Most people wouldn’t know it from talking to me, but I am naturally an introvert. I like to spend time by myself, working on my own projects, buried in my own thoughts. Social activity often leaves me feeling drained and exhausted, and I spend a lot of my time worrying about what people think of me, whether they actually want to be around me. Sometimes the social anxiety becomes so bad that I spend days hiding from the world, and at times I make all kinds of excuses not to have to go to social activities or events.
With this confession in mind, believe it or not, I used to be worse. It was gaming that changed a lot of that for me. When I was younger I spent most of my time in books, comics, movies, cartoons and the endless stories I created in my own head, and while I had friends, they were friends through acquaintance rather than shared interests or close bonds. Eventually those friendships drifted on and I was left alone in my own head space, and for a while I was okay with that… but even a young introvert needs someone to share their crazy ideas with, and while my mother tried to fill that void there was only so much she could do or understand.
Now, I had read a few ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, and had played a couple of board games, but in early Highschool I met my best mate Bryant, and that’s where my life would change.
Bryant and I had a shared interest in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, and Raymond E. Feist’s ‘Magician’ series, but Bryant also introduced me to the ‘Palladium’ and ‘Rifts’ RPG’s (Role-Playing Games). I had heard of D&D (Dungeon and Dragons) and wanted to play but never had a chance, so Rifts with Bryant was my first toe-dip in the great ocean of Role-Playing systems, and from there my tabletop gaming experience only broadened.
Soon I was rolling dice for Warhammer tabletop Fantasy with Matty, Cam, Geoff and his twin brother. Then I was sitting in a garage on weekends, rolling dice for Warhammer 40K with my mate Jason, and painting models with him until the wee hours, talking about the next crazy unit we wanted to field, or army list we wanted to try. For those not used to the genre, these games combine statistical acrobatics with luck-dependent dice rolls to pit teams of customizable physical miniature models against each other, so require creativity, problem analysis, mathematics and practical engineering skills to create the look and function you desire of your chosen armies. Just like a sport, tabletop gaming is also a social activity, and pushed my friendship circle from suddenly one, to like.. twenty, or more! I was interacting and talking to these people, sometimes every day at school or on the phone, even sleeping over their houses on the weekend, something I never used to do, too afraid to leave the safety and comfort of my home.
Now at the age of 42, I still love these games, and although Matty, Cam, Jason and other friends have drifted from my life, I now have Aiden, Sam, Robbie, Sully, Jacob, Josh, AJ, Shaun, and the list goes on. Bryant is still present at these games, the bond forged over 90’s-something models as yet unbreakable, he was the best man at my wedding and I the best man at his. Gaming is something I share with my wife, something I try to share with other people, and something to teach to new kids to get past their anxieties.
Thanks to gaming I don’t feel as alone in this world as I did when I was younger. Although I still struggle with my introvert nature at times, and my social anxiety still lurks in the background, whether it is getting online to play some Aliens: Fireteam with my mates on the computer, or roll some dice on the table for Infinity or Warhammer, or tell a tale of the crew of misfit heroes trying the save the kingdom from the Dark Overlord in Pathfinder or D&D, gaming has changed my life for the better. I hope to one day still be rolling dice around the table with my friends at the nursing home, for it has filled my life with joy, and is something I want in my life, for as much of it as I have left.