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Author Topic: Young Children: Actual role-play, Actual Play?  (Read 6094 times)
Richard Campbell
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Posts: 3


« on: February 25, 2006, 09:44:40 AM »

I have been reading posts to The Forge for some time and have developed an interest in the theory behind the play of role-playing games. I have always had an interest in creating stories using the gaming tools I had available and owe a debt to my friend who always was the catalyst for interesting gaming experiences when I started gaming. I have been a Primary school teacher in the UK for many years and have maintained an interest in introducing games in an appropriate way to children when I can.

The main point of this ‘Actual Play’ post, however, is that it may be of interest to some people to know that role-playing is an intrinsic part of the curriculum for, I would guess, most children in the UK. You might remember the ‘Home Corner’ from your own elementary education – I have no idea if this is a common feature of schools in the USA – where a ‘pretend house’ was always available for young children’s imaginative play. You might think this is as far removed from role-playing as the games of ‘let’s pretend’ which are frequently mentioned in the introductions to role-playing games. I think over the time I have been a teacher that this has changed and now the youngest children in Primary schools are presented with some real opportunities for role-playing. I always find it strange that the term which has such negative connotations in the adult world is in common parlance in schools. Five-year-old children use the term ‘role-playing’ to describe their imaginative play, and teachers plan situations for them to develop this play which are as close to LARP scenarios as a pre-school child will get.

I think this role-play is obviously very different from what we would describe as a role-playing game, but I think the most interesting aspect of the play is probably the social contract involved between the children and the way they negotiate the rules of their play which I think probably has a lot of parallels with what adults do around a gaming table.

In the school in which I work each Reception class and the Nursery class (children aged between four and five) have an area set aside as the role-play area. The theme of this area changes regularly. As an example, the role-play area of my classroom is currently set up as a spaceship. There are various props, spacesuits, a computer, Geiger counter type weird-science tricorder boxes made from cereal packets – you get the idea. The children explore, without any awareness of premise, and usually without developing any plot in their imaginative exploration. There are, however, children who seem to want to try to explore some aspect of giving their play improvised plot. The children I am talking about are very young, it has to be remembered. I think it is possible for this play to incorporate much more of what we might recognise as role-play. I think many people might be surprised how close these young children are to ‘real’ role-playing. I would like to expand on my experiences of these children’s actual play, if anyone is interested in this topic.

The kind of play I am describing stops as soon as the children enter Year One, at the age of six and I always feel there is a missed opportunity in using story-based games in later years. I think many children would greatly enjoy it and could be a great way for children to start thinking about the themes of the stories they read, or could potentially be involved in creating. I read a post on this forum a while ago which described a Universalis gaming session with some oldies and some ten year old children and I think it is a very interesting subject – introducing younger children to games other than D&D.

I am putting together some ideas for using cards for story-making games for use in my class. I have heard of Once Upon a Time, but never played and think a version of this game could well work for children who have not yet learned to read. I hope this post is of some interest, and fits with the theme of ‘Actual Play’. If so, I would like to compare some of my experiences in the classroom with my pre-school children with some role-playing theory ideas.

Richard Campbell
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Dirk Ackermann
Member

Posts: 52


« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2006, 10:05:08 AM »

Hi Richard,

I read a very good actual play for a HeroQuest game in which a father played with his kids (boy was 6 or so and the girl was  younger) on the www.glorantha.com site, I believe. I searched but did not find it. Maybe Mike Holmes know where to search for.
Mike? Or anybody?

Hope this is in your interest.

Dirk
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nyhteg
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2006, 12:12:07 PM »

Hi

I don't know if it helps, or is relevant to what you're talking about, but I posted about roleplaying with my two young sons a while back: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=8009.0

What you're describing in your post sounds really interesting, by the way.

Gethyn
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droog
Member

Posts: 263


« Reply #3 on: February 25, 2006, 06:16:03 PM »

Here is the HQ AP report from Ian Young about playing with his four-year-old:

http://www.glorantha.com/support/na_yoots.html
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AKA Jeff Zahari
Richard Campbell
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Posts: 3


« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2006, 06:21:37 AM »

This is exactly the kind of thing I have been thinking about – making the rules of the play more formalised to give more structure to the play experience. I think this is where it leaves the realm of make-believe play and becomes a game. I am particularly interested in enabling two things: creating possibilities to address premise in some form in order to deal with theme, however basic this might be, and using rules to help the children create their own stories. The prime consideration here would be to use rules that would actively encourage imaginative situations – creating some kind of plot and also dealing with conflict. This is the main area where the children’s play remains as play exploring a situation rather than the creation of a story. They do not have any models for introducing conflict, or any formalised methods of conflict resolution.

