Tackling Anxiety in Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D?) and other Role-Play Games. How you can help

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and other role-playing games (RPGs) have been the interests of an underground movement for decades. Our little sub-culture managed to explode onto the main stage in recent times, collecting the meek, the nerd, the geek and the mild together for stories of heroism and adventure. The cool kids joined in not long after and now the hobby is enjoyed the world over.

But like most interests, anxiety can hinder participation in these legendary gaming sessions, causing some sufferers to opt out before they’ve begun, or tremble at the thought of talking in front of a group of people.

Often the worries start with talking in the limelight, or anxious at role-playing with accents and voices not of our own, or they can lead to fears of making mistakes and upsetting people and finally being judged for ‘doing it wrong’ or not being the life of the party.

But this shouldn’t be the case, and for many anxiety sufferers the game has not only opened up whole new worlds of adventure but also confidence and strength they never realized they had.

So how do they do it?

We’re going to tell you. We’ve outlined some of the broader issues anxiety creates for some of us, so now we’re going to tackle two parts; anxiety as a player and anxiety as the games master (GM) or Dungeon master (DM).Some of these ideas will be applicable to both, so read on and see if we can help. Finally, I’ll cover some ideas which you can try to help gaming buddies through their anxiety. Let’s see how we get on…

Some of these ideas will be applicable to both, so read on and see if we can help. Finally, I’ll cover some ideas which you can try to help gaming buddies through their anxiety. Let’s see how we get on…

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Player Anxiety

It’s important to note that games like D&D are not spectator games. We’re all involved and invested in the game and every session we want to be fun. The first take home message is that you’re not acting in front of a crowd – everyone is responsible for enjoying the game and no one should be made to feel otherwise. With this in mind, we suggest the following:

The first take home message is that you’re not acting in front of a crowd – everyone is responsible for enjoying the game and no one should be made to feel otherwise. With this in mind, we suggest the following:

Play with friends (if you can) and keep your first few sessions small. You may need to ask around or set time aside for these smaller games until your confidence levels up.It’s always best to let people know that you struggle with anxiety or just aspects of the game. In knowing, everyone can grow as a group.

It’s always best to let people know that you struggle with anxiety or just aspects of the game. In knowing, everyone can grow as a group.

See if you can get one on one games with an experienced DM – they don’t have to be long but they may give you a better idea of where to start and offer some much-needed practice.

Before the game, ask your DM for support in the form of cues and prompts – it can be terrifying to feel like you’re on the spot so make the DM aware of how you feel and see if you guys can try out some polite suggestions when it’s your turn to act.

Collaborate. When you’re creating a character see if your DM can suggest another player to collaborate with. Collaborating can mean you create characters with a shared background who would help each other in situations during the game. The help will naturally fall into the real world too, giving you a bit of space and support when you need it most.A trusted friend or a more experienced and / or socially aware player would be best.

A trusted friend or a more experienced and / or socially aware player would be best.

Try to play a character larger than life or with comedic value – his sounds a little absurd but when you feel you’re not playing yourself you can forget who you are and really get stuck in. Try it out and see if you can get some support from the gaming group.

Create very detailed characters with a solid background and ethos – when you know exactly who your character is it’s easier to role-play them from outside. You’ll find that you quickly don’t need to think about their responses and it will come naturally with fewer pauses.

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DM / GM Anxiety

Running a game can be hard even without the social or internal pressures associated with anxiety, and it may seem like insurmountable odds are stacked against you but we’ve got some ideas which may chip away at that growing wall.

Declare your first game as a trial and try to be open about why you’re doing it this way. Role-play gamers are generally an understanding bunch and the more experienced they are the better.

As noted previously for players, run a session with a single player and see if you can get the tone and pacing right. One on one games are a great way of getting over your fears and giving you a better idea of how the game goes, you’ll also realise how your story sounds to someone else.

Get a non-player to listen to your story idea for the game you have in mind and see if they can help you with feedback. Often non-players are able to see the bigger picture without getting bogged down in monster stats or game mechanics which may help you formulate an organic game. Get comfortable with your idea and rehears bits of it in your head.

Give yourself extra time to prepare and bring that extra preparedness with you – notes on cards, bookmarks and general organisational skills will help even the best DM so there’s no reason you shouldn’t do the same. If you can flip from one encounter to the other when you’re reading through your notes then you’ll be able to keep the pace going and avoid your mind going blank.

It’s OK to be imperfect as a DM and this is important to remember because everyone sat around your gaming table are responsible, not just you. You’re definitely not alone, so embrace your vulnerability and go with it.

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Helping Others with Anxiety

Getting a friend to join your game can be really difficult. Since anxiety can be a whole combination of unique parts you can’t really give a blanket answer on how to do this. We think that these ideas may give you some help, especially if the anxiety comes with a dose of general social anxiety…

Pick the right RPG. If your friend is familiar with content from certain settings or universes then go with those games. While you’re at it, see if they may enjoy a mechanically heavy game as an introduction – we’ve found that these sorts of games take the pressure of the role-playing off and can help that player get a taste for the social aspect.

Don’t force your friend into anything – Try a one on one game, see if they like the idea and increase that little group with an extra trusted friend, or get them to invite someone they can spend time with.

Be open with your friend and ask them if its OK to inform the rest of the gaming group that anxiety is an issue. Games like D&D have always been about enjoying a social event, it’s been inclusive from day one of its 40-year adventure.

Don’t be a dick. Be excellent to one another, as Bill & Ted idealised. If you think one player is being heavy handed or taking advantage, call them out indirectly. As the DM, talk to your friend over the din clearly and ask them if they want to tag along if they may have a better idea. Giving your friend the space to think about it without piling on pressure will help them settle in and be more confident.

It’s worth sitting them and DM together so there’s help at hand and they can work together, or if you have a socially aware and experienced player who doesn’t mind taking the backseat to promote another player with their character, get them talking.

So that’s it for now.

If you have thought or comments, please get in touch. If you think this has been helpful, we’d love to hear your story large or small. And if you think we’re wrong about anything, well we’d like to hear about that too – we want to get things right just as much as everyone else.

Be excellent to one another, always.

J.D Ferris, CC

Photo images made by the Creator Consortium, artwork taken from Wizards of the Coast, here

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