I hate being in situations where I don;t understand the social expectations.
This includes nearly all forms of confrontation.
Not knowing how things are supposed to go, not having a clear grasp of the rules of any interaction with people, makes me extremely nervous. Sometimes it makes me puke. I am not kidding when I say it’s among the hardest things I have to deal with.
For some things, my career of choice has made such interaction unavoidable. I have spent decades trying to get used to those specific interactions, both so I can fake them when they go off the rails of what I am used to, and so I just feel I have a stronger grasp on what their (generally unstated, often poorly understood) rules are.
When I don’t HAVE to interact in a way that makes me uncomfortable, I generally don’t. If I have spare spoons I might dip a toe in just to remind myself that fire won;t actually fall from the sky, but I rarely have the spare spoons.
Sometimes, however, I don’t feel I have a choice. Sometimes it’s about something more important than my comfort level.
My current apartment complex has a pond in the open area behind our building. It’s not huge, but at the center it is 4-5 feet deep. And, of course, as a result of the week+ of snow and sub-zero temperatures, it’s mostly frozen over.
But only mostly. And, that surface ice can’t be depended on.
Yesterday, I happened to glance out a window and see three boys playing on that ice. Throwing rocks to try to break through the ice… that they were standing on. Stomping on it to see if they could crack it.
I froze for a second. I did NOT want to have to interact with youngsters, age unknown, attitude unknown, and try to convince them (with no real authority) to stop paying on the ice.
In shock, I mentioned to my wife what I was seeing. She confirmed what I knew, but did not want to admit.
“Oh, lord, you need to tell them to cut it out!”
Yeah, I did need to. My discomfort, even if it was going to be extreme, was not as important as the safety of these boys. Yes, they were being stupid. But that doesn’t reduce the value of their lives.
So I stepped outside, and called out to them. I asked them to PLEASE not play on the ice. The ice could be thing, the water is dangerously cold, and if they slipped UNDER the ice it could be hard to get them out.
Oh, they said. Really?
Yeah, I promised. Really.
Okay, sir. Thanks!
And they got off the ice. And have not gotten back on it.
Objectively, this was an incredibly minor interaction.
Subjectively, I was exhausted and shaking for about 30 minutes.
But this wasn’t about me.
Sometimes, it isn’t about me.
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It’s late, and I’m tired. Today was a massive failure. As a result, I feel like a massive failure.
So, to coping mechanisms.
Though I do not believe it emotionally, or intellectually, I am going to keep telling myself everything is going to be all right, and that things will get better. There are risks to this, but it serves me better than despair, so that’s the mechanism. It has to be rote, or I won’t do it when I most need it. I have sometimes dug up my old checklist, from when I literally could not trust myself to make smart care decisions on nights like this. I’d stare at the times, and feel total apathy. But doing something seemed smart, so I’d do those things. And check them off, each as I did it, no matter how minor. Some lists even include not doing things, so I get to mark those off just by properly focusing my sloth.
The coping mechanism says I have to go forward assuming I can fix things tomorrow. I can’t keep the failure of today with me, count all my progress against the negative value of this and all the failed days that came before. That’s stacking the deck against myself. I need to have a realistic assessment of what is possible, but that’s about looking forward not weighing down measures of success with things I could have gotten done if I just hadn’t failed miserably on a range of occasions.
I do know, looking at my track record, that sometimes I pull it out, and sometimes I don’t. I also know I am a bad judge of my ratios of success to failure, and that smart people I trust often have a very different opinion of how I am doing. That all gets added to the coping mechanism calculations.
But there’s no point on hammering my brain any harder about this tonight. That hasn’t worked since I was 35. When I am done, I am done.
I need to go through my checklist of things to try to give tomorrow the best chance. What I eat, what I read or watch, how late I stay up, whether I take my prescriptions—these things feel utterly pointless right now, but I know they are not. However bad things are, there is no point in making them worse.
I am bad at self-care, but making every effort I am able to is part of the coping mechanism.
Also do the best you can to take care of yourself, and forgive yourself of your failures.
Lj and I arrived in the Great Northwest three years ago, today.
We are on our second apartment, our second vehicle, our second AFK, but still the same core jobs and circle of friends, which in many ways are the important bits. I say core jobs because Lj lost her full-time gig 6 or so months after we moved, and switched to doing RGG bookkeeping and freelance layout full time, and I have become the project manager at Rite since then. We have had two dear friends move nearby, lost another dear friend, and in many ways I still feel like we are finding our feet.
The only things I miss from our lives in Norman, Oklahoma are a few people, a few restaurants… and certainty.
We knew, in broad terms, what every week, every holiday, and every season would bring. We had strong, long-established social systems that had gone on without major change for decades. Progress was difficult, but so was confusion. Our lives were a known factor, though it was kept at a set level we didn’t seem to be able to rise above.