I think the system you describe, Gethyn, is a very good avenue for introducing role-playing as a game. I think one of the key points which that session brought up which you pointed out in your thread was:

Quote
The system must be very permissive and explicitly rewarding of imagination and creativity.

I think this is crucially important considering the age of the children. It also, I think, allows them to see the point of having rules. The rules are there to help the children ‘see’ the setting more clearly. I used to believe this was a bad thing in the design of a game. I wanted the system to be as transparent as possible. The dice mechanic you describe in that thread, however, provides the children with the conflict taking place in front of their eyes – they can see which die has won. I think that children would then find it possible to narrate an appropriate outcome. Another method I have considered is the use of cards with simple symbols on them. The child has a hand of cards, and can choose actions or elements to add to the story from these, similar to the way ‘Once upon a time’ works, I believe. I think they need something in front of them to help them focus on the possibilities they have available to them, much as Ian Young describes here http://www.glorantha.com/support/na_yoots.html.

An example of Actual Play in my classroom would support this. As a way of introducing conflict of some kind into the children’s role-play I have presented them with a problem while they played. Several children were using the spaceship role-play area. They had boiler suits on and were talking pretty much out of character. I explained, in the role of a ‘starfleet technician’ that the engine was about to fail and that something bad could be about to happen. The effect I noticed was that the children started to act much more ‘in character’. They had a model for their behaviour – my not-the-teacher-any-more role, and a piece of setting/situation which helped them think about the imaginary situation they were presented with. They talked for a while about what they could do. This was pretty tentative – but with one child assuming a leading role. When I said something like, ‘look, there’s smoke coming out of that panel everywhere’ one child took an imaginary fire-extinguisher, and another ran to get the tool box. I added some more complications and they figured out ways to deal with the conflict. One child wanted to try and make for somewhere to land, for example. The main difficulty the children had here was that they did not know what kinds of action they could take in response to the problems I was presenting them with, but I do think this was approaching a kind of free-form role-playing game. Talking to the children after the session they enjoyed playing in this way. You have to keep it in mind that the children are all sorts of abilities, and special educational needs, and have just turned five. The examples of play given in the two posts above are impressive because the children mentioned seem to be able to express themselves well. I think the Star Wars rules presented made it easy for them to play yet still follow their desires for the story (in their own way). The rules suited the age of the children well. Given the opportunity many children can communicate coherently, and even manage to communicate their imaginative ideas which can be more of a challenge.

The two links mentioned above have been very helpful – really interesting. I will be using ideas from here to try and introduce more explicitly ‘gamey’ sessions in the class.
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cmnash
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2006, 01:33:12 AM »

Hi Richard,  not sure how helpful this will be to you, but I remember seeing on the EN World forum in the Story Hour board a thread entitled 'The Adventures of Samantha the Red' which was about a GM creating Role-Playing adventures for his young daughter to play.

Unfortunately, I can't get on to the site at the moment, or I'd give you a link.

IIRC she was about 5 years old and he - the post's author - played the games in his own house. I was interested as my daughter is the same age.

Anyway, I hope it helps.

Colin
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komradebob
Member

Posts: 462


« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2006, 09:30:21 AM »

Hi Richard and Welcome to the Forge!

It's great to see someone working on rpg design for kids. I've seen a few different people working on similar things ( we need to start a group or something!).

I was working on a kids game using toys. The thread is here. There are several links within the thread worth following up. Emily Care's link to her website might be especially useful to you. I was focused on using gaming miniatures ( following my own preferences) but there is no good reason not to use any sorts of toys for these games.

As to card based, someone put me on to the OOP RPG Everway (which sells incredibly cheaply on E-Bay), which turned out to be an outstanding bit of advice. The cards act very much as you're describing. They give images for kids to latch onto in creating a story, sort of acting as seeds for the imagination.

I admit a certain bias. I think kids ( and adults for that matter) get more out of roleplaying and imagination games when they are given a small amount of inspirational material to begin with rather than being handed a completely open situation.

Quote
An example of Actual Play in my classroom would support this. As a way of introducing conflict of some kind into the children’s role-play I have presented them with a problem while they played.


