I haven’t managed to game with other people since I got back from Fear the Con, though not for lack of trying. My regular gaming group has had a “perfect storm” of scheduling conflicts that has gone on for several weeks as various group members deal with the responsibilities, obligations, and inconveniences of adult life. This sort of thing is nobody’s fault – evidenced by, if nothing else, the fact that each individual group member, myself included, is responsible for about the same amount of cancellations as any other. Still, it can get disheartening when we can’t get together and game on a regular basis.
Everyone with something to say about gaming has made the same suggestions over the years: carve out the time, obligate yourself, come up with pick-up games or a separate, lightweight game that can allow for a partial group. Those suggestions are good as far as they go, but sometimes even those pieces of advice don’t work, and it can get disheartening when someone other than the usual busy people can’t make it, which usually leaves you with no pre-planned fallback. So I humbly submit the following advice for when a few too many members of your gaming group need to tend to various other irons in life’s fire.
1. If your gaming group is made up of your friends (and I hope it is – gaming with friends is wonderful), see if you can at least hang out with a few of them and socialize. If you’re lucky enough to live close by, go to dinner, go do something else fun together, hang out and play video games if possible. if, like my gaming group, you’re spread out over three time zones in four different states, see if you can at least get an hour or two on Skype or a Google Hangout with at least one of them. Not being able to game is unfortunate. Not maintaining your friendships can eventually become tragic. Not to be melodramatic or a downer, but losing track of one’s friends is one of the top five regrets of the dying. It’s worth it to let some other, less-important things slide in the service of having worthwhile relationships in your life.
2. If the perfect storm has happened and you’re by yourself but really wanting to game, do some kind of prep that’ll be useful next time. Look over your character sheet (or draw up a clean one if you’ve been putting that off), watch something similar to your game or play a video game that reminds you of it. Sometimes the best you can manage is doing something that keeps you in the same creative or thematic space as the game. It is, however, worth doing a little out-of-the-box thinking if you’re in this predicament. For example, when Grant’s Savage Shadowrun game was going on, instead of just looking for cyberpunk stuff to watch, read, or play, I’d probably have been more apt to watch episodes of White Collar or Leverage for heist ideas. Along these same lines, it can be good to intentionally consume some media outside of your usual genres for ideas. I’ve beaten this drum plenty, but I recommend espionage and crime thrillers in particular for gamers. The characters in those movies are almost always player character types, and you’ll get some fun ideas for things to do at the table watching or reading them.
3. If, on the other hand, you’re experiencing some gaming burnout, take the opportunity to do something completely different. Organize something around your residence, go for a walk, watch something totally unlike the game you’re in, etc. It can be nice to have a palette cleanser every now and then, and it baffles me that we in this hobby are so reluctant to suggest taking a break now and then. There are a lot of things I really enjoy in life, but there’s nothing, literally nothing at all, in my life that I don’t occasionally need a break from. There’s some evidence that variety of experience can help with depression, too, so it pays to switch things up a bit now and again. (If you’re interested in hearing at least a little bit more about that, give a listen to episode #113 of The Art of Manliness Podcast).
4. Most importantly: don’t give up and don’t get bitter about the situation. Once you’re out of your early twenties, responsibility has the disturbing tendency to chase you down and eat your free time. Children, jobs, volunteer obligations, church, illness, and so forth will interfere with your gaming schedule, and more importantly, they will almost certainly interfere with the gaming schedules of everybody in your group. It’s absolutely critical to be mature about these ups and downs, because it is inevitable that even if your life is stable with big chunks of free time, at some point, it will be your turn to be the reason for cancellation.