Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Different "AD&D" (mental health CW)

(I'm putting the rest of this post under the little "jump break" so that anyone who happens upon it can be warned about what it'll contain, and skip it entirely if they so choose. And this will contain content about anxiety, depression, and a few other delights. I'm also making this warning much longer and more flowery than it needs to be, so that someone doesn't see the body text in their blog feed and get set off. Consider yourself well warned.)

So... I've debated about writing this post for some time now. I've even given an early draft of it a go at an earlier time, and my brain, valiant as ever, distracted me into ranting about incompetent Refereeing instead. But after a comment from another acquaintance online who deals with similar issues, I've decided that being open about this is best. Not just for my own benefit (although being able to look over this might be informative in a few years), but to help lessen the stigma in my own, small way.

First: this isn't "just a game" for me. It's a way to connect with new people. It's a way to force myself out of my misanthropic, possibly-schizoid bubble, and spend a few hours with people that I like, out of my own choosing. Hell, if I hadn't been looking for players a few years ago, I might never have reconnected socially with one of the few people whose life means more to me than my own.


A lot of people suffering from depression and anxiety tend to personify these conditions, often in humorous ways to help lessen their impact. My thinking runs along these lines, too, although I'm careful not to personify my anxiety and depression to the extent of considering them as actual entities - which, given my mystical interests, would be very easy to do.

But there's also something else, something that I can most concisely describe as my "will to live" (or in psychological-model mystical terms, possibly my "higher self" or Holy Guardian Angel). Whatever it is, it urges me to talk to the people I care about, to make plans to socialize with my friends, and to eat even during the 90% of my life that I don't feel hungry.

Generally, people tend to think of their true selves as being the struggler against the "anxiety goblin" or what have you... but that's not the case for me, and I usually just feel like I'm caught in the middle.

The reason that I wrote a post asking about board games (which quickly became my most-viewed post in recent memory - over 700 page views as of this writing) is that I've been feeling less and less up to running a full-fledged role-playing game. True, revisiting 2e was a nice refresher, but there have been two things that have had me leaning away from D&D as a whole:
  1. I believe that a game with the creative potential, volume of usable material (across all "editions"), and name recognition of Dungeons & Dragons deserves to be run as a role-playing game, not a storytelling activity.
  2. I am far less certain recently of my capability to Referee such a game; and even if I can, I'm not sure that I want to.
When I run a dungeon for my players - even an open-ended, nonlinear one - I feel like I'm cheating them. I worry that I'm not providing them the kind of game that I want to provide, and that they deserve to participate in. I worry that choosing a comparatively weighty rules set (even without any optional rules, 2e is still bulkier than B/X) scares off the players who are newer to the game. I worry that I'm not giving them anything they can't get anywhere else, even at "organized play" events.

(Side note: My local game store stopped hosting Adventurer's League because the asshole DM running it put the WOTC's directives before the needs of the younger players - many of whom are on the autism spectrum. Good riddance.)


When I'm running a true role-playing game, I'm in "game mode" psychologically - not story-telling mode. I tend to have this attitude when playing D&D as well, which is why I've left certain campaigns. The trouble is that most players seem to want to get in lengthy in-character conversations; this can be fun for a while; but trying to make small talk, and haggle over every single arrow or drink that the characters buy, gets old really fucking fast.

I like running dungeon crawls, not just because they have fewer moving parts (although they do) or because I like making maps (which I do), but because they tend to keep the players focused. But what I want diverges strongly from what most of my players want. If they choose to have their characters hobnob with a bunch of random shop owners for four hours, then I can't really stop them from doing that, can I?

The strange thing is that I don't mind this in a storytelling activity - in fact, the majority of my Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle so far (run using the Introductory Kit, because why buy a 500-page rulebook for improv theater?) has been going to places and talking to people. I love it, and so do most of the players. But in an actual RPG, doing that feels like a gross waste of time.

And that makes me wonder: do I really not like "role-playing" as it's commonly defined by the smug, railroading "leaders" of the "community" that exists around the "game"? Or is that just my depression trying to push me away from my peers, the ones who aren't already at arms' length due to my distaste for alcohol, crowds, and noise?


For several years, role-playing was my only means of being closer to myself. I got to be the cute, tiny girl who gets along with people - someone who's listened to, and respected. My game characters, like Roywyn or Olive, never lie awake at night worrying that they'll never be able to be themselves, and never have their skin crawl every time they look in a mirror. Some of the social facts might be true in the "real" world (except for the 'tiny' part), but I irrationally suspect that many of my so-called "friends" just tolerate me as long as I happen to do what they want. (Perhaps my other conditions come with a side of paranoia... perfect.)

And that's why I like to play as often as I can. It's nice to just be uncritically accepted as a feminine non-binary person, even in something several levels removed from the "real" world. Of course there are those who insist, even in a game setting with flying carpets and mind-reading swords, that gender is somehow intrinsic, binary, and biological; but the number of people who would reject me or my friends out of hand because we don't conform to their prejudices is sharply reduced. I've never truly experienced "gender euphoria" in a tabletop game, but quiet acceptance (or indifference) is still much better than hostility.

* * * *

I can't think of a thematically satisfying way to end this post, but I will share a few thoughts that didn't fit elsewhere.

  1. I'm disabling comments on this post; I'm not looking for sympathy or compliments, and even sincere well-wishing occasionally gets interpreted by my brain as insincere. (Not anyone's fault, just how this consciousness tends to function.) If anyone does want to reach out to me privately, my e-mail address isn't very hard to find.
  2. I am seeking aid, but I've been on the waiting list for five months, due to my needing to receive free counseling that is much in demand in a largely Roman Catholic college town.
  3. I'm sorry to drop serious musings on psychology and mysticism on a blog that mostly focuses on elf-games. If I do continue posting, it will be more of my usual stuff; this was a one-off.