Avoiding the Familiar

Last week, I had been actively gaming again for a whole year. Almost forty, I have played more hours of roleplaying in the last 365 days than I have in almost half of my life. Not since university have I played this much, getting by in the meantime with online games, the occasional demo, some boardgaming, and two abortive attempts to get members of my family to play something d20 flavoured.

I can’t honestly account for the reason that I have been so long without gaming. I certainly having stopped thinking about games throughout that period. I took a moderately active role in the rebirth of the PARANOIA game and have more recently done something similar with Maelstrom. I have accumulated many more books and magazines over that period, despite not really playing much at all. I did actively play-by-mail for a good ten years after I finished roleplaying regularly. I admit I may have staved off any urge to play face-to-face by focussing heavily on the somewhat perverse entertainment of running a by-mail game for a dozen or more people. Ten years ago I spent a lot of time doing play-by-forum games, mostly Star Wars and a little fantasy. In the end, that dried up, too.

I wonder whether my own waning confidence in myself had something to do with it. While I have the occasional wit and eloquent thought that might suggest a comfortable approach to performing, I struggle quite a bit with a nagging lack of confidence. I have times when the thought of a fall in front of other people makes me overwhelming averse to any sort of performance. I can find something as simple as a short presentation a harrowing experience, best avoided at all costs. At other times, I don’t find it so hard, perhaps given confidence by my familiarity with a subject.

In that frame of mind, my lack of familiarity with many games might be the cause of my inactivity. I have owned many games for almost thirty years now, like MERP and PARANOIA. For some reason, I have sought solace elsewhere, dipping in and out of other systems as if something out there might overcome my own lack of confidence. I realise that the game system has very little to do with it. In fact, I suspect that opening myself up to other systems simply stokes the flames of my self-doubt with further fuel. I introduce complexity and confusion to my roleplaying life by reading more and find no clarity at the end because none lay there to begin with.

I have roleplayed for a whole year, dropping maybe half-a-dozen weeks along the way to illness or distraction. I have found my old hobby again and taken to the role of GM several times – for Dragon Age, The Laundry, Doctor Who and others. I realise now that I have not run anything from the beginning, anything really familiar. If I ran MERP, PARANOIA, Maelstrom or WEG Star Wars, wouldn’t it be easier? Wouldn’t I lift some of the burden of uncertainty by playing something I have known for more than half of my life and grown comfortable with?

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