I've found that the role that works best for me in my games with my daughter is to act as a facilitator, pretty much doing what you suggest in the rest of that paragraph. Present a situation or crisis and let the kids run with it. Emily care( in the link I mentioned) suggests taking it a bit further, and having the kids come up with some of the crises that will occur during the game session.

Quote
I think this is crucially important considering the age of the children. It also, I think, allows them to see the point of having rules. The rules are there to help the children ‘see’ the setting more clearly. I used to believe this was a bad thing in the design of a game. I wanted the system to be as transparent as possible. The dice mechanic you describe in that thread, however, provides the children with the conflict taking place in front of their eyes – they can see which die has won. I think that children would then find it possible to narrate an appropriate outcome. Another method I have considered is the use of cards with simple symbols on them. The child has a hand of cards, and can choose actions or elements to add to the story from these, similar to the way ‘Once upon a time’ works, I believe. I think they need something in front of them to help them focus on the possibilities they have available to them, much as Ian Young describes here http://www.glorantha.com/support/na_yoots.html.

Reward systems/ interplayer positive reinforcement/feedback/whatever was something I'm trying to work in to the game "rules" (actually more suggestion/ philosophy than rules in my case). I think it helps with agem pacing, and also helps the group of particiapnts develop their game sin a direction they all like. Plus, everyone likes getting a "warm fuzzy" for their efforts. I'm not sure how you might work that in with your games, but it's probably worth thinking about- Colored metallic starts? Award sheets along the lines of the Academy Awards? I remember my teachers using similar (well appreciated) rewards when I was in kindergarten.

I ahve to go, but I'm looking forward to hearing more about your students' games.

You might also want to check out The Nighttime Animals Save the World and Shadows, two greta games designed to play with younger kids.
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Meguey
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Posts: 250

Meguey


WWW
« Reply #7 on: March 02, 2006, 11:46:38 AM »

Hi. As a parent (boys 9, 6, and 3 mos), roleplaying with kids is a hot topic. The list of links offered is missing The Big Night, which is a brilliant game for playing with kids. Of course, I can't find a link anywhere. Ah, this will do  - http://www.gamingreport.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=Reviews&file=index&req=showcontent&id=1695

It sounds like your pre-school is similar to the Regio Emilia school my boys attended. The 'pretend' corner was generally kid-driven: when a couple kids started a new sort of pretend, the reachers followed up by switching the props around to aid the new game. In this way, kids as young as 2.5 were activly involved in shaping the pretend. I've seen that the best way to introduce new elements was to help kids make the leap: a helicopter became a jet-fighter that dropped a bomb and blew up the play bridge where the invisible 'enemy' was hiding. The teacher wisely stepped in to the play and said "Oh, we'll need an ambulance to help the person who got hurt" The kids went right into that, and played ambulance crew for the rest of the day. When they came in the next day, the 'Pretend" corner was full of doctor tools and real band-aids, whihc they played with until one child decided he was going to play golf, because that's "what doctors did when they wern't doctoring." The whole class got in on the golf thing, even making a complex course outside, complete with a water-trap.
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David "Czar Fnord" Artman
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Posts: 246


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« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2006, 02:02:35 PM »

Might it help to make a distinction between "imaginative play" and "role playing"? And also between live action (contact and non-contact) and descriptive (AKA "table-top")? To frame how to "best" engage "role playing" in the very young?

I only ask because I feel inclined to say that "true" role playing doesn't happen with very young kids much. I'd say this is because they are not in a game, and they have no Agenda (or, maybe, have such a low-grade GAM/SIM Agenda that the game will not "resolve" it very often). And at this stage, much of it is live action (see the previous posts).

The chance to take exploration beyond "imaginative play" into role playing gets undermined, primarily, by the toy industry. Kids are fed character and situation all day (cartoons, kiddie stories) and given the props to play them out in bubble-wrap plastic. That play can be vast, complex, interesting, and valuable for development... but I don't (much) see it turn into an "adoption of role," more of a reenactment, with variations, from a Directorial Stance. Yet, you almost never see them in a live action mode, with these toys: it's all descriptive--that could be getting closer to or further from role playing, though (hence, the need I perceive for distinction).

Then, sports and economy and hormones take over, and anything not Gamist-in-your-face gets looked at askance. And parents start to form groups with neat-sounding acronyms. Funnily enough, it all become intensely live action--but there are, by this time, almost no roles (just the young person's natural "role": their personality).

