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The Anxious Gamer: Friendships, Gaming Groups and Being Left Out

[CW: anxiety, rejection]

This is a pretty fraught subject for me. I hate being left out or pushed to the edges of something, and it stems from a deep and abiding fear that if I’m not defined by other people, I’m not defined at all. Like, if they ignore me, I’ll just vanish. It’s a deep-ingrained anxiety, and it’s hard to shake. For me, there are a number of ways this can be exacerbated by gaming, but the commonest and most awkward one is when I feel that people have deliberately excluded me from a game that I’m enthusiastic about, or my partner is included in. I have a very strong reaction to that, and I even have a milder reaction to not being invited to games I’m not actually that interested in. It’s led to me pushing myself into groups in ways that make looking back at the experience uncomfortable. Ironically, that very act of pushing my way in has left me feeling like an outsider in a group that I really and truly want to feel comfortable with – some treacherous part of my brain is always saying that they only included me after I bullied my way in and that they would much rather I left. Rationally, I know that group would be honest with me if that were the case, but I know I behaved somewhat badly in pressuring them to include me, so it just adds weight to my fear of being rejected by them. I also know that they didn’t intend to exclude me or hurt me, but that doesn’t stop the emotional reaction. Continue reading

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Living a Hundred Lives At Once: My Gaming Credentials

Let’s get this all out of the way right now. For the sake of context, not boasting.

I was a geek before I knew what that was. My mum introduced me to Star Trek and Star Wars from an early enough age that I had nightmares about the salt-sucking beast from TOS and freaked out about the arm-cutting scene at the start of Episode IV. My dad, in rare moments of geekery, read me The Hobbit as a very young child and lent me his very old copy of The Lord of the Rings (held together with sellotape) when I decided to read it aged 11.

I introduced myself to many other geeky things: fantasy novels, computer games, comic books and TV series like Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My early computer gaming interests were RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and strategy games like Caesar III. I forced myself to become less squeamish so that I could read Sandman and negotiate my love of horror films.

Since then, my interests have broadened further, though I’m very aware that I’m a geek of all trades since I often have a surface knowledge of a lot of different things rather than a deeper knowledge of any one of them. I know the names of the captains and series of Star Trek but I don’t remember that many individual episodes because I grew up with them being broadcast in weird orders on BBC Two (as an aside, can I get a cheer for the BBC sci-fi hour at 6? I wish that was still on).

But none of that is about gaming (except the computer gaming, and that was limited by what I could find by myself or borrow from friends), mainly because I didn’t encounter roleplaying as a concept until I got to university. There, under the watchful eye of UEA’s brilliant Games Society, I learned about D&D, WoD (old and new), 40k and a whole world of experiences that I had never even heard of before. I’ve LARPed, I’ve livegamed, I’ve wargamed, I’ve CCG’d, I’ve boardgamed, I’ve tabletopped, I’ve done more computer and console gaming that I knew existed, and I love it. All of it. Sure, I may not be hugely fond of some systems or games, but I always said I would try anything but Cyberpunk and then I was in two long-running Cyberpunk 2020 games that were amazing.

And along with all of that, I’ve come to indie rpgs, story games and the theoretical side of gaming. It’s a relatively recent development, but I’m interested in games as an art and a practice. I don’t think my parents ever envisioned my English Literature degree being useful in gaming criticism, but hey, who knows where people are going to end up?

I’ve also struggled with generalised and social anxiety disorders for most of my life without realising what they were. I’ve been hampered by low self-esteem as long as I can remember. I’m self-diagnosing here, and my experiences are comparatively mild but they still affect my life negatively. I’ve become more aware and I’m learning to cope with them more over the last few years but they have meant that I haven’t taken opportunities and enjoyed life as much as I could. I’ve found that gaming is a hobby that impacts very strongly on social anxiety in positive and negative ways. Gaming can trigger immense social anxiety due to its nature as a group social activity but it can also be a useful arena for dealing with anxiety issues as a part of a community that is, on the whole, sympathetic and accepting of disorders and shyness.

The stereotype of the socially inept gamer is still a stereotype first and foremost, but the gaming community has a larger number of members affected by anxiety issues. I have found it to be a community where it is more acceptable to air personal issues and discuss such problems among friends who’ve probably had similar experiences.

This blog is, to some extent, always going to be divided. On the one hand, I want to talk about gaming and roleplaying in terms of theory, practice, art and context (both academic and social). I want to talk about geek culture in a wider sense as well, and other areas of geek interest. On the other hand, I feel that a blog focusing on social anxiety and the highs and lows of how it interacts with gaming would be interesting to write and it’s a side of gaming that lots of people within the community don’t understand.

The Anxious Gamer was born. I hope you enjoy it.