This week at the Stew, some of us were inspired by a series of disparate recent events to send some love and sentiments out to young gamers, especially those who are marginalized. We wrote these letters to our younger selves, because in you, we see ourselves, and we hope that we can give you the words of encouragement we needed to hear. You are welcome in this space.
You might be skeptical, but role playing will build many skills in your life, and they aren’t simply recorded on a character sheet stashed in the depths of your closet. You’ll make role playing work for you as much as you work for it. Be confident and feel encouraged to make other people uncomfortable by purposefully bucking their expectations about who you are. Lean in. Be vulnerable. The game table is going to be your most valuable tool for both self-expression and working to improve your interpersonal skills. Use it. It is a comfortable place to fail forward, and the stakes don’t get any lower.
Here are a few steps to go through to get to the point where you can really start developing those soft skills in the right environment.
Step 1: Find Your People
Networking is your super power. When you put yourself out there authentically the people who like your flavor of weird — the people who like you — will find you. Charisma isn’t a dump stat, it’s like gravity, drawing your people in. And yes, you can learn to be [more] charismatic. The more you “expect acceptance,” the more you accept yourself as ‘unique’ and less as ‘different’ the faster people pick up on that positive vibe and respond in kind. At age 30 you’ll give yourself permission to openly identify as a role player all the time, at 35 you’ll initiate conversations about rpgs with complete strangers like as if you’ve always done it. Keep it up, it works.
Eventually, you’ll learn how to read people and understand who among them “gets you” the most. This will be developed through gaming when you are out and about in the community and at conventions. There are a ton of awesome people out there in the world but not all of them are going to be the “right” people for you to role play with. You’ll have some great friends who you click with more so away from the game table than at it, and some will be rock solid in-game and not great friends away from the table. That’s okay. People are different and if the first game group (or groups) you find don’t feel right, keep moving. You’ll find more great gamers everywhere you go — I promise. The best friends that you’ll ever have will be “right” both at the table and out in the world.
Part of being assertive is expressing yourself authentically around those who you don’t know well and aren’t totally comfortable with. But the other part is opening yourself up even more to those you do know well, that’s real bravery. Being yourself around those folks whose opinions matter, talking openly with them about the challenging, emotional, jagged, messy, raw stuff — those are skills you are going to work on (muddle through) at the game table. When you purposefully add facets of yourself into a character you’ll get more than fun war stories out of the experience.
Step 2: Build the Space You Want to Inhabit
Once you find the right people, work to get those people together. At your core, you are a community organizer and connector — leverage that to form exactly the group you want to play in. If you see an opportunity to make a meaningful connection — try it. It is very satisfying to get a group together where everyone works with one another. You’ll know it because when your group is together it feels easy — it feels right. You’ll be excited to get together and when the day is done you’ll already be eagerly anticipating the next session. The best part is: these are the groups you can use for personal exploration. It is going to work for building soft “people” skills and processing your real life experiences.
Step 3: Fake It ‘Til You Make It
Luckily, “faking it” is what role playing is all about. It is awesome to role play as a total unquestioned badass. Whatever the subject matter is that you want to test out or delve into, work it into your character. And don’t just do it from one angle, you can make characters that approach the same concepts or challenges from different perspectives.
For example, playing Veteran Sergeant Lucius Felder, a Storm Warden Space Marine in Warhammer 40,000 will give you a major shot of confidence. Go ahead and shout down a table full of guys including the (real life) six foot five dude and tell him to “be quiet the adults are talking.” Make them all listen, find your voice. The game table is the place to do it and with the right group you’ll get high fives as you level up in real time.
When your mom passes away far too soon, you’ll use role playing to probe your perceived failures and your desire for redemption. It’s at the game table you’ll discover that forgiving yourself was the balm you needed all along. That’s a powerful result for playing some games and eating snacks with your friends.
Finally, you are going to learn to be charismatic, to be a leader, to be a person others want to know – all thanks to gaming. You’ll both build and leverage your strengths and contribute to a stronger, more thoughtful rpg community. You’ll connect people in states you don’t even live in, have friends tell you that you introduced them to their best friend, and consider “What Would Wendelyn Do?” when it comes to meeting people and making a good impression. Trust your instincts, including when they tell you to trust other people. These soft skills take time to learn, but practicing them in a test environment at the game table will help you to get better sooner. Just keep in mind that all this fun masks some meaningful opportunities if you choose to dive in. So give it a whirl, build confidence, enhance your social skills, and become the leader you were meant to be . . . while you gain experience for your character too.
Has role playing leveled up any of your real life skills? Have you intentionally worked to improve yourself through gaming? Do you see a positive feedback loop where gaming has improved your life and so you’ve given back more to the hobby/community?