This one's been coming for a while, folks. I'm pretty sure the same ground has already been tread by many other bloggers, but as both a gamer and someone who's going to be working with kids professionally some day, I just really needed to get this off of my chest. Bear with me.
One of the most common complaints that I've seen throughout the Old School blogging and forums community is about the monolithic 'Kids These Days.' They're too soft to accept that they automatically die if they touch the big demon face. None of them have the attention span to dedicate to 4 hours sitting down at a table without going crazy from digital withdrawal. Video games have spoiled them and now no one can use their imagination to play real games. Tabletop role-playing just isn't bright and shiny enough to drag them out of their technologically induced haze.
I'm sorry, but fuck that.
Back when I was in elementary and middle school, me and my friends were big old nerds. We played Magic, read Tolkien and Expanded Universe Star Wars novels and made our own comics set in both these worlds and our own. And before any of us got our hands on a codified rules system, we were doing our own story telling role-playing games. But we were also on the fringe of our age group. We were a minority of kids interested in fantasy and imaginary play and it stayed that way for a long time.
Right now, the most popular books for kids in America are a series of 7 fantasy novels starring a trio of young wizards fighting against an overwhelming evil while still trying to maintain grades at a magical academy. In the 13 years that the Harry Potter books have been in print, they have sold over 400 million copies, better than every edition of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit published over a combined 70 year period. There are hundreds of fantasy series available for kids and teens at every library and book store across America.
On top of that, kids actually have an existing framework for what role-playing games are, thanks to console and computer RPGs. Even across cultural lines, the Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda are pretty universal. Kids as young as 6 already have an idea of how hit points, initiative and experience work thanks to Pokemon, the most popular portable game ever made. Even the most recent book in the popular children's series about cats beating each other up, Warriors, has a miniature Lone Wolf style 'Adventure Game' written into the back.
So why do people think that Kids These Days aren't primed and ready to enjoy tabletop RPGs? Probably because Kids These Days wouldn't want to play their kind of RPGs.
So let's not dismiss kids off hand because they wouldn't want to inch their way down a dungeon corridor. Role-playing games are really born out of the creative influences of their time and as a result, games made today are more likely to attract kids born today. Instead of bemoaning the fact that their D&D isn't like my D&D, complaining instead of participating, we could be showing kids how cool tabletop role-playing is in a milieu that they're interested in. I can't fathom a middle schooler picking up a Jack Vance or Fritz Lieber paperback today, but if your campaign world was influenced by Avatar: the Last Airbender and One Piece, you'd have a line of kids out the door who are ready for adventure.
Let's cast a wide net, folks.