Thursday, December 17, 2009

Act like a child

I'd wanted to write another bit about child role-playing, this one explaining a bit about how it can be difficult to rp a child in Deadwood, where people are trying to be historically correct. How realistic would it be for a child, especially a girl child, to be wandering the streets alone? Add to that the oddity of timezones in RL and SL -- what if the only time you can sign on to play is 9 p.m. where you are, but that makes it 8 a.m. or 1 a.m. or 9 p.m. in Deadwood?

Other players also have their own understanding of how children should be role-played and role-played with -- we children can get bossed around, sent home, sent to school, lectured to -- even if we are NOT the snotty nosed little kids that drive other players mad. What newer players may not realize as they try to send us somewhere realistic and safe, but where there is no role-play going on (i.e., home, school) is - if we obey (and many adults really expect us to) then we cannot role-play, or not for long. We try to find as realistic ways as possible ways to role-play our way into places and events where children might not be.

But I thought instead of trying to write a long-winded lecture, it might be more fun to put together a long-winded vignette based on actual experiences I've had over the past two years while role-playing children in Deadwood. This only deals with child-to-adult experiences -- others no doubt have their own adult-to-child and child-to-child incidents.

Hopefully this can give folks an idea on how to work with child role-players so they don't end up being isolated either alone or in groups of children only.

Elizabeth carried Faith with her as Alice tagged behind, the two older girls holding small baskets soon to be filled with goods from the Deadwood General Store. Elizabeth marched on down the crowded sidewalk, chin high, nodding politely without stopping. “Excuse me, pardon me, good day, excuse me,” she said in as adult a manner as she could.

“Stay with me, Alice,” Elizabeth said firmly. “Do not lag behind and do not talk to strangers.” Alice said nothing, but grasped Elizabeth’s apron tighter as she scurried to keep up.

Saturdays and Sundays were so much better than week-days, Elizabeth thought. On Saturdays, she could go about her errands largely undisturbed by annoying little queries, interrogations, or condescending commentaries; Sundays were quiet times, in church and then following the Streeters about as social calls were made.

Both days she managed to maintain her feeling of her self as who she knew she was, without the constant irritating interruptions thrust upon her during the week.

Elizabeth could not wait until she turned 16, or even 15, for she noted that girls of that age were treated by adults as young ladies and not helpless children. She was chagrined to note that little boys as young as seven had more freedom than a girl of eleven, left alone to amble the streets, climb trees, run and jump the alleys with little comment from adults other than “boys will be boys.”

As she strode toward the General Store, the two orphans in tow, she reflected on the irritations of the previous week.

While standing on the orphanage porch, a complete stranger had approached and demanded to know where her parents were and why she was out so late.

Elizabeth had struggled with her desire to reply to the adult with some pointed questions of her own such as “Who are you to ask?” and “None of your business” or “Since when is 5 o’clock late.” She refrained from those replies.

She had then wanted to reply by retreating into the orphanage, slamming the door behind her. She also decided this would not be proper in the eyes of Miss Jemima, head of the orphanage, or Mrs. Streeter, her current guardian.

“Are you deaf? Or just rude?” the stranger had snapped as Elizabeth struggled to find a suitable response. The second set of questions found a new series of possible replies spinning their way through Elizabeth’s head, sharp little words dancing pointedly on her lips, struggling to spew out. She was saved from getting herself in sure trouble when the door to the orphanage opened and Miss Jemima’s appeared.

That was Monday.

On Tuesday, heading home for lunch from school, she had been stopped by yet another stranger.

“You! Why aren’t you in school?”

Elizabeth blinked. “I.. I’m going home for lunch,” she said, a bit uneasy.

“Oh? Is your mother waiting? And where is home?”

Elizabeth looked uneasily past the stranger’s shoulder toward the Inn. Mrs. Westland would be inside, alone in the kitchen as the Inn tended to be empty during the day. The stranger looked clean cut enough, but the girl was not sure if she should be informing him of anything. She’d heard many a story of women alone being held up by gun point by strangers.

“I… um…the hotel, downtown,” she said and ran off.

