Origins 2016 – Games We Play

I gamed too hard.

I’m currently in Columbus, Ohio at Origins 2016 as I type this. I’ll get to a summary of the specific games and characters I played on a later date, but for now I’m going to write about something a little more personal. There won’t be much of that on this blog, but from time to time it will happen.

This afternoon, as I sat in line for my 7th session of Games on Demand I felt more than a sense of fatigue set in, thought I was certainly tired. I felt a real volatile mixture of feelings come over me: ennui, a bit of sadness, a lot of disconnect. If I being entirely honest very deep down there was even a feeling that tears might come up. I decided to leave the line and found my wife chatting with some friends inside the Games on Demand room. I told her I decided to skip this session, that I had just felt overcome and was tired, a half truth? Definitely not the full scope of what was going in my head.

One of our friends was working as the host at the front table and encouraged us to pop back into line so we could play his upcoming game. I mulled it over and I knew that he would run it beautifully and we’d have a wonderful time so I returned to the line and we did have a marvelous time. But when the game was over, those same dreadful sensations returned.

I have had what could be called a rough year since the last Origins. It was a very promising year at the start. But once school began, things fell apart. I was in a work situation that was not what I wanted it to be. I was getting sick often, I believe due to work related stress. In April, I had to go the emergency room after vomiting on and off for 7 consecutive hours. In May I was fired from my job and, as our school district policy allows, was marked ineligible for rehire in the entire district. This led to making a plan with my wife to uproot our lives, I got a new job in a neighboring county, and we’re currently in the process of buying a home. One the day I was fired I told my wife what happened in the car after work, we went inside, I got to my bedroom, I broke down and cried, and I thought to myself the only things in my life at that moment that were good and I knew would help me through this were my wife, my dogs, and the knowledge that I would be going to Origins in June.

Last year’s Origins was a very important experience to me. I met so many kind, welcoming people, and then over the course of the year we continued to connect with people via social media. Our first day at Origins, people we had met last year, and even many we met briefly, remembered us and welcomed us right back in. I can’t emphasize how important this sense of welcoming is and if you have attended a con like Origins you know what I’m talking about. I was ravenous for games. I made sure I was there early on Thursday morning for the first Games of Demand session. And I played in six consecutive sessions (9am, 2pm, 8pm slots) equating to 24 hours of gaming. I don’t even want to attempt to calculate the math on waiting in line. And then I got this afternoon around 1pm.

I’ve mulled over why I felt compelled to game so intensely. I have not slept near enough. I’ve eaten terribly. This afternoon I began to slightly sweat, something that would happen to me in college when I stayed up late many nights in a row while still having to wake up early. I’ve come to the conclusion that I was turning gaming into a filtered, safe way to make connections with others and it was becoming a supplement to actual, organic, honest human interaction. Gaming is fabulous and wonderful and everyone should try it, but it shouldn’t get the point where you are waiting in line while your wife and others go off to have social interactions.

In non-Origins life I am extremely withdrawn. I honestly don’t have real life friends. I was homeschooled growing up and I was around children (very big homeschool group in our area) but I never wanted to be friends with those people. I had friends in college who I loved being around, but we grew distant over time. Then I moved to Bellingham, WA as part of AmeriCorps and we grew even farther apart. My wife is most certainly my best friend and that is something I love, but I do worry that I don’t have flesh and blood people who are IRL friends. That’s not normal, right? I don’t know.

Human interaction is a very complicated thing. I would guess that most participants in the tabletop gaming community would say they have had times, or continue to have those times, where social situations can be difficult. Gaming has likely been, or still is, a space where we can connect with another human being in way that is safe. In particular the storytelling and interpersonal emphasis of the indie games run at Games on Demand feed those sensitive, thoughtful, dreaming, creative people I have sat at many tables with. But safe interactions that entail no risk are completely dead after a while. Hiding behind a character sheet for 24 hours is not a normal thing to do. There should always be enough time to decompress after a gaming experience if it is going to be meaningful, not immediately queuing up for another dose. It cheapens the meaning of those experiences to discard them so quickly simply for the sake of consuming more.

I had moments today where I sat thinking about the people I want to have conversations with outside of game but haven’t because I’ve been too busy consuming. And then made me so fucking sad. Five days out of the year seems to be the only time I have to see these wonderful, amazing people. How wasteful I’ve been. That is not to discount the wonderful gaming experiences I’ve had. But, I had too many of them too soon after one another. And that choice has cost me. I don’t know what specific experiences and interactions have gone by the wayside but there is no doubt in my mind I have missed them.

It’s easier to always pretend. It is much harder to connect. Why does my brain work this way?

It is so utterly banal to blame your father for problems in your adult years. But it’s true. My father was my first bully. And the lessons that were deeply etched and carved into my brain as a result of my life with him are always with me. He taught me to feel that no one actually found me worthy of attention. He didn’t abuse with his hands, except for once when I was 14 and really beat the shit out of me for, of all things, rolling my eyes. His most common form of abuse was emotional. He made you feel as though you were the most pathetic, insignificant, unwanted person on the planet. So, when my wife tells me “Person X said they were sad when they realized they weren’t able to sit down and talk to you yet” or “Person Y said you were such an amazing player in that game” my emotional brain’s first thoughts are “What? I would never have thought they were interested in sitting and talking with me. I don’t think anything I did was as good as the other players.” The logical side of my mind knows I’m a fucking idiot to think that way and I need to stop it. But this is the conflict, much lessened than when I was younger if you can believe that.

I made an effort to go to the bar with my wife after our last game and just fucking talk to people. I still haven’t sat and talked with some people that are important to me and dammit I need to. Five days every year doesn’t equate to much over time so each moment is very important and shouldn’t be squandered. Online interaction is wonderful but it can never trump face to face.

When we arrived at Origins, people didn’t greet us simply because we “gamed good”. People weren’t asking me about how job and house hunting was going because I rolled my dice well. They don’t want to talk to me because I did a halfway decent accent in a session. They’re seeing a person who they have connected with and want to develop that friendship/acquaintanceship/whatevership. I need to start seeing that too.

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