Interview with Nykki and Matt from Motley Kids

Nykki and Matt have been running Motley Kids, which brings kid-focused activities to conventions like Gen Con and Who’s Yer Con, for several years!  After going to their room at Gen Con 2023,  we set up this chat to talk about the importance of bringing activities for kids to conventions, their XP introducing their kids to the hobby, and some of their advice to make going to conventions with kids a little bit easier!

*this is a transcribed interview that has been edited, with permission from the interviewee, to improve ease of reading

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

[Nykki] I’m Nykki Boersma, and my day job is that I’m a family doctor.  I do mostly outpatient work in a small town in rural Indiana.  

I grew up in a nerd household with my dad and my mom (who is kind of nerd adjacent but I think just never found her spark). 

I have collected pretty much every hobby there is over the years as long as it doesn’t involve trying to play any sort of sport, which has never been my forte.

I’m sort of a Disney nerd, I enjoy role-playing games, I enjoy board games and photography… you name it really!  I have also been working in some sort of game master capacity since college. 

[Matt] And I am a stay at home dad and an adjunct professor with Bethany Theological Seminary.  I teach biblical studies, Greek, and, occasionally, Hebrew there the most, and then I teach taekwondo at the local YMCA as well. 

When I’m not doing that and am also not running kids around, I like board gaming, role playing games, beer brewing, and cooking.

How did you get into tabletop RPGS?

[N]  This is a funny story.  I was an SCA hanger on as a high schooler, like all of my friends were SCA kids, and they kind of pulled me into role playing games.  I went straight from hanging out with the SCA kids to doing homebrew TTRPGs at my friend’s mom’s house.  I had sort of heard about mainstream RPGs but hadn’t really ever had an opportunity to play them. 

Then, I went to the Indiana Academy, which is a junior and senior year residential highschool that Indiana State puts on, and I met a guy there!  I think this is where you come in!

[M] Yeah!  I come in a year behind her, and I’m a junior.  I’d been doing board gaming at home with my own family there, but I didn’t ever get into RPGs.  The closest I got was playing the old HeroQuest game, like… the original version of it, which is a sort of dungeon crawling board game.  

I brought that to the academy and started doing D&D with some of the guys on my floor.  

Then, one day, for whatever reason, I decided it was a good idea to basically flirt with Nykki by teaching her how to roll up a character in D&D in the computer lab.

[N] In the computer lab!  Yeah!  Because you were working on a shift as a lab tech.

[M] Because we’re going to go hard nerd here at this point.

So, from then on, you joined a group in college and then I went along to the same college and we would alternate running games – one of us had Friday night and one of us had Saturday night to GM.

[N] Haha, so who thinks it’s a good idea to flirt with a girl by teaching her how to roll up a barbarian!

[Steph] Hey!  Sounds like it works!

[N] In his defense, that was in 1997, so… 

[M] And here we are!

Can you tell us a bit about Motley Kids?

[N] It is basically me and him and anybody else we can Shanghai into assisting us at any given moment!  

The idea is… when we bring out kids to conventions when they’re infants, it’s easy. 

Then, a lot of people provide some sort of space for 2-4 year olds to run around.  I don’t want to say they’re not interactive, but they’re just like perpetual motion machines at that age.  They don’t want to sit and do things.

But then there is this gap from 4 until the early teen years they’re trying to join adult games with varying success depending on the GM and the other players.  They don’t have the executive function or the capacity to really work into the grown-up games, but they’re too old for baby games.

It ends up as emotional deadweight – someone always has to take the kid, which means someone is not getting to play or do anything, and the only thing you’ve got to do is go to the vendor hall and say no 11,784 times while your child just completely squirrels out about all the cool stuff!

[M] Or worse, the con has provided a kids table in the corner, but it’s just unattended puzzles and maybe some legos, glue, and popsicle sticks.  Maybe if you’re lucky, you get those little foam sticker crafts that take about 5 minutes to stick all the stickers on, and then they’re done.  

That always ends up with just plates of glue by the end of the day and other horror stories.

[N] At the time, we had a toddler and an early elementary kiddo, and, in the line for one of the food trucks, we struck up a conversation with somebody about how our kids seemed so into all this stuff.  We were in full cosplay at the time, and they said there’s this convention in Ohio that had a really cool kids track.  We went, and the kids had fun, and we didn’t hate them by the end! 

We came back to our local home convention, which is Who’s Your Con with some great ideas, and… I, unfortunately, had some spare time, so I gave them an 8 page typewritten proposal including budgetary notes, to which their response was that I should submit some events!

So, we did!  The first year, it was literally just me and Matt, and my really big ideas were in the room with the popsicle sticks and glue and a whole bunch of crayons, which… we still have not managed to figure out what to do with all of those. 

[M] We have a giant bin of crayons, and I don’t know what to do with that many crayons… and people STILL give us more crayons!  Like, that’s nice… but… 

[N] Yeah, people are like.. Oh, you do kid’s activities?  Have some crayons!

That first year or so, though, was rough, but we made it.

Then, the con the next year was on April Fool’s Day, so their theme was “no fooling”, and that’s actually where the Motley Kids name came from – we were trying to tie into the theme for that year. 