“Hey, you, wait!”

She could hear the sounds of the man’s heavy boots as he pursued her; she ran faster and faster stopping only when she slid through the doors of the hotel, to the safety within. It had not gone smoothly – the man and Miss Cookie had had some harsh words, and Miss Cookie had pulled out a gun. Little Addie had followed her from the schoolhouse and had bitten the man. It had not ended well for either of the girls, or for the man.

On Wednesday evening, she’d been sent on an errand by Mrs. Streeter to pick up a set of new gloves at a local shop. Again, two strangers – two ladies this time – had stopped her in the street.

“Oh, aren’t you the cutest little thing?” one had gurgled at her. “Are you an orphan?”

Elizabeth had blinked, not quite certain what it was about her that had led the woman to ask this – she was certain it was not the usual question one placed when first meeting someone. The girl had looked around, desperate for a familiar face but had seen no one.

“Um, yes ma’am,” she’d replied politely.

“Ohhh,” the lady’s friend had replied, smiling at her friend.

Elizabeth started edging away. “I have to go now,” she’d said.

“You poor little thing!” the first lady had said. “All alone in the world! I bet you want a mommy.” The lady smiled at her sweetly.

“Um,” Elizabeth said. “I’m supposed to get Mrs. Streeter’s gloves. From there,” she pointed toward the clothing shop, and backed away. “Um, but thank you. I am not alone, Mrs. Streeter takes care of me. And Mr. Streeter. Um, I mean she takes care of him. And he takes care of us. And, I have to go. ”

“Wait, wait, don’t go, I can adopt you!” the first lady called, but Elizabeth ran off as fast as she could.

On Thursday, she’d been sitting on the bridge near the cemetery, waiting for Carrie Anne. Her chores were done, school was out and it was a really nice day. She dangled her legs and looked down – the water was so clear, you could see fish swimming in circles. She was in the midst of thinking about the time she and Carrie had pushed that boy in the river, when the sound of a deep voice startled her so much she almost fell in herself.

“Hey, get away from there! It isn’t safe!” Elizabeth turned and saw a man and a woman approaching the bridge. “What are you doing out here by yourself?”

“Um. I’m waiting for my friend.”

“Well, you should wait somewhere else. It isn’t safe here.”

The lady smiled gently at her. “That’s right dear. Why, there are Indians. And people shooting. This just isn’t a safe place for a little girl to be,” the lady giggled. “Unless she’s with a big strong man.”

Elizabeth stared as the couple eyed each other for a moment before turning back to her.

“Someone might kidnap you if they find you out here,” the man said gruffly. The woman nudged him.

“Henry, don’t startle the child,” the woman said. “What’s your name, little girl?”

“Elizabeth. “

“Hello Elizabeth. I’m Cynthia and this is Henry. Come with us and we will walk you safely back to town.”

“Um. I’m supposed to meet Carrie here."

“She can meet you in town, come along now.”

Elizabeth had followed the couple reluctantly back into town where they dropped her off at the empty Inn and told her to stay put. She’d sat patiently waiting for Carrie but somehow they hadn’t met up that afternoon.

On Friday she’d arranged to meet Carrie and a few other children over by the Gem. The whole town was over there watching the fights. Although they weren’t usually allowed in, the children usually gathered in the alley and took turns standing on empty kegs under the window. Most often the adults were too excited or happy to notice the children.

When Elizabeth got there, none of the other children had arrived yet. That was alright with her – she knew they’d show up eventually. She’d gone quietly to the side of the building and crawled up on the keg. She supported herself and leaned against the building, watching the fight inside.

She was so fascinated watching the adults moving around, the men seeming to dance around each other, their fists up in the air as they jabbed at each other while the crowd cheered and jeered, that she hadn’t noticed the woman inside staring at her. She was so busy watching as one man fell down and the other raised his arms over his head while people applauded, that she didn’t notice the lady stalk out the door of the Gem. Elizabeth’s head was plastered against the window, watching the winner helping the loser to his feet when the shrill voice of the woman almost knocked her off the keg.

“What are you doing up there?”

