parenting tabletop games

Forced Fun

Currently, the only game that I’m running is at the local teen community center. It’s an after-school drop-in space for teens to play games, do homework, have a snack, and otherwise hang out. Although I have mostly been running for a consistent set of players, I always have to be ready for a teen to walk by and join. If there’s space at the table, they can play.

In the past, my biggest concern has been getting an enthusiastic player who throws off the table dynamic. However, I recently encountered a very different situation that crosses over between the two themes of this blog: tabletop RPGs and parenting.

I had a player join the game because their mom made them play.

The DM’s perspective

I don’t want to get too far into the details of how the game went. Nothing really notable or surprising happened, so I doubt I could give an interesting account.

This situation was interesting to me because I suspect it’s rare to have unwilling players. Tabletop RPGs are small group, participatory games, so players typically have to choose to show up in order to play. It’s like a weekly pickup basketball game on the middle school courts: if you don’t want to play, you just don’t come.

In fact, the opposite problem is far more common: GMs have constantly lamented the difficulty of getting players to show up at all. GMs often wish that they could compel players to show up because the biggest barrier is laziness.

As a GM, I hope that every player enjoys my game, but I’m content with far less than complete table satisfaction. I might be unhappy if I feel like I didn’t give it a good shot, but if I did my best at a session and it just didn’t land well with the players, that’s okay. I can’t control how they react.

I think that attitude applies to unwilling players as well. If I’m not running a game that players are engaged with or aren’t attending, I leave it up to them to figure out if this is the right game for them.

The parent’s perspective

Growing up, I’m sure my parents made me do a million things. Many were likely minor things. They likely manipulated me in plenty of ways. However, by and large, I feel like my parents largely gave me space to make big decisions on my own.

In fact, I only remember a few times when I was given explicit direction. One that jumps out to me is when I was starting middle school. In 6th grade, we had our first opportunity to pick a class: we got one elective. At my school, there were 4 options: band, orchestra, choir, and elective wheel. Elective wheel was some combination of art and some other stuff. While I was picking, I briefly mused about doing elective wheel because learning an instrument seemed like a lot of work.

My mom, without hesitating, told me that I had to music. Unchastised and requiring no further explanation, I picked band as my first choice. After that, band became the defining experience of my time in secondary school. I can’t imagine not having done it, and it was because my mom told me to.

My daughter is too young to make any major decisions on her interests and how she spends her time. We try to support her with opportunities like going swimming and such. However, this discussion presumably becomes more important with older children. How do parents shape how their children spend their time?

Having grown up in the golden age of extra-curricular activities, I feel like there’s currently backlash against supposed “overparenting” and over scheduling of a child’s time. Instead, contemporary thinking in parenting is to allow children to express their own interests and support them in a less strictly defined fashion.

I’m largely sympathetic to this mindset, but I also remember my mom getting me to join the school band. Left to my own devices, I would probably have taken the laziest path and not bothered to explore such an enriching experience.

The teen’s perspective

Can you imagine being forced by your parents to play a game? What a conundrum.

If you enjoy the game, then you have justified your parents’ insistence that they know best about what you should do. That gives them more ammunition in the future to force you to do other things.

Of course, as a voluntary leisure activity, games depend on the players wanting to have fun. So maybe the safest play is to choose not to have fun and believe that it’s lame.

It’s like reading anything for high school English class. Maybe it’s a legitimately fun book. Maybe it’s a boring “classic.” Either way, most students will dislike the book just because their teacher chose it for them.

Final thoughts

Of course, everything here is situational. Whether it’s a good idea for a parent to make their teenager play D&D depends on everything that came before. It depends on how this opportunity came up, how many other forced activities have come before, what other disagreements are in play.

With that in mind, I have tried not to judge the parent and teen involved in the inciting situation above. I don’t know what their situation is. I’ll just run my game and hope that I have converted a new player.

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