We had a friend who’s an artist do some work for us, and, once both of us had a chance to breathe, it was so much fun watching kids just light up because there was something there FOR THEM!  I ran some tabletop RPGs, did some of the sticker crafts, you know… nothing super elaborate, but just to have a space where we have stuff especially for the kids was important.  

And we had to tell parents that they have to stay with their kids.  They need to stay and watch them do things and do things with them.

It was a ton of fun!  We had really great feedback, so we decided to bring this back to Who’s Yer Con.

One of our contacts at Who’s Yer Con was involved with GenCon and approached us to bring this whole thing there on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium.

[M] Yeah… No pressure!

[N] And we had like… no idea what to expect!  It was so huge!  We had been there running indie games on demand before that.

[M] Running with indie games on demand, we had picked up a lot of kid’s stuff because we started toying with the idea of a kid’s track for them.

We would each bring a couple games and we’d have our grown up games where I’m running Dungeon World, and then I had like… Hero Kids or something that I was running on the other side, so we could shuffle those in depending on who showed up that hour.  

[N] It’s been an iterative process since then where we really just kind of keep trying to refine it.  I tell parents that my whole goal is to make you not hate your kids by the end of the con… give them that experience so they know that it’s a fun place to be and grow up loving it.

We ran Hero Kids and No Thank You, Evil and 5th Edition and Dread, which was so intense, but it was totally kid-friendly and just intense with the Jenga tower!  It was amazing.  I’ve never seen anybody so careful around the table in my life!

They’re learning real games and having a good time, and there’s something that can hold their focus and attention for like an hour or so and then they’re done and can run around for a while in a circle in the back!

From a craft standpoint, we started with relatively uncomplicated crafts and just tried to theme things with Gen Con, like we did the Daleks one, which was to die for. 

[M] Oh, those were adorable!  We might still have some of the little 2 inch plungers around here somewhere!

From a craft standpoint, we started with. Relatively uncomplicated crafts just trying to theme things although that first year at GenCon we did do the Daleks which was to die for.

[N] Oh, we’re doing Daleks again next year!!

But also, we discovered that the kids are capable of so much more complexity than we give them credit for, so the crafts have evolved over the years too.

We keep a wide range of things that they can do from free stuff to things that light up, cosplay elements, and so on.  We categorize everything so that we have a mix from day to day. 

[M] We now have four 3D printers, I think, that are actively functional, and I’ve got a laser cutter that I can do some laser cut wood pieces with.

We made a lot of good connections with a couple different companies that gave us files to let us actually do more of these ideas.

[N] Then during the pandemic, there were no conventions, but  the kids have really grown up with doing Motley Kids stuff.  The youngest was suggesting what we can do for a craft, and she’ll come up with this fantastic thing and just wanted some crafting time!

[M] Now, our oldest is 16, so this last Gen Con, she was actively helping and coordinating stuff, and she ran a couple games for us.  That’s also been great now that she wants to come in and help and get involved in the process. 

She’s made friends at a lot of the local conventions, and we also run the kid’s room at the smaller cons where it’s a few hundred people and we can easily handle the kids that show up there as just the two of us and she can pop in and out and meet with friends.

It’s been good to introduce them to nerd culture, as it were, and in a positive way.

What advice do you have for people who are new to tabletop RPGs or conventions and are looking to bring their kids?

[N] Naps and breaks.  

You, as an adult, are coming to the convention and you’re going to hit it.  I’m gonna run beyond my limits.  I’m going to forget to eat and be exhausted and, as an adult, my executive function may be in question at times, but I’m capable of making sure that I can feed myself and things like that. 

Your kid, especially in a convention setting, is completely dependent on you, so you HAVE to schedule that stuff.  You have to say that we’re going to take a break and take an hour to go back to the hotel room and get some food.  And you need to schedule it instead of waiting until they’re hangry.  Have the expectation that you are going to miss some stuff.

You can also find a friend.  We have been co-parenting with our con family for so long.  Saturday morning, our con family shows up around 11:30 to swap.  Our 6 year old is gone!  She’s the kid who will dump the glitter, but I know that I have a trusted adult who has kids who we can send her with and give her some cash or a spending card so she gets some experience that she wants too.

Then, she can come back and craft with us, play some games, and get out of that space sometimes.

So… try co-parenting!  Make friends!

Any closing words before we sign off today?

[N] We’ve had such great support from industry.  Goliath Games reached out to us to send kid’s stuff, and I was excitedly  like… why do they want to send us things?! 

[M]  We have games from them like Pop the Pig and stuff or ones where they’re pulling the bananas out and the monkey jumps up, and the 3-5 year olds love them!

And for minis, Fat Dragon Games and 3D Professor have been great because I’ll find something on Thingiverse and this would be great as a mini to paint or something, but we do our due diligence to make sure that we’re not stealing people’s stuff – we’re giving credit where it’s due and they’re supporting it!

Thank you Nykki and Matt for sharing your XP with regards to bringing kids to conventions and for doing Motley Kids!!

You can find out more about Motley Kids here!

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