Elizabeth got her balance back just in time, and she turned to see who was being shouted at only to find a red faced woman glaring at her.

“You mean me?” she asked, seeing nobody else around.

“Of course you,” the woman sputtered, her words seeming a bit slurred to Elizabeth. “This isn’t a place for a little girl.”

“I’m not little,” Elizabeth offered. “I’m eleven.”

“Eleven or seven,” the woman barked. “You’re a child. Now get out of here. Go home. If you have one.”

“Er.” Elizabeth paused. “I do, but I’m allowed to be here, long as I don’t get in trouble.”

“You’re in trouble now. This is a dangerous place. Children don’t belong here. They aren’t allowed.”

Elizabeth paused, then slipped down from the keg.

“Um, Mister Clay, he lets us be here. As long as we don’t go in.” She tried to smile appealingly at the lady. “Ma’am.” She added, hoping that would be a nice additional touch.

“Don’t ma’am me. There could be a shooting. This is violent. Children shouldn’t see this!” The woman seemed to be waving her arms as she yelled.

“Um, yes ma’am. Only, they aren’t fighting, you know. It’s just.. a contest,” Elizabeth smiled a little and then added, “ma’am" again for good luck.

She decided not to go into how many deaths she herself had seen, how many shootings or drunks lying on the streets, and how she and her friends would always run for safety when a shooting started. She had the feeling the woman might not be using her best listening ears at the moment.

“Go home, or I’ll call the law on you,” the woman said, crossing her arms and glaring at Elizabeth.

Elizabeth sighed and thought how home would be boring. From home she could look out the window and see everyone over at the Gem, but she wouldn’t be able to see what was really going on or hear the excitement. If she had to go home, she may as well go to bed, she thought. She signed again and nodded. But just then, one of the adults stuck a head around the corner.

“What’s going on?” a familiar face said.

“Just sending this brat home,” the woman said.

“Brat?” the person said. “Oh, hell, that ain’t no brat. That’s Lizzie. She and the other kids are usually here on a Friday night – they ain’t no trouble, are you Lizzie?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “No ‘m, we aren’t, really!”

“Come back on in and watch the fight and let the kids be,” the regular said, motioning toward the angry woman, who scowled, stomped her foot and then shrugged.

“Fine. But if anything happens, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” the woman said and sashayed around the corner, slamming the door as she re-entered the Gem.

“You be good now,” the regular said to Elizabeth, who smiled broadly and nodded.

“I will be.. thank you!” She climbed back on the keg and continued watching as she waited for her friends.


  1. jeezus Christ on roller skates Hon, that was illuminating.
    I knew being a young'un had its challenges but I sure had no idea it got as bad as all that. No wonder you and Carrie Anne get all grumpy and Addi bites people now and then.

    It feels very real though, doesn't it? How people don't seem to hesitate when it comes to Not Minding Their Own Business when it comes to talking to a child. I know some of it must be that whole damn "it takes a village to raise a child" but Lord, it's gotta be frustratin' when so many o' the villagers are feckless idjits.

  2. by the way, you do a truly superb job of taking rp transcripts and turning it into narrative

  3. haha, well in this case, no rp transcripts were involved, only memories from my fuzzy little brain! but thanks!

  4. you know, in a way, maybe that's even better, because I sometimes find myself being a prisoner of the transcripts, going" "Oh that was a good dialogue, I have to keep that in"

    when in fact, I keep learning over and over that you really need to be pretty merciless in editing down an rp chat log to make a decent narrative out of it.

    So out of curiosity, who was the "regular" with the relaxed attitude about you watching the fights? It kinda sounds like it was Clay

  5. A composite of Clay - you - and Doc Devon.

  6. This is very illuminating indeed. I didn't think it was possible to have more admiration for those who take on the role of kids, but I do.

    These tales also go a long way to explain why adult AVs in a historic roleplay sim seems to want superpowers and never want to lose at anything. If someone is down or vulnerable, roleplayers kick harder and take advantage of it differently than would have happened in real life.

    My only other thought is that this story confirms why we need more children around. There's strength in numbers.