting is something that takes continual, thoughtful, reflective practice -- which your initial post implies to me is something you value.)

    By seizing on the opportunity that your daughter is presenting through her interest, you have the chance to not only have some amazing bonding time, but to also build a trusting communication relationship with your daughter. And to put in some occasional nudging guidance as necessary.

    Your play time offers a great opportunity for making comparisons. If someone is bullying her on the playground and she expresses a desire to smash the bully on the nose, you can tell her "Hey now, violence is something that it's okay for Princess Slaysalot to use, because that's the sort of world she lives in. But in our world, we talk to adults about bullies and give them the opportunity to work on the problem." And then - here's the key - you engage really hard with dealing with her bully problem and demonstrate the positive results of having told her parent about it.

    I started playing live combat larps like 25 years ago, so my 11 year old son has been swinging foam swords at people since about the time he learned to walk. And since day 1 of doing that, he's learned that he needs to not hit people in the head or crotch, nor is he allowed to swing full strength. So he is allowed to play with these "tools of violence", but only in a structured way that forces him to be considerate of the person he's playing with. This helps him engage with power fantasy and play violence while keeping the needs of others in mind.
  • I might keep the fantasy violence distant from real-world violence so one can't get conflated with the other. Encouraging a kid to revel in blood, gore and decapitation might set a bad precedent*. Encouraging a kid to hit goblins until they disappear with a poof, or turn into Care Bears or something, shouldn't run that risk. And then you can address the horror of that Other thing (the real world thing with the blood and the gore) when they're older.

    On the other hand, life & nature will provide plenty of incentives and opportunities for a kid to forcibly assert their will upon their environment, and if you'd rather not be personally responsible for adding more drops in that bucket, Ry, then fair enough. You could always do "share and make friends" roleplay with your kid and let her slaughter goblins with someone else (who isn't her dad).

    *In theory. In my personal experience, it's not relevant. I was probably 8 or so when I routinely reveled in my G.I. Joe action figures inflicting gruesome spinal injuries on each other, and this had zero impact on my real-life attitudes toward violence and bullying, as far as I can tell. It may have even been an opportunity to vent some stuff I knew I'd never do in real life, and get some urges out of my system.
  • My thought on this thread: people here are conjuring up a lot of weird rationalizations while covering up the heart of the matter — that D&D (and anything close to it) is quite a morally bankrupt game. It's about characters who deliberately choose to go into violent conflicts because of greed; it's about performing violence and trickery and surviving violence. This kind of moral bankruptcy is the core of what makes it fascinating to children — it's "bad" and transgressive — and the core of why it's actually not a good message, as a parent, to play straight D&D with your children. Being a participatory medium, it's actually much more serious business than allowing children to, say, watch violent movies (when your children watch violent movies, I would expect you, as a parent and/or adult friend, to provide the required moral commentary, including calling the movie characters on their shit when appropriate).
    Sorry that I'm chiming in just to be all negative, but I don't like what I'm reading in this thread.
  • I think the Dungeon Girls thread gives lots of insight on how to handle dungeon delving adventures with younger children without it becoming training in sociopathic behavior.

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/17329/world-of-dungeons-dungeon-girls/p1

    Look at the many many times that the father/GM uses the situation to gently guide and nudge his daughters and their friends toward appropriate behaviors, both for their characters and in their player-level interpersonal interactions (not that they are in need of tons of heavy handed guidance, but they are kids, so a little nudge on occasion is necessary).

    I will say, though, that old D&D is probably a less ideal system framework for giving opportunities for good parenting. There's just so much in the system that encourages negative things - like the way you are rewarded precisely and only for how many things you kill and/or how much stuff you take, depending on the edition. Other games let you explore dungeons with less emphasis on a morally bankrupt core mechanic.

    More than anything, it's in how you approach it. As a GM, you have some leeway in what behaviors you reward and what you discourage. And, of course, you're also a parent - you can always just have a dad moment when the child starts pulling the arms off imaginary goblins. Social feedback is a huge thing in roleplaying games, and a great opportunity for reinforcement. What you choose to laugh at and cheer compared to what you choose to question or balk at are opportunities for you to teach your daughter what is acceptable.

