Posted by: Jess Riley | March 19, 2009

Playing Adolescents

As was pointed out last time I posted on the subject of roleplaying outside your age group, playing teenagers is vastly different from playing children; it’s a substantially different life stage, at least in our society (more on that in a moment!). Perhaps surprisingly, teenagers are among the most commonly played groups in games – for which there are a number of reasons.

Firstly, it means that there’s less story behind them for you to work out. The older your character is, the more you have to explain what they were up to all those years. It also goes some way towards explaining any confusion you have over game issues – after all, in the scheme of things they’re not that old, and they have a built-in excuse for not understanding something. Furthermore, it’s an age where you can almost guarantee that they still have a long life left in them – not like an elderly human, who eventually you may have to kill off for the sake of your story.

We also can’t deny it – the fact that teenagers are seen as sexy and rebellious is a big, big help. I’m not trying to say that you’re all big old perverts, but let’s be honest – our society, and many other societies in the world, seem to promote teenagers as the ideal of sexiness to strive towards. “Young, but not too young.”, perhaps.

Now, these very factors lead to a few problems in the actual play of teenagers. For a start, people who choose to play teenagers on the basis of this ‘rebellious and sexy’ notion will usually be playing headstrong, confident, well-endowed teenagers… and let’s be honest, how many of us know more than a handful of teenagers who really act and look like this? Your average teenager is awkward, with shaky self-esteem and whose body parts haven’t all finished growing in yet, or are doing odd things that they didn’t expect. Even the best-looking teenagers aren’t slightly smaller adults – they have funny hormonal things going on, among other things.

Those who want to play the independent teen who isn’t doing much with their life… well, this is applicable to children as well, but it’s not something that I ever really noticed among people who tend to play young children. Most of the time – and this is based on ‘teens’ as an analogue to our society – teenagers aren’t all that independent. Depending on exactly how old they are, they’re probably either with a parent while they’re out, or they have some kind of a curfew, or rules that they have to abide by, even while they’re unsupervised.

In other words, you’re not going to have a modern-teen-esque character go off on a month long adventure without raising some eyebrows, somewhere. Even if parents and guardians don’t actually appear, your average modern teenager will be very strongly influenced by what their parents think and what their parents want them to do. Even if they go on to break those rules, they’ll still be aware that there are rules in place.

But this moves onto the point that I referenced at the beginning of this post. ‘Adolescence’ is a fairly recent construct. Sure, since the beginning of time, the physical issues that plague people of this age group (body growth, hormones, and all the other fun aspects of puberty) have been a factor, but it’s only fairly recently that we had ‘adolescence’, as in a time when the children became more independent but still under the rules of their parents, and so on, and so on. In the past, people of about this age were getting married, or having children of their own… or, in other words, going straight from childhood to adulthood with no bridging period. This bridging period is new.

So, if you’re wanting to play an adolescent, keep this post in mind. If you’re wanting to play a 17-year-old (or equivalent), consider the culture of the race, and try to determine exactly what stage of life (comparatively) they’re in – is that adolescence, or is that young adulthood?

And because I know it’s bound to come up sooner or later, expect a post on young adulthood to turn up at some point in the future.



  1. Interesting article! Adolescence is also a pretty dramatic and emotional time, and also happens before many people have large responsibilities so personal dramas can take up a lot of your time and attention. It’s also the time when we’re the most independent yet self-absorbed.

    I’m not surprised that playing a teen is popular, given the fact that many people probably remember their teen years as an intense time emotionally with the most drama, and many people probably also wish they could go back to that time and do things a bit differently … make the most of it, perhaps. 😉

  2. Obviously, WoW is not set in a genuine medieval period. That said, to be somewhat true to the pseudo-medieval setting, you should take a couple of things into account.

    First, despite the number of children who were married off for dynastic reasons, modern studies suggest that most of the population didn’t actually hit puberty till 6-8 years later than children in western societies do now. So instead of hormonal 12-14 year olds, that phase of physical maturity didn’t happen till 17-20 or so.

    Especially for females, nutrition is a big factor in physical maturing. You could probably make a pretty good case that in a society that’s seen as much war and disruption as Azeroth’s, that human children would often be malnourished and mature later than modern ones do.

    Also, the whole rebellion thing is probably at least in part a reflection of the relative safety and security that most western children grow up with. In a world where the Scourge or the Burning Legion are liable to kick down your door, rebelling against a few rules would have to seem pretty petty — even to a hormonal adolescent of 18 or so.

    And in pre-modern societies, children as young as 5 and 6 had responsibilities. Especially peasant children had chores to do to help ensure that the family could scrape up enough to eat.

    So yes, there are things about people that don’t change much over the centuries, but medieval people were different from us in more ways than just wearing old fashioned clothes and using swords instead of submachine guns.

  3. Ah very nice article, keep up the good work! Oh and I have made a blog in inspiration of this wonderful Roleplaying Guide, check it out sometime it’s work in progress:)

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