Since I returned to gaming over 10 years ago, I've been fortunate to have some of the best gaming times of my life. Sure, gaming in high school and just after was great, but I didn't appreciate it nearly the way I have over the last decade of returning to the hobby.
The Dark Times
I had at least two other times when I had to curtail my GMing, one lasting about three months, and the other around that same amount of time, but leading into my running the Marvel Heroic game that I ran online via Hangouts.
Real life got hectic. Work became a huge mess. Because of a lot of stuff we'll just lump together and call Impending Doom, overtime picked up, and was unpredictable, meaning that I might have to cancel a game night here or there, and on top of that, I wouldn't have the time I like to have when it comes to preparing for a game.
I made a conscious effort to keep playing games with my friends, at least every other week, because I didn't want to quit gaming, and I didn't want to lose track of them. I love getting a chance to be on the other side of the screen for a while, if only for the perspective that it brings to someone that has spent most of their gaming career running a game.
In the mean time, I quit the job of Impending Doom, took another job too quickly that I should not have jumped into, and then left that job as well, in part because I was literally sitting around waiting for them to figure out what I was suppose to be doing for a few weeks at a time. I made the decision to at least finish my associates degree (long story, left school for management job in retail, because I wanted to be important and set for life before getting married, etc.).
For the last few months, I've had moments I quite honestly felt like I was going insane. I question every decision. I have to mentally scream at myself to get going day after day. Two or three extra responsibilities or surprises make me want to completely shut down because I want to deal with everything in easy mode, one small thing at a time. Then I get even more frustrated, because I know I used to juggle a lot more than this, and I feel as if I have become fragile and weak, and I wonder how I used to manage.
Oddly, it's starting to dawn on me that how I used to manage was that I was a GM. I ran games. I managed campaigns. I could vent my creative juices. I could celebrate little victories when I was ready for a game and then again when the game went off fairly well as I was running it. I could practice, bit by bit, for dealing with the unexpected when I was dealing with the off the wall things my players would throw at me.
Work was frustrating. I often found myself at one job knowing what would fix a situation, but not having the authority to implement that fix, and at another job being told I had the authority to fix it, but not enough time or actual knowledge to know how to fix it. But there was a time when I would take a breath, look at the tools I had available, and I'd dig back in. And at the very least, I would say, "hey, Thursday night is coming up, I just need to make it to Thursday."
I know it's going to sound very sad and possibly unhinged to say this, but I think I need my gaming, and not just gaming, but GMing, to balance myself. To have something I am in control of, to have something that gives immediate rewards for the work I put in, and to have something that lets me practice quick thinking and adaption on a small scale.
I thought I was being a responsible adult so that I wouldn't need to cancel on my friends when they were counting on me. While that's important, I looked for the one, big, obvious solution, which was to back away completely. Never let it be said I'm smart enough to see where the compromises might lie.
I should have done more of the following:
- Run systems that require less prep time
- Continue to run one shots from time to time to keep in the habit
- Realize that an infrequent call off isn't so bad, as long as you give people plenty of time and recognize when it's getting out of hand
I'm sure other humans have other coping mechanisms, and I'm sure in time that I could develop other coping mechanisms, but I think the fact that I attempted to do this cold turkey, while still gaming, without GMing, didn't lend itself to filling the gap particularly well.
The First Step Is Admitting You Have A Problem
I know to most non-gamers and a lot of gamers, my realization that I need to run games to help cope with the stress of my everyday life is probably going to sound pretty sad and pathetic. It will probably make games sound as if they have far too important a part in my life. As a flawed human being, I'll admit I probably should have learned to do a lot of things differently over the years. That said, I think this is who I am.
I have to think there are people outside of gaming that have to do things like this to keep their head on straight though, right? People writing short stories and even novels they never really intend on publishing, people performing in local theater with no real professional aspirations, or even people just trying to make their golf game better by pushing themselves. Aren't all of those things a matter of trying to make some small aspect of your life with fewer ramifications line up right so that you feel like you can make the big things line up just as well?
Digging Yourself In The Hole
The problem, when you have a great group of friends that you game with, who have been great and kept the group together by running games for you to play in, is that you don't want to quit playing in their games to run yours, and you don't want to compete against their games even if you were willing to leave.
Compound this with the fact that the FLGS has kind of multiplied the number of things going on any given night, so there isn't much wiggle room for actually running games most nights, and you start to realize that you may have dug yourself in a bit too well.
So trying to ramp back up to GMing, while trying to learn the lessons above, might be more challenging than it first appears.