Gaming sessions are extensions of each players’ lives – our players go to work or school, they may have families they take care of, or illnesses that impact their daily lives. These events outside of game shape our experiences inside of game, sometimes these influences help a game and sometimes they don’t. Energy drain is a serious concern, some people describe their limited energy resources as “spoons” others use “spell slots”, and I like to think of it as slices of pie, because pie.
As part of other obligations in life, I find myself in the position where I’m not ready or able to put my best foot forward. Of course the bulk of my energy pie goes to performing my day job, because I have to pay the bills and keep my family fed. Then depending on the day, I see how much pie is left and try to make all of my other obligations happen. Ultimately though, gaming must rate lower on the list than my family and self-care, some days that’s not a problem and other days it’s nearly impossible to get through a gaming session without having some fatigue.
I have seen other gamers experience these moments, usually at big events (like Gen Con), where you want to do all the things, but your body and mind simply can’t go on. Fortunately at places like Gen Con, there are Quiet Rooms or other lower energy activities to take part in. I love to go to seminars to hear the speakers, but also to allow their energy and information to feed my mind while I sit in a chair and rest by body.
When you encounter it at a gaming table, it can be awkward, players become frustrated for many reasons – they don’t feel engaged in the story, they feel like other players aren’t sharing the action, perhaps they’re exhausted and don’t even realize that they’re expressing that frustration.
I bring this topic up because of an experience I recently had at work. I was able to make a connection to a long term care resident who had extremely limited verbal capabilities, but was clearly trying to communicate a well-considered thought, sometimes they could speak clear words that conveyed their needs and sometimes not. The staff didn’t seem to be able to intuit the resident’s needs as easily and as my observations continued I noticed that as the resident had more needs go unmet or unacknowledged the more frustrated and had an increase in physical behaviors, including attempting to strike staff. Once the staff took the moment to figure out what the resident needed, the resident returned to a more peaceful activity level.
While this is an extreme example of what can occur inside a person, it also shows that these things can and do happen inside a person. When gamers are having off days, behaving erratically for them, or otherwise not making good decisions, it is worth taking a moment to ask them what they need. How can you help them through this moment of frustration or turmoil?
At Gen Con 2019 I GM’d a Saturday afternoon game where after the first break one of the players did not return to the table. He was a young man who had friends who were also at the convention, but was gaming at my table with his father. I could tell he wasn’t engaging with the game in the same way that the other players were and when his father told me he wasn’t returning at that he was embarrassed, I let him know that the convention is many things and sometimes we can’t do many things all at one time. I had forgotten about the young man until I began to write this blog. He had a need that I was unable to meet at that time and he went in search of what it was he really wanted. That’s okay, I returned to my room at least once to have peace and quiet and lay on my own (borrowed) bed.
We can never be the perfect thing for everyone in our life and having the expectation that everything will go perfectly will lead you to frustration and disappointment. However, as GMs and players, it is always worth trying to help those that we game with (and live with or work with) to have the most fulfilling experience we can by being empathetic and ensure open lines of communication whenever possible.