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


On a bike, not really, but a lot of freedom generally. Whilst I always had a bike it was used for short bike rides rather than going out with friends. I was born in 1994 and lived (still do) in a somewhat rural village in Wales. Given my village is on a steep hill, not on top of, built on the side and top, riding a bike would be fun in one direction and a pain to get back.

I mostly just walked places, playing football, video games, or street games (like curby) a lot of the time. As I entered teen-hood this became more a split of playing football and hanging out. Just sitting in the park or walking around the village, grabbing snacks from the cheapest store with whatever change you could scrounge up. From 13 onwards this expanded to include getting dropped off in town to wander around stores and mess around with high school friends, getting given the princely sum of £10 for lunch and snacks, occasionally walking to a nearby village to friend's houses.

Whilst I didn't bike places I walked pretty far, it was an hour uphill to the smaller, more wild village with fun things for a kid, like an abandoned quarry and cliffs to climb. Or 30 minutes wandering through suburbs and backroads to friends houses to play video games or go to the river to jump in and play with fire in more safer environment.

I had a lot of freedom in some ways as a kid, sleep overs were not really allowed, and usually it was be home before 9 or something, by the time I was a teenager I had a phone and texting was normal. I wouldn't give my future kids this kind of freedom, because it isn't the same time I grew up in, and frankly I shouldn't have been so independent, like I shouldn't have been cooking so many of my own meals, or left alone in the house for extended periods of time from the age of 11. I'd especially be careful with a daughter, given that sadly men and women have different worries in the world, even if they are so young.

I didn't get exposed to D&D until I was an adult, I don't think I had enough friends that would have been willing to play it.

My lovely girlfriend on the other hand, had a much different experience. Like going too far from the adults with her friends and nearly getting taken by La Llorona, she doesn't believe it as an adult, but that's 100% what nearly happened.

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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.

I am amazed I got to adulthood. Still have scars to prove I almost didn’t.
Oh, hey, Louisville was where I was a kid on a bike, ‘83-86, in Seminary Village on Finley Ave., while my dad went to SBTS and my mom went to Bellarmine. Best years of my life, and the place I still consider my hometown.


Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
My lovely girlfriend on the other hand, had a much different experience. Like going too far from the adults with her friends and nearly getting taken by La Llorona, she doesn't believe it as an adult, but that's 100% what nearly happened.
Wait. What? La Llorona is a ghost myth, right?


Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I was a Gen-X "kid-on-a-bike" and have great memories of roaming the neighborhood with friends, getting into fights, getting lost in nearby corn fields, being outside and unsupervised practically all the time. I compare that to how my nephews are being raised today, they are never out of sight of at least one of their parents.

I don't know exactly when or how this shift occurred in how we raise kids in the US, but we've lost something.
Stranger Danger, kinda in the late 80s, early 90s.


So, along these lines - how many of you spend your evenings or weekends at the mall, sans parents - or parents went their separate way?


Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
So, along these lines - how many of you spend your evenings or weekends at the mall, sans parents - or parents went their separate way?
I did a bit of that in high school. Not much though because I didn’t have money, and there wasn’t a lot to do at the mall that doesn’t require spending money.

Oh yes, California suburban kid, biked everywhere up through & including high school, often at distance or gone away long for gaming (D&D, then wargames, card games, etc).

Occasionally got in trouble for not calling when I would be home late. Otherwise pretty free to roam.

While that might have been too little supervision -- I turned out OK -- I think parents today have a bit too much supervision. shrug

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