Car trips and siblings and games, oh my!
I've been on a road trip for the last two weeks, and I'm crammed in the back seat along with other family members.
One of those family members is my brother, aged seven and a half, who really likes imaginative play. I've tried to teach him how to play various rpgs before (sometimes with success), but I think the things he's done that taught me the most about rpgs didn't come from rpgs. It came from watching him play with various toys.
For the last few months, he's been really into the Pixar Cars movies, and he has a bunch of Cars toys. He started out playing the events of the movies again and again, then eventually started making up his own stories and adventures for the cars.
One of the things I saw when I was watching him play was that he told the same story over and over. Sometimes he changed the stories from the movies, like having Doc (a mentor character to one of the main characters, who died between movies 2 and 3) still be alive in the third movie's story. But for a long time, he still only told stories that had been told before, and he was okay with it.
I don't think anything needs to be original, if the people involved are happy with it that way; in RPGs, this is especially the case. Basing plots and characters on something that already exists is fine, as long as it isn't actually plagiarism. I sometimes start with a plot from one source and character ideas/personalities/names from another, then slightly change things and let the players take it where they want. (My favorite example was the plot of TNG s1e1, but in a desert instead of just a planet in space, plus a female Obi-Wan Kenobi as an old sage contracted to be a guide. Fun times.)
Another thing the 7yo does that I think is interesting is play out how the characters talk to each other. Even when he's not playing with me or his other sibling, he's giving the characters dialogue. And he matches the characters' accents! His favorite voice to do is a Mater (a truck with a probably-Texan? accent) voice, and sometimes I hear him do that while he plays with his cars.
It's often quite funny to hear him mimic these cars, but what I think is so fascinating is that he doesn't just repeat lines of dialogue word for word in the appropriate accent (like both of his older siblings occasionally do), but he actually can mimic the accents really well, even when he's making up the dialogue himself. It adds more realism to his play, and it really makes it feel like the characters come from different places. I don't get that when I run an RPG. My players only have my word that the characters sound different (seriously, all I can do is my normal Californian accent). I'd love to be able to have heard an accent so much that I could replicate it, like he can.
The most important thing I've learned from my brother is that you can always have fun, even on your own. He likes it best when others play with him, but he's okay playing alone. Likewise, it can be really hard to find friends to play RPGs with, and then you just have to play solo games. But those are also really fun!
I love my siblings, and I'm so grateful that I can learn lots of things from them.