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How I got over my gaming anxiety (NaBlo: Day 8)

November 8, 2013
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Since high school, I have been friends with a metric freak-ton of D&D nerds.  But I never played.  At first, when I was a freshman and found that a lot of my older friends were in the D&D Club, it seemed like a completely confusing, overly-complicated, super-nerdy fantasy game, and I wasn’t really drawn to it in any way.  Even if I had been, I’d become a rather anxious kid by then, and doing new things was scarier than usual.  Being the newbie in high school was bad enough–being surrounded by people who knew exactly what they were doing pretty much freaked me to paralysis.  This would be a trend that continued for many years.  I still have some anxiety issues with things, but at the time I’d say it was just your garden-variety “I don’t know it, so I feel shy about it” kind of thing.

There were maybe two girls in the club, if I remember correctly, and I may not because I often dropped in to say hi but don’t remember following enough to even know anyone’s character names.  I felt like because I dropped in, and because my circle of friends was part of the club, and because I dated out of that circle, that I was seen as some sort of D&D groupie, which made me more anxious because I really didn’t want to be seen that way.  (Who would?)  Sometimes I felt like the advisers were looking at me like, “Which guy this week?”

When I was a junior, I met a guy who had recently graduated from another school, and he and his friends played all the time.  This was That Group, a bunch of fledgling misogynists who had no idea how awful and hurtful they were.  For example, one of them flipped my (very long) skirt up the first day he met me.

By this time, it was pretty much just in my head that D&D was a Guy Thing except for the occasional girl, and definitely a Thing I Couldn’t Imagine Myself Doing Because I Hated The Idea Of Being New, and since I didn’t get along with a lot of the girls they hung out, many of whom loved flirting with my boyfriend, I still had no interest on that end, although by then I had a strong love for the Dragonlance books.  I still was no high fantasy fan, and when one of the guys lent me his copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, I found it too boring and gave it back barely begun.  I liked Forgotten Realms enough to read a copy of copies of my then-husband’s books, but I just read what he put in front of me, and didn’t bother searching out anything else on my own.

I was still hanging with some of these guys on and off for the next few years, and I remember going over to their place once, when they’d all moved out of their parents’ houses and were renting a couple houses between all of them, and I distinctly remember them finishing up a gaming session and the token girl leaving, and them having a discussion about who among the group she was there for, as if she couldn’t possibly be there because she enjoyed the game.  I think that was a turning point for me, where D&D stopped being a thing that other people did and that I was too shy to join in because I felt like I was the only one who didn’t know the rules, and instead became something actively anxiety-inducing.  The idea of being seen that way, as a girl who did things just to impress guys, terrified me, and while it didn’t come up much, it was there in me, a seed of panic, when I met my second husband and he suggested he run a game for my daughter and I.

I think the first system we used was Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, which my husband didn’t like as a system AND my daughter insisted on being the Doctor but couldn’t come up with clever ideas and felt like there was a lot of pressure on her.  We played with my ex-boyfriend and one of my husband’s friends, and we were all newbies, so we really enjoyed it even if we kinda stalled out at times with a serious lack of imagination and problem-solving.

That only ran four or five sessions, and it was a bitch to get everyone together at the same time, so I think my daughter and I tried Vampire: The Masquerade next.  We had NO ability to self-start in that, and it fizzled after about two sessions.  The same thing happened when we tried our first superhero system, Villains & Vigilantes.  As my daughter gained a social life and I gained a job, we ended up with no time where the three of us were free AND we just didn’t couldn’t get up the energy for something that had failed to really capture our interest before.  This made my husband sad because he loves gaming, but he has a weekly game that’s run online and at the time he was playing another system with his friends about once a month, AND doing Live-Action Role Playing, AND occasionally getting together with his friends for AD&D.

Hilariously, because I had watched my high school boyfriend and his friends play very late at night, I ended up with a sort of “D&D? ZZZZzz…” effect when it came to gaming.  Not purposely, but it often happened that I would be extra-sleepy when I thought about it, specifically playing it.  Once, I was set to play AD&D with my husband and his friends and I went in to check on my kid in the other room, and soon found myself asleep on the couch.  I slept through almost the whole game.  Funny but true, this is a form my anxiety took.  Instead of being nervous and wired, you’d think I was a narcoleptic with a dwarf trigger.

When we moved here, there were a lot of guys on base who never played before but wanted to.  We ended up with a group of newbies, including one other girl who suffered from the same problem I did: no self-starting.  It was a sobering mirror and I wondered how much of it was the way girls are raised compared to boys, because our guys mostly jumped right in.  My bestie on base and I often worked as a team during that storyline, and I felt more confident than I had before.  After all, I’d played before, and they hadn’t.  I started trying to come up with solutions to problems that would’ve had me frozen before.  I stumbled often, but I was trying.

Part of the problem, too, I think, is that I can be very literal, and in some worlds that works, and others it does not.  I also have a sort of wonky sense of space in my imagination.  For example, I cannot for the life of me figure out how the battles work in Ender’s Game, never have been able to visualize them well.

But then my husband suggested Champions.

Champions is another superhero game like Villains & Vigilantes.  I wouldn’t say I know enough about either system to like one better than the other, but I do know that by the time I started, I was miles beyond the anxious place I was when I started.

AND SUPERHEROES ARE MY BAG, BABY.

From the bat (no pun intended), I knew exactly what I wanted to do, how to think, where to move, how things should flow, because I am such a comic book nerd.  I see combat much more clearly in my head with this than anything I’ve done before, probably because I see it like something I’ve watched a zillion times, because I have probably watched hundreds of hours of superheroes in my lifetime.  Realistic things, literal things, can be quite the issue, especially since my character is non-powered, so that works to my advantage as well.  Two others in my group have about as much gaming experience as me, one less, and one more, and none of them had played Champions before, so it was new to all of us in some ways, which has been a great leveler.

So for those people who have been like “Eh, D&D,” I suggest checking out another system, or several other systems, of finding Game Masters who have the experience but other players who don’t have the experience, and playing to your strengths.  I want to link you to this site that does “How many ____ have you ____?” that has like a godzillion–wait, I remember who posted it on Facebook to begin with!  And he doesn ‘t post a lot!  So I found it!

http://www.listchallenges.com/massive-rpg-list

Systems for fantasy nerds?  They’ve got tons of those.  Steampunk fans?  Yup!  Television fandoms, like Supernatural and Buffy and Firefly?  You’re totally covered.  Star Wars, Star Trek, THE DRESDEN FILES, Street Fighter, Robotech, Judge Dredd, Indiana Jones, Tank Girl, Ghostbusters, Marvel, DC, DragonBall Z, ghosts, mummies, the Victorian Age, the future–it’s all there.

And here I originally thought it was just elves and wizards and whatnot.  Can you imagine playing Karen Murphy?  The Doctor?  J from Men in Black?  MIRIYA??

The possibilities are endless.

Anxiety?  Pffft, what anxiety?  Now when I get tired from gaming, it’s because I just played a four-hour session and it’s bedtime.  Like now.

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