I'm running a Friday afterschool game this autumn for fifth through eighth graders at Paideia School, where I teach. I've been offering this activity for about ten years. I began it to give some of my fifth and sixth graders a place to socialize outside of classes but available to me for observation and guidance. Those kids are now out of college, but the games have remained popular. In the past, many kids have played through the whole year, year after year. In fact, this session I have three eighth grade boys that I've known as players since they were about eight years old. Most of my players, though, are fifth and sixth graders, about three-quarters male.
My current game is set in Glorantha, as they often are, and involves a small hero band that troubleshoots for the Lunar Emperor. They're off by moon boat to investigate two issues, raids on tax caravans and illegal religious activities. They created a range of characters, ranging from a holy servant of the imperial dog cult to a large centipede magician. Without leaving them the leeway of TOON, I wanted them to create characters that interested them. Interesting for me, as they created characters, many of them referenced parts of World of Warcraft, a game that fascinates them but about which I know very little. The generic fantasy elements were familiar enough, but I had to break them of some of their assumptions in order them to have coherent characters for my game. Their early fantasy experience in the online game had taught them that dwarves were this and shamans were that, and I pushed them to think more flexibly. They were willing, but it was not without effort. Ten and eleven year olds like to know the rules and to have things clearly labeled and categorized. At the same time, they are just reaching the age when abstract though and relative definitions begin to come more readily. It's been fascinating to watch them explore this in their preparations for the game and during the first scenes.
I have a larger group, fourteen kids, than has been the norm for the past few years. The age range requires some planning, but the eighth graders have been playing these games with me for a long time, and they are happy to craft some of their own story and operate more independently. They also seem to be enjoying watching their younger selves find their way in the activity, and they've asked me more than once if they used to play "like that."
The younger students are staying together and working together, though this requires frequent argumentation, something they enjoy. They love succeeding and are generally supportive of one another's efforts. There is quite a range in personalities, which keeps things interesting.
I'm sure I'll have more comments about this bunch in the future!