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Anxious Gamer Diaries: Dragonmeet 2016

I’ve left this blog a little quiet for a while now due to real-life busyness and concentrating more on my fiction, but I’m going to try and get back into the swing of things in the new year. Not least because I have loads of awesome new or classic RPGs to read after my trip to Dragonmeet on Saturday 3rd December. Continue reading

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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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#RPGaDay: Day 6 – Negotiating the Spotlight

We are basically these guys with a gruff family man as ranking officer.

We are basically these guys with a gruff family man as ranking officer. And a warforged.

I’m running very, very behind with this, so I’m going to try and catch up.

I’m lucky to be part of some really incredible campaigns at the moment. Tragically, this has meant some other fantastic campaigns have just petered out, though hopefully we can restart them at some point. However, we’ve just finished a season of Monsterhearts, I’m in a regular FATE game over the Internet called Agents of CROSSBOW (like Agents of SHIELD with more occult crime and tomb-raiding) and a 4th Edition Eberron game called The Chronicles of Cyre, run by the very talented GM who writes at Dice Tales. This last one was the ‘most recent RPG played’ for me, and the campaign is basically Sharpe in Cyre, a rough and ready unit of scouts with the Cyran army who go on hideously dangerous missions and have risen from skilled but undistinguished soldiers to the ‘heroes of Cyre’. Anyone familiar with the Eberron setting will know how this story goes: when we hit paragon tier, the Day of Mourning is going to happen, and our characters will have to deal with everything and everyone we love being taken away from us, defenders of a shattered nation that is now a magic-scarred wasteland. It’s going to be AWESOME. But we’re only just level 8, so we have a bit of time before that.

It’s also a game where I’ve had to reassess some of how I approach roleplaying. I’m a bit of an entitled player. Not to say that I’m not generous, but I’m only generous as long as I get what I want out of the game, which has caused tensions in a number of games and has especially caused issues for me in live games. I’m not always seeking the spotlight, but I’m a Fixer, and if I don’t get my Fixer fix, as it were, I’ll become disillusioned with the game very quickly. I really hate feeling ignored and devalued, as though I don’t deserve to be included or to have the story be about my character for a bit, and I can react badly if I perceive that to be the case (note that my perceptions can twist this waaaaay out of proportion).

I’m actually really grateful that I’ve been playing Monsterhearts and D&D at the same time. In one, I’ve had a lesson in listening to other players, generosity and understanding that even if the scene isn’t about you, you can still enjoy it. In the other, I’ve seen the fallout of two people (i.e. me and another person) who are good friends outside the game getting competitive for the spotlight, and I’m not proud to say that I could have been more generous about that.

I think the amount of live gaming I’ve been doing over the past few years has changed me a lot when it comes to roleplaying. In a tabletop game, where things are more intimate, it’s way easier to see if one person is dominating and another is getting left behind. In a livegame, it sometimes feels as though the only way to have your voice heard is to shout loudest and first, which can be really uncomfortable for someone who is anxious or who doesn’t like to dominate. I’ve realised that I’ve got so used to having to be decisive, to having to rush through scenes and make sure I’m heard, that I’ve lost the ability to think about how the scene as a whole fits together. I want to get ‘my bit in’, the one cool thing I do in a combat or the one moment in a scene where I feel like my character is an important part of the narrative.

There are lots of cool rpgs that give options for playing with narrative control: it’s a big trend in story gaming, which often removes the GM entirely. However, there needs to be a certain level of self-awareness and self-restraint to negotiating the spotlight that can’t be compensated for with system. That’s why there are relatively few people I’d play Monsterhearts with (as well as the potentially upsetting content and the trust required) – we all need to be in it together, or it doesn’t work.

I've not reached Mazes and Monsters levels of corruption yet, though

I’ve not reached Mazes and Monsters levels of corruption yet, though

I’ve been trying to be a more mindful player over the last couple of sessions, not jumping out in front of every development, not feeling like I needed to have input into every moment in a conversation. Interestingly, I left both of those sessions feeling slightly frustrated, as I hadn’t had that big damn hero moment and the rush of feeling like my character was important, but my mood across the whole game was more even – I hadn’t risen to potentially tactless comments and had interpreted them (as I am sure they were meant) as not intending to offend me. I managed to control my temper better for my really terrible rolls without diminishing the victory of my high rolls. I listened more to the other players and tried to see it as a narrative belonging to all of us.

That said, I’m starting to see why the rush a lot of roleplayers chase, where it’s all fitting well and the coolest possible thing happens right then, and it feels like your character is a hero, is getting scarcer and scarcer. When I started roleplaying, just being part of it, having powers that could do cool stuff, and learning more about this weird pastime was enough. Now the rush is part of feeling like my character is the hero of their own story. I hope that someday I can get that rush from playing as a group and really telling a communal story (Monsterhearts has shown some encouraging development in that direction, at least), but for now I’ll settle for just not offending and angering the other people in my group, and trying to make it a game we can all enjoy.

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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.