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

We'd generally spend not more than an hour or two at the mall or a pedestrian-only shopping area, by ourselves. Parents would then do their own shopping or whatever. A gaming store, comics shop, or Waldenbooks alone could keep me in one spot for an hour as I browsed the shelves and then debated on the best choice for the money I had. The arcade at the mall would keep us in one place for a while, too. One of the worst headaches I've had in my life I got after playing too much Xybots.

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

Our basement was terrifying. There is no world where I would've played D&D down there! Just standing at the top of the steps, staring down into the darkness and eerie rows of dusty shelves was enough to scare me.

I was a Kid on a Bike in the late 70s and well into the 80s. The first scene in Stranger Things with the 13 year old kids in the basement was us. That scene alone hooked me into the show. LOL!
 

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Ace

Adventurer
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.
Did it harm you in any way? If it didn't why worry? I'm not a parent so grain of salt but I suspect the Internet should be off limits to kids myself
 

DorkForge

Explorer
Did it harm you in any way? If it didn't why worry? I'm not a parent so grain of salt but I suspect the Internet should be off limits to kids myself
As someone that also saw a bunch of movies way too early, I'd say it definitely harmed my development and aided in robbing me of my childhood. I agree that the internet should be heavily controlled for kids, too much potential for things to go badly.
 

Did it harm you in any way? If it didn't why worry? I'm not a parent so grain of salt but I suspect the Internet should be off limits to kids myself

I don’t think I was harmed by watching this stuff. My parents did restrict my viewing a lot but I saw nightmare on elm street, terminator, Scarface and similar movies at friends houses. At home things were pretty strict and family and church oriented. Realistically violent or military themed toys like GI Joe weren’t allowed but it actually made movies like Rambo and Commando more enticing. My view is we saw these movies in a safe environment, were exposed to cinematic violence that was mostly so over the top it was humorous or allowed for some catharsis. I don’t think it impacted behavior (I think fighting and physical bullying in and out of school had a much bigger impact on that sort of thing, and that was either balanced out or not depending on what was going on at home). I feel like watching scareface just made me interested in tragic drama and violence in movies as an art unto itself. If anything it made me more interested in stuff like Shakespeare later on
 

Ace

Adventurer
As someone that also saw a bunch of movies way too early, I'd say it definitely harmed my development and aided in robbing me of my childhood. I agree that the internet should be heavily controlled for kids, too much potential for things to go badly.
Makes sense to me and under those circumstances make a sound policy FWIW what I was allowed to see was highly controlled as a child , violent stuff needed permission. Original Star Trek though was "tell Mom its on."
 

Stormonu

Legend
As someone that also saw a bunch of movies way too early, I'd say it definitely harmed my development and aided in robbing me of my childhood. I agree that the internet should be heavily controlled for kids, too much potential for things to go badly.
Jaws, age 5. Lived two miles from the beach. Went once, before I saw the movie.
 

DorkForge

Explorer
Jaws, age 5. Lived two miles from the beach. Went once, before I saw the movie.
For me it didn't really instill fear, I never really watched horror much as a kid, but I do believe it stole part of my childhood innocence and affected my emotional development.
 

Jaws?! I watched scarier episodes of Doctor Who!

Sure, it left me traumatised by maggots and swarfega, but what's childhood for, if not acquiring the neuroses we are going to need in order to become well-rounded adults?
 


Laurefindel

Legend
I lived too far from urban centres to be a kid on bike even if I grew up in its heyday. And the hills were enough to deter us from daring the 10km ride to the nearest convenience store more than 2-3 times per summer. We’d just ride the school bus to our friends’ house and ask our parents to drive us back home, or sleepover and take the bus back to school the next morning.

I was more of a “kids-on-hike”; the woods on both sides of the road were large enough that it’d take more than one afternoon to reach any sign of civilization, but the principle of “bye mom, I’m going in the woods. I’ll be back before sundown… probably” was still true.

I was a lot into t he following stage however; teens-in-cars. As soon as we turned 16 we’d had our first car, most of which wouldn’t be considered street-legal today, and do all the runaround stuff we couldn’t do before. Then our parents sometimes didn’t see us for days on end. Gas was cheap, at last we were free, we’d go anywhere! These, for me, were my prime D&D days
 

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