Shortly before Gen Con, my 8 year old son Nico had a buddy come over for the afternoon. I was busy working from home so when Nico asked me if they could play Talisman, I got the box out from my gaming cabinet and told them “Sure, but I can’t set it up nor play with you”.
Nico: That’s okay dad, we’ll figure it out.
An hour later, I came upstairs and had a look at the ongoing game. While they had grasped the core concepts (Nico, the buddy and I had played previously), they were making a lot of stuff up, inventing what some cards did and fudging how combat worked.
They were having lots of fun.
As I looked at them, I was flooded with powerful memories and a striking realization. One of the reasons why I love D&D so much is because I learned most of it by making stuff up while trying to learn it. I got most of it wrong, but I didn’t know then and I still had more fun than any other games I’d played so far!
I cherish these memories dearly. Back when I had a partial grasp of English, Gary’s AD&D Player’s Handbook was like a stack of encrypted secrets I got to decipher with a broken decoder ring. For instance, I thought that a two-handed sword was a 2 bladed-sword, so I made a three-handed one made of three 6′-long blades! You could even shoot the middle one, like that Sword & Sorcery movie I had seen on my uncle’s Betamax machine. So badass…
While watching my son play Talisman his own way, it dawned on me that as a gamer parent, I had a dual responsibility. I had to guide my children into this awesome hobby, if they were so inclined, introducing them to different games, teaching them about their rules and the social etiquette that come with them (wait for your turn, don’t cheat, be a good sport, etc).
But perhaps more importantly, I must also give my children the appropriate space and liberties to let them take full ownership of that hobby and infuse it with their own personalities, unbound ideas and, yes, technical flaws.
I must learn to silence my inner Brainy Smurf and allow my son to get things wrong about the games he plays, so he can discover his own paths and create memories similar to mine.
I must strive to be a model to emulate, not a tyrant that smothers.
That’s why, when I’ll get around to showing the new D&D Red Box to Nico and his friends, I will step away and let them play with it as they see fit. Maybe, if they really dig it, they’ll start creating new powers, character classes and monsters with absolutely no regards to balance or playability.
They’ll get rules wrong, ignore many, misread others and that may very well be completely fantastic. There’ll be plenty of time later to correct that, if they ever do. House ruling is an important skill too.
Go ahead and show your kids how to be gamers. Just don’t forget to set them free so they can take ownership of their gaming experience. Getting a game right should never get in the way to having fun with it.
I say lets go and help build a child’s future nostalgia today.