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.

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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

Ace

Adventurer
I was a kid on a bike in 80's Western Kentucky (a smallish town of 25k called Paducah) and had similar experiences to most here. Summers I'd find myself and my friends leaving the house after breakfast and not return till dark, riding thru the woods or the neighborhood, grabbing leftover construction materials from new homes being built to build our own tree 'forts' and generally trying to avoid 'the big kids' who were 3-4 years older than us and loved to give us hell if they caught us.

While the memories are fond, I often am surprised that me and my friends made it out of that period without someone getting seriously hurt or worse, and don't think it's a terrible thing that it's not a thing for kids today. That said, I still love to ride out on my bike on Sunday mornings for a 20 or 30 mile ride through the desert of Southern California with nothing but the wilderness around me.
Where I grew up we had two serious injuries, one broken arm do to jank playground equipment, which to our dismay had to be removed and one a very pretty girl paralyzed in a skiing accident. That's it sure it wasn't a huge district but even my 2k plus high school was hardly rocking and rolling

Mainly because despite it seeming reckless , most stuff we did wasn't . Getting hurt was no big deal. Getting injured? No way.
 

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Stormonu

Legend
I remember days of riding bike (and motorcycles) without helmets. And riding to town in the back of pickup trucks with no seatbelts or other restraints (and a couple of times avoiding the loose tire laying in the bed that’d come flying at us with sudden stops).
 

Von Ether

Legend
Yes and no. Kids still ride bikes of course . . . although not as much anymore.

It's the freedom and lack of constant supervision. During school, you'd get home, check in with mom, and then you were off on your own until dinner. During summer, you had the entire day.

While it varies of course, kids these days aren't as "free-range" anymore. Parents are expected to know where their kids are at all times, and kids are expected to be under direct supervision at all times. It's gotten to the point that parents, in some areas, have been arrested and had problems with CPS (Child Protection Services) for allowing their kids to roam on their own to the local park.
Yep. At 13 years old, I was doing farm chores, house chores, and baby sitting my three siblings during the summer as both my parents worked. When my son was 13 and doing the assigned homework I gave him for summer, it was not pretty when my bosses wife found out. She was demanding to know why he wasn't in some sort of camp and I bit my tongue instead of saying "Your husband doesn't pay me enough to send my kid to camp and he makes me commute 50 minutes one way to the office instead of working from home."
 

My grandfather was biking the Ribble Valley (Preston) in the 1930’s/40s
I know it well!
all before he turned 19 (and joined the Merchant Marines), but yeah I can understand bikes being the car purchase equivalent before the 70’s.
I think there where a lot of second-hand bicycles in circulation in those days, and kids started cycling as soon as they were large enough to handle a standard sized bicycle.
 

I think it's worth pointing out that the number of kids who die in accidents each year has dropped significantly since the 80's. Where I live, 5 times as many kids died in accidents in 1986 than in 2019.

So while something about childhood may have been lost in our more supervised, safety-focused age, something has been gained as well.
 


Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I think it's worth pointing out that the number of kids who die in accidents each year has dropped significantly since the 80's. Where I live, 5 times as many kids died in accidents in 1986 than in 2019.

So while something about childhood may have been lost in our more supervised, safety-focused age, something has been gained as well.
Yup.

One of the things folks need to bear in mind is Survivorship Bias.

All of us who got through doing a bunch of stupid stuff, riding bikes everywhere without helmets, playing on tall playground equipment over pavement instead of padded surfaces, riding in the back of trucks with no seatbelts, etc., without any serious or permanent injuries have a natural tendency to assume that our subgroup of the whole is representative. But it's not, really. And obviously anyone who actually died isn't around to post a contrary opinion on an "our generation was so much tougher than kids today" meme.

I do think there's probably been some overcompensation from parents, in part motivated by commercial funded 24 hour news needing a constant stream of anxiety-inducing content to promote viewer engagement. It's stunning sometimes how many folks will swear up and down that nowadays crime is rampant, when violent crime in the US peaked about 30 years ago and has been on a largely steady decline (to about half as common in, say, 2019 than it was in 1994, with a slight increase in the past couple of years). "But you see it in the media every day!"

Kids in the US could probably use more independence and experimentation time than they mostly get today. But there have been genuine and large reductions on injuries and deaths from a lot of causes.
 
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That's normal. It's how parenting has worked for most of history, and still does in a lot of placees

olay your focusing on the roaming on bikes thing, which I will not argue. The helicoptering that children endure these days in the US is stupid, and don’t get me started on it I‘m a nerd I can rant. What your missing is the cavalier attitude towards media from the time as well, I saw “A Nightmare On Elm Street” for the first time when I was 8. My friend saw Robocop in theaters when he was at the same age with his Dad. The “everything will be fine”attitude was everywhere in parenting at the time. Say what you will about “America” there is no way in hell I’d let my grade schooler watch a lot of the stuff I saw at the same age.

edit - Watch ”Class Action Park” you get the sense of the attitude and the obliviousness of actual factual 80s parents.
 

One of the things folks need to bear in mind is Survivorship Bias.
One thing to bear in mind is that up until about 100 years ago parents had more kids because they expected a couple wouldn't survive to become adults. My mother (born 1933) was one of 5, only 2 of which survived into double digits.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
One thing to bear in mind is that up until about 100 years ago parents had more kids because they expected a couple wouldn't survive to become adults. My mother (born 1933) was one of 5, only 2 of which survived into double digits.
Ja.

One of my grandmothers (born about ten years earlier) was from a small town in Northern Vermont, and was one of 15, IIRC, of whom 8 survived to adulthood.
 

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