There are many ways in which we have adjusted. We know more people, have local connections, and get invited to many more things. There are ways in which we haven’t. It turns out 20 years of freelance game writing habits don’t die easily, and I still get grumpy when I can’t take a nap in the middle of a workday at the office. But I AM adjusting.
When we first arrived out here, we also both started getting sick a lot. In 2016 alone I had two trips to the ER and nearly a dozen to urgent care, on top of regular doctor visits. But the last of those was last August, and I haven’t had a major illness since.
This move was a huge step outside of our comfort zone. We sold our house, the majority of our possessions, and moved away from our most solid core of close family and friends. I’d lived in Norman for 43 or 44 years before I left. That one year exception was 2000-2001, when I was hired by WotC to work on the Star Wars game and that was still what I was doing when they laid me off 14 months later.
Now I’ve been working for Paizo for 36 months. I began as the developer in charge of the module line, then transitioned over to the Player Companions, and then got to be one of the Design Leads for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. I have grown quite a bit as a game developer and designer in three years, and these are opportunities I would not have had back in Oklahoma. We have also made some awesome new friends, strengthened existing friendships, and just barely begun to build some social momentum again.
I mentioned to my wife just yesterday that I haven’t adjusted yet. she snorted and pointed out it’s been three years. She’s right… but so am I. Not quickly do I become comfortable in a new environment.
Despite that, and seeing the financial and psychological havoc it’s played with our long-term plans, I am a bit amazed we took this huge leap. In many ways that’s not our style. But I continue to be convinced that this was a good move for me and my wife.
Being me, I also worry about it a lot. 🙂
Huge thanks to everyone who has pitched in, invited us over, helped out, and just shared a smile now and then to the transplants from OK.
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A lot of people define the concept of the “metagame” differently, but the definition I run into most often is pretty close to “actions taken outside of normal defined gameplay that are driven by or the result of game rules, but not defined by those rules.”
So if you are deciding what cards to put in your CCG deck? Metagame. Sure which cards you CAN put in a deck are covered by rules, by actually choosing them and adding them to your deck is not defined, and you do that before you start playing the game itself with someone.
Choosing a feat to pick when you gain a character level and update between sessions? Metagame. Making props for your larp session? Metagame. Buying themed dice so your fireball looks cool because you have ten red-and-gold d6s? Still metagame.
But the definition I see most often can also cover actions that occur during the game. “Outside normal gameplay” doesn’t limit you to actions before or after the game, as long as they aren’t things controlled or referenced by game rules. And this can have expectation clashes. I have never had anyone get morally upset if I bluff in poker, but I’d expect everyone to be pissed if I used loaded dice in an rpg. But what is and isn’t acceptable isn’t always universally clear to players.
In the 1990s I played a game with some boardgame enthusiast friends that features a Bell, Book, and Candle (it was not Betrayal at House on the Hill, but I don’t recall the name). EDIT: It MAY have been Castle of Magic, though I am not certain of this.
It was the first time playing the game for all of us. Each player has a goal card, which outlines your victory conditions. You could have the candle lit or unlit, the bell rung or unrung, the book open or closed, and some other specific things could factor into it (are you out of cards, in anyone in their starting space on the board, and so on). If the exact combination of things your victory card says occurred, you won. Now many of these elements you had to just wait for, but everyone had some control over the bell, book, and candle. That meant if you moved for the book to be open, someone else could decide that meant having it open was on your victory card, and move to close it. Of course if they ALSO needed it open…
So obviously a big part of the game was figuring out other people’s victory conditions, while simultaneously concealing your own. Hoard resources to make a big state change when it’s close enough to your victory condition that no one can stop you, or make changes apparently at a whim so no one thinks you are moving toward your actual condition.
Since it was friends playing, we often wheedled each other about making or not making changes, which was part of trying to guess others’ victory condition while concealing our own.
Then when we took a break a friend took me aside, and suggested we team up. He had, he claimed, guessed my needed bell book and candle states, and he needed the same. He suggested a specific order we work together to fix those, and then whichever one of us managed to get out other needed conditions met first would win.
I like cooperative games, and it seemed reasonable, so I agreed.
So we worked together to fix the bell in one state. Then we fixed the book in another.
And then he won because the candle was already where he needed it. He didn’t need the same states I did. He lied, to convince me to help, and got me to agree to do things in a specific order so he’d win before I could.
Now, he and I talked it out, and came to understand where we were coming from. To him, this was all part of the metagame of what we were playing. No different from Diplomacy, or bluffing in poker. Lying was part of his game strategy, and only acceptable because we were playing a game that highlighted deception. To me, it was not something the game explicitly called out, and thus a lie is a lie is a lie. (Though, confession time, part of my social anxiety includes preferring a rigid adherence to rules, because that makes it easier for me to understand how I am supposed to react in a group, and when I don’t I sometimes panic.)
I took this as an example of a place where expectation conflict caused an otherwise fun game experience to end on a sour note, and have tried hard to remember what we appear to be encouraging players to do in game material I have written, developed, or consulted on ever since.
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