It seems like an oscillation occurs between live action and description, and between reenactment and role playing. Might figuring this out help?
David
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komradebob
Member

Posts: 462


« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2006, 02:48:33 PM »

Might it help to make a distinction between "imaginative play" and "role playing"? And also between live action (contact and non-contact) and descriptive (AKA "table-top")? To frame how to "best" engage "role playing" in the very young?

I only ask because I feel inclined to say that "true" role playing doesn't happen with very young kids much. I'd say this is because they are not in a game, and they have no Agenda (or, maybe, have such a low-grade GAM/SIM Agenda that the game will not "resolve" it very often). And at this stage, much of it is live action (see the previous posts).

The chance to take exploration beyond "imaginative play" into role playing gets undermined, primarily, by the toy industry. Kids are fed character and situation all day (cartoons, kiddie stories) and given the props to play them out in bubble-wrap plastic. That play can be vast, complex, interesting, and valuable for development... but I don't (much) see it turn into an "adoption of role," more of a reenactment, with variations, from a Directorial Stance. Yet, you almost never see them in a live action mode, with these toys: it's all descriptive--that could be getting closer to or further from role playing, though (hence, the need I perceive for distinction).

Then, sports and economy and hormones take over, and anything not Gamist-in-your-face gets looked at askance. And parents start to form groups with neat-sounding acronyms. Funnily enough, it all become intensely live action--but there are, by this time, almost no roles (just the young person's natural "role": their personality).

It seems like an oscillation occurs between live action and description, and between reenactment and role playing. Might figuring this out help?
David

Could you expand a bit on these statements? I have a feeling that I strongly disagree with you, but I don't want to jump to conclusions.
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Emily Care
Member

Posts: 1126


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« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2006, 07:03:43 AM »

This is a fascinating topic. I was going to hunt down a  link to the village game for you, then saw it in your sig file.

:)

I get to do a lot of pretend & imaginative play with Meguey's two oldest children. I wrote up at length some of the structures we use here: http://www.fairgame-rpgs.com/comment.php?entry=20.

I've found that we slip between "enactment" and "descriptive" often using the descriptive level to frame what we will play out in more detail either live or by using miniatures to represent ourselves (just did both these very things last night).  The different aspects of the activity seem simply like different tools, different ways to engage the same creative juices, rather than constituting differing activities in and of themselves.

best,
Emily
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games
Calithena
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 336

aka Sean


« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2006, 09:22:00 AM »

David -

I disagree with you. I think that what the kids are doing _is_ role-play, in the full sense.

If you can stand academic philosophy I'd suggest you look at Kendall Walton's Mimesis and Make-Believe, which develops a theory of art in general as make-believe. One project I'd like to do someday is to treat RPGs within the framework of Walton's theory - I think it's actually a very important transitional case between child's play and traditional art forms like painting and poetry. Which would be kind of neat, to have a persuasive argument that RPGs were a philosophically important art form.

One important point of Walton's account is that there are already rules in children's make believe, even if they are often implicit in behavior rather than explicitly stated. An example: when you play mud pies, the pie in the fictional space is about the size of the mud glob in the real space; mud pies become 'cooked' in the fictional space when placed on the appropriate rock; and so on. There are rules for transforming reality into imaginative stuff. Later we take a freer hand with the imaginative stuff, but the idea of constructing a fictional space out of play is crucial.

So out of the academic realm, I want to say something else: this is why role-playing games are a brilliant idea for a product. One way to make a great product is to sell people something they already do, or more properly an adjunct/extension/improvement to something they already do. Selling someone tools for make-believe games is a great idea with all kinds of possible applications.

To really realize this potential RPGs need to shake (a) their wargaming roots and all that goes with it and (b) the various dysfunctionality-inducing apportionments of credibility that accompany traditional playstyles. It's because this work is happening at the Forge more than anywhere else I know of that I spend so much time reading y'all's posts.
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Pandelume
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Posts: 1

Richard Campbell (logged in wrong not real name!)


« Reply #12 on: March 05, 2006, 10:19:02 AM »

Thank you for the links above - I have been thinking a bit more this week about where I am trying to go with these classroom games.

I have now also read Everyway which offers some good ideas and the card use, for example, in character creation is just the kind of thing I was thinking about. The Village Game threads also have offered some great ideas that will help me develop my own ideas more fully. Specifically, the ‘Yes, but..., Yes, and... , or Instead....’ cards are exactly the kind of mechanic that I think would aid younger players. The children I work with need something even more visual than this, but I think this is a way of directing their attention to ‘meaningful’ game choices – the cards in this case I think provide a method of focusing attention on the types of action or conflict that can arise.

