Attempting to Educate Through RPGs

A friend recently asked me to both run some games and teach kids how to run games themselves. It went pretty well!

Give or take.

For starters, I dusted off a relic of my own childhood: Captain Planet and the Planeteers.

It was probably one of the most anvilicious, ridiculous, flat-out stupidly over-the-top things on television back when it aired but it also covered some ground that kids really don’t get nowadays. Especially American kids. It’s a cartoon about an international, multicultural, multi-racial, multi-everything band of heroic teenagers trying to save the world. Beyond simple, moralistic plots on the environment, it also tried to deal with HIV, gun violence, drugs, the impact of capitalism on poor people, and god only knows what else.

I can fault it for a lot of how it covered those issues, and for a lot more besides, but I can’t fault it for trying and the basic ideas behind it are still sound.

So I adapted it to Evil Hat’s Fate Roleplaying System, with a handful of updates, then I tossed out Captain Planet himself since that’s basically the game master’s player character that nobody else can compete with. This would be a game about the Planeteers themselves.

And not a game about his mullet.

While I’m happy enough with the setup that I might polish it off and upload it somewhere, it went off the rails by the second half and never recovered. Running a roleplaying game is all about knowing your audience – as I’ve written before. I didn’t know mine.

Unfortunately, this was also my first time running for a group composed entirely of kids and I had a rough patch thanks to a trifecta of boys playing off each other in all the worst ways. If it had been any one of them in the game without the other two, it would’ve gone off without a hitch, but as anyone who’s ever dealt with young boys can and will tell you: they can be demons of chaos. I could see the dynamics forming but I couldn’t figure out how to stop it and keep them on point – that’s on me. Pretty much every trick I tried short of booting them from the game just did not freaking work. It didn’t help that one of them was just watching, not an actual player. I also had to keep shutting another down when he kept trying to play for other people.

Even with that, they all did good during the opening vignettes. Not coincidentally, this was where I put most of my planning and research in. The second half of the scenario was supposed to build off all that but I wasn’t aware of how much handholding I’d have to do (another failure on my part, considering the age group here). That’s one thing I’ll clean up before I upload it anywhere.

Everyone also learned some things in spite of themselves. Within the first five minutes, those kids opened up to environmentalism, current events, political science, and geography. They stayed hooked in for all that stuff throughout the first half; any scenario I put together for kids in the future will probably also try to hook players in with new info rather than just dumping them into the action. If I could figure out how to cram a class’ worth of New Info into a session from start to finish, that’d be gold.

For many of them, it was probably their first time learning about these things with no filter. None of them knew, for instance, that Ukraine has a bucketload of aging nuclear reactors and diminishing resources to care for them. None of them knew about the war vets at the DAPL protests. None of them knew about piracy being a thing in the Indian Ocean. None of them knew about violence against environmental protesters in Brazil. None of them knew about poaching in Africa.

I didn’t dump any horribly visceral details on them, but I didn’t sugarcoat it. They responded amazingly well. And to be fair, none of their parents probably know about this stuff either. There’s a lot to keep track of these days and not everyone has the time or energy to keep up with goings-on in our own country, let alone anything international.

I myself didn’t know about the Ukrainian reactor tidbit until a few days ago, although I definitely need to do more research than Michael Chossudovsky’s Centre for Research on Globalization; slick looking website, and the fact that it’s Canadian had me off guard (Canadians supposedly being more reasonable than us in the States), but craaaaaazy bullshit is crazy and should not be a source of info for anything when dealing with kids.

thanks wikipedia
Fool me once, asshole.

It was also interesting that four out of five players – boys and girls alike – were playing outside their own gender, national origins, and three played outside of their race. These are little things, yes, but that’s one of the key ways you can build openness and empathy in people: take them out of their own skin and put them in someone else’s.

For all that they wrecked the game, two of the problem boys shut down the third when he tried to make a snide comment about one of them playing a girl. The player didn’t hide behind insults, he didn’t make excuses, he didn’t try changing the character in question; he just plain told the other kid to shut up. He liked playing as her. His buddy backed him up without a moment’s hesitation.

Sure, the session was a tire fire.

But I’ll take my victories where I can get ‘em.


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