It has been a year and five months (to the day) since I quit gaming. It’s hard to quantify that statement because I didn’t completely leave the world of gaming behind. But I stopped gaming. I quit my weekly group, haven’t run or played anything – even a board game* – in that time. No Malifaux, no Battletech, nothing.
[* This might be a lie – I may have played a few casual games on like, New Year’s or something – but you get the point.]
I did, in that time however, finish my Shadowrun rules re-write project. I have decided to start blogging here again. And I kept reading games. I got really interested in the new Modiphius Star Trek RPG but I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why they invented such a goofy system. The 2d20 system just instantly puts me off.
The funny thing is – I both miss and don’t miss gaming. For most of my life – since I was eight years old – gaming has been my primary activity. Don’t get me wrong, I played basketball as a kid, did martial arts as a teenager, have work friends who aren’t gamers, etc. But gaming was the thing I loved best. It was the hobby I stuck with even when a lot of my early gamer friends bailed. I’ve never known anything I appreciated more than running and playing RPGs. And for most of my gamer life, I was a GM first and a player second.
But I got tired. Gaming was never a casual activity for me. It was an investment. When I did world-building, I went all in. When I played a character I tried to really think about who that person was. I’m not a three-page backstory writer or anything, I just really wanted to have the chance to get into that person’s head and explore them. I probably would have been happier if I’d gone into theater instead of gaming… Or maybe therapy…
I was a prop maker and a detail-noticer. I wanted it to be deeper than just a social gathering that involved rules. But I was also bad at conveying that. Despite seeming perfectly normal to my work friends because I’m very high-functioning, my depression and social anxiety leave me feeling most of the time like I’m fucking insane inside. I’m pretty sure that everyone is just going to notice at any given moment that I’m a basket case.
Eventually, it got to the point where I couldn’t maintain a game for more than about 6 sessions before I was too upset or frustrated to keep it going. I lost interest in doing all the little things that had always made it fun for me before. I stopped making maps and handouts and guides. Partly because it finally got through my head that no one else cares. Partly because I’m just broken.
So, there I was – at a convention in 2019 – playing my last game of Battletech, feeling like an outsider at a con that I’d attended for years. I realized that I was unable to sustain any enthusiasm for what I was doing anymore. If it didn’t matter, why was I doing it?
Part of it is the fact that I’m getting older. I’m 45 – closer to 60 than 20 and I don’t like people well enough to keep making friends as an adult. I’m incredibly bad at it. I also live in a small area that doesn’t support a robust community of gamers (some in my area would disagree but I stand by my statement). Add to the age issue that our society is very age-ist and doesn’t understand why a 45 year old man might play games with twenty-somethings and you get a major social disincentive. A lot of my friends have also moved into the “kids” stage of their adult lives and/or have scattered to other parts of the country and they have different priorities now. I understand that completely and I’m happy for them. But it leaves me feeling like the odd one out and contributes to the “gaming is just hanging out” versus “gaming is important in its own right” mentality. Again, no judgment, just not the experience I want to have when I game. Hanging out is hanging out. Gaming is gaming.
I feel like Will in the third season of Stranger Things.
Am I alone in this? Are there other gamers going through this struggle? I assume there have to be.
At one point, when I was nearing the breaking point and hadn’t realized it yet, one of my play group – when I was asking what they wanted to do next, said, “I don’t care what we play, I’m just there to be with you guys” or something to that effect and I just deflated. If the players aren’t invested in what we are doing, how can I be as the GM?
That was the question that eventually broke the dam for me. How could I continue to invest in my gaming experiences when that investment didn’t matter to others? Not even maliciously – my gamer friends are all good people – just not interested in having the same experience at the gaming table that I am. Which, when you are younger, have a bigger network, or live in a larger area, is not a problem, you find a new group – you look for like-minded players, but that social web doesn’t exist for me, so I chose to walk away. Feeling empty about my gaming experiences.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about coming back and dipping a toe in again. I have started working on the game project I set aside again. I have ideas rolling around in my head for Call of Cthulhu, Vampire 5th edition, a semi-apocalyptic fantasy game, a superhero game; even a Battletech campaign. But the thought of actually trying again, of going back into those waters makes me so anxious that I feel like I’m going to throw up.
I don’t want to do it just for the sake of doing it. I don’t want to do it just for the sake of staying a gamer because it was important to me for so long. I want to do it because I actually enjoy it again.
This post was basically therapy. If you actually bothered to read it, thank you for indulging me. I needed to share these thoughts. If only to get them out of my head. I still feel like they come off scattered and anxious. I’ll try to think of something more focused and productive for next time.
As always, thanks for reading.