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Living Between Games

Quite frankly, when I think over most of my teenage and adult years, it’s fair to say that I didn’t have much in the way of personal confidence. This might surprise you if you’re one of the folks who’s known me for a long while. I used to carry a lot of nicknames like, “Smiley”, “The Grin With Legs” and “Yoshi”, after the creature in the Mario games that was always happy (a lass at the post office in North Sydney named me that). The odd thing is, although I smiled a lot, I wasn’t ever really happy, especially not with myself. I think I was trying to convince everyone else I was just fine, mainly because, like pretty much everything else, I was doing it because it was what people expected of me – and, as such, I was almost always depressed. I mean, remember how I always used to insist on being called “Robert”? How could someone as easy-going as a Smiley be that uptight?

During that time, I think the one thing I most wanted was to organise and run an ongoing RPG campaign. It was the one idea that dominated my waking time (well, that and sex, I suppose). Vickie once said, maybe a year after we met, that I got into roleplaying games, and perhaps the game master’s role in particular, because the offered me a sense of control that was otherwise very fleeting. She was right on the money. Again, if you played in a game I was running, especially Black Talon or that Primetime Adventures Skype game I tried to set up, you knew how panic-prone I was about the campaign concept, my players’ ideas for characters, how I’d have GM’s Block about the next session, how it was all crap and not going to work. Some of it was because I don’t really think I had an idea of the sort of fun I wanted out of RPGs, but some of it was definitely that need for control asserting itself. Maybe the two problems were really one and the same?

Not so long ago, Vickie was talking with me about the general improvement she’d noticed in my mental wellbeing. I will say that over the past few months I’ve been doing better than I’ve been in the past, quite a bit better. What Vickie said to me was that I’d stopped living between games.

The problem is, since SRDU and maybe a bit before, maybe since Halo 3 came out, I’ve noticed myself doing it again – life becomes marking time until the next time I can sit down to a game session. With Halo 3 it’s not so bad – I can usually connect to Xbox Live and join a match without much difficulty. But RPGs are a different story. With RPGs, you need a group, three to four other people. Organising that number of people in Sydney was bad enough, but up here… well, you’ve read enough of my posts about new RPG rulebooks and campaign ideas and forum threads and get-togethers and aborted sessions to know how the hobby’s been for me in Cairns.

So in the meantime, I read the rulebook, check my e-mail inbox for responses to the request I sent out for people interested in Star Wars Saga Edition (one so far, which does not a game group make), go to the Wizards of the Coast official Star Wars RPG forum and see whether the read count on the post I put up there has increased any, and if so, whether there’s been an actual response (nope), then read the rulebook again, thinking about potential problems in the campaign that doesn't even exist yet. And Vickie shakes her head in exasperation and leaves me alone until I realise how miserable I’m making myself, living between games.

(Halo 3 doesn’t quite give me what I’m looking for either. What I really want out of my Xbox Live experience is not to meet up with people from across the world, but to game with the folks I know right here, in real life. Even that rarely seems to work out; a friend will log in just as I’m shutting down so that Vickie can actually have access to the TV, or I’ll wait for a friend to show up with no result. Yet rather than logging off when no one’s around, I’ll still play a game so I can up my Gamerscore, or my Halo 3 EXP and skill rank, just to try and keep up with the friends I just want to socialise with…)

Can I do anything about this? I don’t know. I mean, I’ve tried socialising, but all anyone near my age seems to want to talk about nowadays is getting drunk and/or partying until their noses bleed, not to mention who is, was, might or might not be sacking up with whom. I play soccer almost every week, but attempts to organise team barbecues always seem to judder to a halt amid a morass of conflicting schedules. Let’s face it, gaming is a social crutch for me, at least in part; it gives a social gathering both a sense of structure and the promise of not just being entertained, but also entertaining others. Yet life without the crutches doesn’t seem that rewarding. Maybe that’s the depression talking again, the fear of not being in control, of being out of my depth. I still struggle with depression some, again not as much as I used to – and it feels good to give it a name, a label, some sense of control over it (control again). But it’s still there. I still get the odd moment when I feel like a stupid, slow-thinking waste of space with little to offer but snark and an absence of courage. Who’d want to socialise with that?

In those moments, every mistake I make, every time I put my foot in my mouth, every task forgotten or neglected, is just further evidence that there’s no point to me. Thankfully, those moments pass, but when I’m in the midst of them, there’s the thought that sooner or later, no matter how hard I try, they’ll be back again. Moments like that, I think the best thing I can do is sell, bin or burn every RPG book I have, just get shut of the fucking hobby, get it out of my life so I can stop just waiting for the next session, the next nonexistent campaign, and maybe get started on figuring out what I really need to be doing with my life.

I haven’t yet, and Vickie usually has to do a little psychotherapeutic massaging to get me to see that if I did, all I’d be really doing is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But I still don’t quite know what the next step is.

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To quote a famous film I love, "If you build it they will come." Instead of worrying about the next game why not just create it. Figure out what you want to run and create it. You could even go as far as completing an entire game world. And if you finish, work on your next project. You might discover that you like creating the story line to the point where you want to do more with it and write your own story.

One of things that I like what you did with is Bubblegum Crisis. I feel you did a great job of fleshing the world out more for me enough that I could run a game in that world. You may even find others interested in running in your worlds. Let's face it most gammers are lazy and love having a lot of the work done for them.

The other thing that you should think about is that technology is changing and we are starting to see a new way of gaming with people. You have already done the Skype thing with playing over the interenet. We are much closer to doing things a lot more interesting where the game world appears in front of the computer screen and is created by the GM not some computer gaming company. I have been told that Wizards is working on something now. I suspect it will be something like what they did with Neverwinter Nights, but a completely online version.

Anyway, it is something to think about. I am intersted in anything you want to run over net. I will get up there some day and we can have a play and one of these days I will get an XBox and I will play that with you too. :)

Thanks for your support, mate. Probably one f the horrid things about depression is the writings you create while on a downer!

I'm still of the opinion that I'd prefer to play whilst playing instead of before, if you get my drift. Besides, I already have a story or two in me that I want to sit down and knock out, and they shouldn't need any world building first!

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