On the subject of reward systems, the class has a ‘smiley face’ chart for rewarding good work and ‘group-centred behaviour’. I think using this type of system within the rules of a game as part of the reward system could well work. Very young children are able to deal with more subtle forms of reward system in addition to this. With reference to the Forge Glossary entry for reward system:

‘The personal and social gratification derived from role-playing’

I think this is a very significant part of the game for young children, as much as it is for adults. This was really the point I was alluding to in my first post where I talked briefly about the Social Contract. I think this is absolutely key to the role-play that goes on in my class. I disagree with David on the point about making a distinction between role-play and imaginative play. OK, I disagree with the ‘not true role-playing’ part, although I think you can make a distinction between role-play and imaginative play. I would say what I am attempting to do is move from imaginative play towards using game rules, for example cards to enter into play which will involve addressing a premise. Another key point for me here is that this will be in a form the children can understand. For four and five year old children taking on a role might be putting on a firefighter’s hat and saying ‘I am a firefighter’. The challenge then is to develop this play with the children and work with them to take this very basic spark and suggest ways they can take the play – ‘look, you can do this, or this… what might you say to the boy who is in trouble?...where do you want to go now?...what might happen now because you did that?

I think in the situation, say, that I described in my classroom the children were definitely involved in a game. They were making choices, some of their play descriptive, sometimes replaying past experience, elements of situation they have seen on TV for example contributing to their play experience. They were taking on roles – not governed by rules, but definitely affected by a very evident Social Contract. I think there is a lot to unpack here and more points could be made in response to your ideas, David.

I would like to follow up the ideas in Sean’s post concerning Mimesis and Make-Believe, which I think sounds to be a very good source to help understand the imaginative play properly. Incidentally too, the description Meguey gave of the pre-school play is excellent child-centred learning and exactly the kind of thing I strive for in my class. It’s hard work but I think this approach gives the children excellent food for their imaginative ideas. I am studying the links above with great interest.
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komradebob
Member

Posts: 462


« Reply #13 on: March 05, 2006, 01:08:30 PM »

In all honesty, there is nothing in The Village Game that I didn't steal from smarter people than myself- I just applied it to toy play.

One thing I have observed with kids that I find interesting is that they very commonly take timeouts to discuss their play out-of-character, then jump back into play. This is something that I think adults unlearn commonly when playing rpgs. Weirdly, this may be part of what causes rpgs to be such a niche activity.
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Bryan_T
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #14 on: March 05, 2006, 07:15:15 PM »

You might also want to check out The Nighttime Animals Save the World and Shadows, two greta games designed to play with younger kids.

Thank you so much for this link!

For about five years, at bed time every night my son has selected an "invisible book" for me to read (i.e. given me a topic or characters, I make up the story).  He also lives in imaginary worlds all the time, is constantly creating characters for things, making up beings, and more recently devouring books of magic and adventure faster than we can check them out the library (apparently the Lilly Quench books are the seven year old equivalent of cocaine, from what I can tell....after finishing the first one he fashioned his own sword, dagger, and belt out of cardboard and pipe cleaner, then had come up with his own recipe for Quenching Drops by the next day......).

Clearly there were most of the ingredients present for role-playing, but I had not found something that moved me as a rule set/genre that would connect with him (asking him to actually sit down at a table for any length of time is, ummmmm, pointless).  Still he's seven now, an age I thought pretty ripe for starting to role-play, so I'd been keeping an eye out for something that I thought would work.

So yesterday we took a walk to the library, and I introduced him to Night Time Animals Save the World.  I wasn't a perfect run (walk?), but it went pretty well, and he's interested in doing it again.

So finally bringing it around to the something like the original point of this thread.  The part that was hardest was for him to find the right balance in stating actions.  That is sometimes I had to prompt quite a bit to get him to do something, while at others he was trying to narrate the story as well as his own actions.  To some extent I suppose this is an aquired skill that he will get better at with practice.  It does lead me to a couple of questions, however:

- Is playing one character in a story (having to drive that character, but not driving the rest of the world) something that most kids are comfortable with?  When I see kids play just with themselves it seems they don't stay in this one mode much (then again, I'm ususally seeing play with my son, so I could have a very skewed sample).  Could this mode be a barrier to getting them to role play?

- Anyone have any suggestions on helping them get used to sticking to this one mode?

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