I play a lot of games and not with gamers. I force people I already get along with to play all kinds of games. Over the last 30 years of doing this, I've discovered that many people not only don't like to play games, but find the experience uncomfortable to terrifying.
My pre-existing relationships with these people allowed me the latitude to delve into why this was the case. I didn't go into the situation to try and change minds, but just to listen and discover what they felt about the experience. Here are some of the things that I was told.
- "There was so much information involved in learning the game I was overwhelmed."
- "I felt like I was studying for a test."
- "Once the game started everyone was mean to each other."
- "I got angry because I hate losing."
- "I didn't want to play, because if I won (so and so) would lose."
- "When we started negotiating, I couldn't trust anybody and it was horrible."
Of course, to a gamer, the above things are reasons we like games. Information gives us a feeling of discovery of new systems and worlds. Mastering the game brings us joy. Shit talking in a reasonable way* is a way to have fun with your friends. Losing a game is when we learn to play better. Winning is something that comes around to everyone sooner or later. And negotiating is a thrill because it's you gaming with your friends, not just moving pieces around on a board.
The Internal Difference
But people are genuinely different from each other.
I am often put into situations where I am forced to engage in violent physical conflict with people. I've been bit by humans twice in the last two years. Even though I am very skilled at deescalating these physical confrontations, they still occur. And when they do, I find I enjoy the experience.
This isn't true before the confrontation. I have the same instinct for self-preservation as everyone and I do whatever is in my power to avoid having these violent confrontations. But the fact is that they are often unavoidable from the point at which I become involved. Sometimes in the case of psychosis or organic disorders it's unavoidable from any point. Knowing it's coming or before the conflict begins is very stressful for me.
I have seen many, many people quit after having such a confrontation, or take months to choose to return to work. But after over 100 of these events, I find that contrary to being stressed about the experience, I enjoy it while it is occurring, and feel fantastic afterwords. Their internal experience of the event for different people is physically, chemically, and psychologically different.
This sounds truistic. Other people are actually very different from you. They hold different baseline assumptions. They place importance on different things. Especially if you pull away everything you know, and the right and wrong of things, and ignorance, and low self-esteem -- the pure unadulterated essence of who that person is and how they internally feel is different than you.
The Thing About Games
Some people don't like confrontation. Others don't like losing. Some don't like being put in situations where they might disagree in public. Some people are concerned about having their performance judged by their peers.
It's my personal belief that a lot of these causes revolve around esteem and issues of confidence and maturity. And in a lot of cases that can be true.
But it isn't true in all cases.
Even very confident, mature, people can find an experience like bidding for a piece of property unpleasant. Not because they are concerned about what someone might think if they lose, but because they simply find the process of competing with friends internally unpleasant. It is not to their taste.
De gustibus non est disputandum
The Thing about Role Playing Games and Dungeons & Dragons
This leads to two related issues to tabletop gamers.
When I tell someone we are going to be playing a wargame, they know what the experience I'm relating is. When I tell someone we are going to be playing a minature skirmish game, they know what the experience I'm relating is. When I tell someone we're going to be playing a turn-based computer game, they know what the experience I'm relating is.
When I tell someone we're playing a role-playing game?
Well, there are certain people who expect to sit down to play a game. There are others who sit down and expect to experience drama. And there are some people who do something in-between.
None of these is better or worse than another**. None is a right or wrong way to play. Some people enjoy one and some people enjoy the other.
But how do I know which one I'm going to get?
Have you ever run a game? Have you ever felt prepared beforehand?
I play tabletop games somewhere between 10-20 hours every week. For 4 to 10 of those hours, I'm the Dungeon Master. I've been doing this for over 25 years of my life.
To this day I still get nervous before a game.
Doesn't everyone have this anxiety? Our current in-person Sunday morning dungeon master almost quit after the first session because she was so stressed about preparing for the game.
You know what you need for every game of Dungeons & Dragons?
The End Result
Gaming is popular and cyclical. In times of recession and low personal and financial autonomy, they are more popular because of their value per dollar. Gaming is here to stay.
But the reality is, there's no new innovation that's going to raise gaming to the profitability of movies or video games. Dungeons and Dragons requires a Dungeon Master and Board Games require conflict and winning and losing.
Acknowledging these factors and recognizing that they occur can make gaming a more pleasant experience for everyone! Knowing that I feel anxious and unprepared as I sit in front of 500 rooms across 127 pages of +Numenhalla means that I address the feeling as "that thing that happens before a game", instead of getting wrapped up in all the little concerns and worries. Telling someone that it's ok to lose, because you're going to play another three rounds of Dominion makes it easier to deal with that feeling.
Getting past these things and spending time actually playing is really the point, isn't it?
* e.g. "The Irkutsk-Yakutsk connection will take you down this time!" or "Beware House Stark, for we control the barren frozen north", not hate speech or abuse.
** This pretty clearly super explicitly has nothing to do with being able to objectively critique these systems and make judgement calls about how they actually function in play. Hey, hey, RAW 4th edition, you aren't gonna die, how you like your easy mode? Here's the secret. Maybe you super-enjoy your easy mode and their isn't anything wrong with that. We can still talk objectively about the design and what it's attempting to appeal to.
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