RPG Evolution - True Tales from Stranger Things: Kids on Bikes

Stranger Things tells a tale of inter-dimensional entities battling kids in the 80s. To get around, the kids use their bikes, a genre that launched its own RPG. And yes, kids really did have that much freedom then.


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

It's Not for Everybody​

It's worth noting that despite the reputation of the Kids on Bikes genre taking place in the Midwest, my experience was in the Long Island suburbs. There are a few elements required for a Stranger Things-style of gaming, so being a kid on bike was potentially feasible anywhere :
  • A lot of kids of similar age within biking distance. I grew up surrounded by kids all the same age. We all walked to school, and later took the bus, together. Two of the kids were my next door neighbors, and one a little further (we're still Facebook friends). The rest were from the surrounding area and could bike to meet up.
  • Stay-at-home parents. Most kids didn't understand this at the time but parents trusted that if there was one stay-at-home parent (almost always a mom), then that was the default parent to talk to if there were issues. My mom didn't work until I was in high school, so it was usually her.
  • A place to game. Not every house was suitable for this: some were too small, some were too raucous, some had siblings that wouldn't let you play in peace for hours at a time. That was usually my house.
  • Kids have free time. None of our families could afford to send us to camp, go on vacations for long periods of time, or otherwise keep us occupied. We filled that time with Dungeons & Dragons.

Did Parents Really Let Their Kids Do That?​

Yes, or at least my parents did.

My best friend was a few blocks over, and I would ride my bike to visit and vice versa. We did this just about every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and practically every day during the summer. We would also sleep over each other's houses for as long as we were able, sometimes several days in a row.

How Did Parents Keep Track?​

Because we played Dungeons & Dragons, our parents were collectively happy with the assumption that all of us were easy to find at one house. This expanded to playing Laser Tag at certain houses where we could range freely (this was one case where my house wasn't suitable but two of my friends' houses near open land were perfect for).

During the day, when we were playing outside (which we did often, usually street hockey), our parents would simply open the door and shout out our names. My one friend's dad could whistle a high-pitched whistle that was unmistakable and could be heard at a distance.

You also knew generally when you had to be home. Mostly, we woke up, had breakfast, watched cartoons, ate lunch, and then left to play whatever until dinner time.

What If You Got Lost?​

With no cell phones and no maps, this rarely happened. But it did happen at least once, when we tried to go to a new friend's house on our bikes, and my one friend peeled off in one direction while I was looking the other way. I got so lost I had to bike home.

There were a few times where I miscalculated how far away my house was from other places and attempted to walk home, including wrong bus stops. You only have to make that mistake once to learn the hard way the geography of your home town.

In short, it wasn't much of an issue because everyone was within walking distance and if things really got confusing, you just went back to where you started which was home (or home base, if you knew a friend's house nearby).

Add this all up and it was fertile ground for tabletop gaming, with a large enough group that we never lacked players for a good five years, from seventh grade to graduation.

You Turn: Were you a kid on a bike?
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

People who weren’t there really have no concept of how deeply weird the 80s was for being a kid. From Seeing movies my grade school self had no business seeing, to there being toys aimed at kids based on those movies, to just how far we could roam. A real good documentary to get a sense of it is “Class Action Park” it was on HBO Max when I watched it. Watch it, then if something comes up in a game just think “is it worse than letting your kid go to Action Park, if no let it continue.” But yeah parents and kids of the time had this weird oblivious sense that everything would work out for the best.

I mostly grew up in Maine (but had some southern California as well) and I was definitely a kid on a bike/skateboard. Also plenty of open space for exploring, which, when we lived in CA we lived next to a major weapons testing facility, also caused a few issues.


I was a kid on a bike in the mid 1970s, part of the time in semi-rural Kent UK where everywhere was an adventure and every piece of fruit could be stolen. The other part of the time was in the East End of London; no bike, no fruit and a lot grimmer.
The Kent bit also had ruined castles and Mesolithic sites to hit the fantasy vibes.

Von Ether

I grew up on a farm where both parents also had day jobs. So my siblings and I had bit of that vibe just not with the bikes. The D&D started in high school and it was every other weekend as a friend's mom let us stay and game all day and night on his visitation days.


I recall it was an oversensationalized kidnapping and murder of a 6-year old girl (news channels kept on playing it again and again) that helped set the stage for parents becoming a lot more clingy toward kids nowadays.


Guide of Modos
Wait... do kids not ride bikes anymore? What is the world coming to!?

Ditto. Louisville, Ky. Near absolute freedom. Not what it’s cracked up to be. I’ll save the details, but the amount of trouble I got into ranged from trivial to comedic to catastrophic.
Catastrophic? So you're the reason that the economy tanked? Cold war, was that you? 🤓

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