My favorite gaming groups are, at their best, a place that feels like home. They are filled with the gaming versions of younger siblings, crazy relatives, loving friends, and supportive people. Each meeting is a chance to tell new stories and deepen friendships. They aren’t perfect but they are honestly valuable in my life. Everyone’s best gaming group looks a little different but they are all equally important and fulfilling.
The problem is that some gaming groups don’t live up to that ideal. Sometimes I am playing with great folks, in a setting or system that I love, but the pieces don’t fit together in the way that’s right for me. It can also be that life gets in the way of playing pretend with my friends and I have to make tough choices. No matter the reason, there might come a day where I need to say goodbye to my gaming group.
Looking at the big picture
Figuring out the style of game and gaming group that best suits your needs can take some trial and error. I signed up for a regular Pathfinder game without knowing the playstyle of the group and ended up in a miserable situation. I’ve invited folks to my game without looking at the big picture of their wants in an adventure and they end up not having a good time.
I’m always excited before the start of a new game and I will often rush in without giving any of the above a single thought. In a perfect world I would always consider the overall goals that I have for games before I start, but nothing about me is perfect. Understanding exactly what I want, what I have to offer, and what the other people you’ll be gaming with are looking for sets everyone up for success. It’s never too late to step back and look at everything.
Complain, listen, act
I don’t like the idea of complaining, of feeling that I’m a whiner or a burden to the group. That has a lot to do with how I was raised. I’ve had those moments as a player where I’ve started to get upset during a game because of the actions of another player. I’ve had times where I’ve nodded off at a table because we were too busy doing math to have an adventure. Those were terrible experiences but I often said nothing.
When I like the people that I’m gaming with on a personal level but I am struggling with the game, it’s time for me to initiate an honest conversation. It has taken me many years and many mistakes to learn this lesson. I’ve stayed in uncomfortable situations because I didn’t feel like I had any other options. I ended up dreading every game and started resenting the people involved, all because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. That always ended up with me getting so upset that I walked away from the group in a rage without trying to work anything out. I imagine that hurt a lot more feelings than an honest conversation would have. Over the years I’ve grown and changed to better support myself and the people around me.
Maybe the right person to start talking with is the host of the group. I’ll contact the host, outside of our normal meeting time, and talk about any logistical or personal problems that I’m having with the game. It gives me a chance to tell them about my struggles and hear their struggles with me as well. If it’s only a specific player that I’m struggling with I’ll reach out to them individually in as nonthreatening a way as possible. Just like in any healthy relationship it’s possible to talk through many of these issues and find a common ground that works for everyone. Other times I need to draw a firm line and say, “No.”
Listening is where the answer between those two situations becomes clear to me. If they are unwilling to listen to me and make compromises, then my experience at the table is not being valued. If I’m not of value then there is no reason for me to stay.
When they say goodbye to you
It’s difficult for me to not take those moments personally despite my understanding of the real reasons that it didn’t work out. That said, I can appreciate the trust and honesty that it took to have that difficult conversation even if my feelings are hurt. The problem might be something as simple but insurmountable as my work schedule affecting my ability to attend regularly. Like any healthy relationship, the group needs to work for everyone involved.
People have come to me with blame, toxicity, and anger at who I am. That was a red flag telling me that it was time to walk away immediately. Personal attacks aren’t about honest conversation or finding common ground. Don’t stay in a group that belittles you, your characters, or your ideas. Listening with an open mind doesn’t give permission or excuse people victimizing or abusing you.
After I’ve made the decision to leave I will probably run into folks from my old group again. I might see them happily gaming with my replacement or have to tell them all about my new gaming relationship. That can be an uncomfortable moment confirming that we’ve all moved on. I try not to let those meetings affect my desire to see my friends. I don’t want 5 minutes of discomfort to ruin the next 20 years of friendship so I push through. Finding a perfect gaming group can be a lot like dating. Seeing each other after breaking up is just as awkward too. If things ended on a positive note then stay friendly and don’t lose important people in your life just because it didn’t work out at the game.
Why you’re important enough to leave
Are you ready to hear some basic truths about yourself?
You matter. You’re a worthwhile human being and you deserve to be happy, appreciated, and respected. The stories that you have to tell are important and you should feel safe sharing them with your group. You’re not perfect and you still deserve kindness, joy, and support.
Time is such a finite resource that I do my best not to waste it. Every person that takes time to play a game with me has given me an irreplaceable gift.
When you take the time to complain you are making gaming better and safer for yourself and those around you. If you don’t feel safe talking to your group about your issues I would invite you to ask yourself why you’re returning to what feels like an unsafe situation. You deserve better than that.
Walk away when it becomes clear that you’re not heading towards your best gaming life.
Finding something new
There are many options out there when it comes time to try again. Websites like Meetup.com, LookingForGM.com, and HeroMuster.com offer options to connect with gamers in your area. Facebook, G+ groups, and Roll20.net can be a great resource to find online games if you live somewhere that local gaming is a struggle to find or completely unavailable. Online gaming communities like The Gauntlet offer a chance to connect with like-minded gamers to increase your chances of getting what you’re looking for. If it doesn’t work out the first time then please keep looking. You’re worth the effort.
What would your perfect gaming group look like? Who would you invite and why? Have you ever had a tough gaming group breakup?