    Roleplaying gives your daughter the ability to address her natural curiosity about what is acceptable and what is not in a reduced-stakes environment that allows her to find boundaries and be discouraged away from negative behaviors without getting in trouble the same way she would if she actually went around doing real bad things. It's an awesome opportunity for encouraging positive values.

    And whacking gobbos, which is good fun.

    Also - if you're worried about blood and gore, remove them. Zero HP means you fail, surrender, drop your gear and run, etc. HP loss does not have to mean viscera and death.
  • So you have a 5 year old daughter that wants to play around with the idea of violence and you're afraid that by playing with her, that you'll be encouraging negative behaviors. So I'll be a bit blunt here. That fear is pretty much the same as the fear that, as your daughter enters puberty, that if you talk to her about sex and contraception and where babies come from and all that, that you'll be encouraging her to have lots of sex. And hopefully you know that by not talking to your child about sex, all you teach them is that they should hide their inevitable interest in sexuality from their parents.
    I think the concern is unloving relationships, STD's and unplanned pregnancy - not lots of sex.

    If we treat contraception as similar to diplomacy, well then going into a dungeon and just killing every fukka in the room is rather like talking to your kids about sex and...never mentioning contraception. That would likely lead to more STD's and unplanned pregnancies. Or a parralel, being more comfortable with voting for drone murders.
  • This thread took a weird turn.
  • I think the concern is unloving relationships, STD's and unplanned pregnancy - not lots of sex.

    If we treat contraception as similar to diplomacy, well then going into a dungeon and just killing every fukka in the room is rather like talking to your kids about sex and...never mentioning contraception. That would likely lead to more STD's and unplanned pregnancies. Or a parralel, being more comfortable with voting for drone murders.
    Sure. But I'd rather not quibble over the fine details of the metaphor. My point was that both sex and violence are things that children feel urges about and things they get lots of media (and peer) messages about. And that the best thing you can do about either of those things is constructively engage with your children on the topics, rather than just avoid them (along with behavior modeling, of course). Because they're going to get urges and messages about those things either way.

    Lots of sex was my lazy way of meaning unloving relationships, STDs, unplanned pregnancies, reputation issues, self esteem issues, lawsuits, and any other negative consequences potentially surrounding sexuality. I'm sorry if my lazy shorthand implied that I meant something that I did not.
  • May I suggest that the analogy between "sex" and "violence" stops sharp at "things that children feel urges about and things they get lots of media (and peer) messages about"? Because the kind of positive dialogue I expect a responsible adult to engage with children about each of these two topics is waaaaay unlike the other.
  • edited April 2013
    I'm dropping my metaphor and getting back to the OP.
    But my daughter craves these things:

    - Winning
    - Being strong
    - Not being the smallest
    - Clear paths to victory
    - Getting stuff
    - Getting stronger at regular intervals (she thinks my younger one will get substantially taller on her third birthday)
    - Being morally right
    - Squashing those who aren't on her side

    What should I do?
    She's 5. Give her those things. It's fun. Get her hooked on gaming.

    When she's 7, you can occasionally introduce "not winning" as a concept. That's a good time for a kid to start learning that victories are sweeter when they are intermingled with successes failures (oops, edited).

    When she's 8, you can introduce her to the idea that being strong and not being the smallest are not always the bestest, and that embracing small, non-strong methods can lead to really interesting and creative paths to victory. If you've given her plenty of the straight up, whack your way to victory stuff by that time, she'll be looking for something different. And at 8, she'll start to have enough perspective to appreciate that small and non-strong methods have their own value.

    When she's 9 or 10, you'll be able to introduce her to games where getting stuff and getting stronger are not a huge deal. By this age, if my experience is anything similar to yours, you'll have introduced her to board and card games. So she'll start to have experiences with playing games repeatedly at the same "power level" and enjoying them. And you'll be able to tie this to de-emphasizing character power growth in RPGs. My son has recently started enjoying Dungeon World, and can see and appreciate how the power level scales very little as characters level up.

    When she's 10-11 (or maybe a bit earlier), you can start introducing moral wrinkles and gray areas. Not full on noir, but the occasional tough choices where it's not clear what is "right". Start making the goblins into more rounded beings that have reasonable motivations for what they do.

    But you can't do any of these things if you aren't playing at all. And the longer you wait to start embracing that, the more risk there is that she'll be taught by her peers that playing roleplaying games with her dad is not cool. So there's really no good reason not to get started early.
  • Rob, thank you, that is awesome.

    JDCorley, yes. Seems like the whole internet just dropped by.
  • I don't know why moral wrinkles can't be there from the start, rather than spending years just training gamist inclinations out before getting there? Riddle of steel certainly showed how the 'get more power' desire can be overtaken by 'moral exploration', in with gaining more spiritual attribute dice (which give you a considerable amount of power) for simply pursuing your characters goals (whether you suceed or fail).
  • She's 5. Give her those things. It's fun.
    I've been following this thread and just wanted to say that Rob nailed it. Children are shockingly not fragile; letting her be a big, powerful winner who squashes her enemies on her way to total victory is not going to have an iota of influence on her future moral development. Really, it won't. I promise. If she's 12 or 13 and still wants these things, get back to us. :)

  • New thread started with a better OP
  • She's 5. Give her those things. It's fun.
    I've been following this thread and just wanted to say that Rob nailed it. Children are shockingly not fragile; letting her be a big, powerful winner who squashes her enemies on her way to total victory is not going to have an iota of influence on her future moral development. Really, it won't. I promise. If she's 12 or 13 and still wants these things, get back to us. :)

    That's kinda what I was getting at earlier ( even if I did get justifiably picked on by Felan in that juxtaposition!).

    HG Wells is usually pointed to as one of the key writers who popularized miniature wargaming in the public early on. I always try to point folks to his afterword in Little Wars, especially when it's a concerned friend who is worried their kids will end up bloodthirsty warmongers for playing with tin soldiers as children.

    http://archive.org/details/littlewarsgamefo00well

    Check page 97 of the scanned pdf.

    HG Wells, big pacifist, big wargame enthusiast.

  • Ry,

    You might also, just for fun, enjoy this article on gaming with kids:
    Studies of children aged 12 and younger found that girls have more interest in imaginative play than boys. Role-playing involves many of the attributes that are common in other female youth-oriented games, including shopping to equip characters, character design and customization, the ability to possess and own pets, and playing a more attractive and mature character. And yet female role-players are still in the minority. The answer may lie in the duration of play. Tabletop role-playing involves sitting at a table for long periods of time with a group. Boys’ imaginative play tends to run longer and involve larger groups than girls [...]
    Link to Article
  • Yeah. Look at the Dungeon Girls article. They totally got involved with focusing on dressing up their characters, and several of them really enjoyed having pets for their characters.

    A big part of the fun challenge of playing GM for kids is listening to their cues, which are different from adult cues, and figuring out how to give them what they want.

    Also, plan on the sessions being super short. Especially in the beginning. Drawing her character might be the whole first session of play. And that's ok.

    In particular, if you're playing one-on-one, then with a kid that little, you're sort of doing guided "lonely fun" play, at least some of the time. Any of the activities that, as an adult, you would do on your own and then bring to the group session to share, are things that, with a kid, become an interaction and are part of the overall game experience. Choosing a name. Picking some gear. Deciding on a pet. Creating some backstory. That's all part of the play, not just prelude.
  • May I suggest that the analogy between "sex" and "violence" stops sharp at "things that children feel urges about and things they get lots of media (and peer) messages about"? Because the kind of positive dialogue I expect a responsible adult to engage with children about each of these two topics is waaaaay unlike the other.
    "When two people love each other very much, they trust each other enough to put on armor and go into the dungeon together. But use protection -- and I'm not talking ring mail."




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