Critical Success: Tips For Lessening Anxiety When Gaming With Strangers

By Jesse Galena, @RexiconJesse

Greetings! My name is Jesse Galena, or RexiconJesse around parts of the internet (like Twitter, Reddit, and my website). And I’m glad Angsty Nerd let me do a guest post about running and joining games at cons and game nights. I run everything from Sushi Go! to Elder Sign to Dungeons and Dragons, and as much as I enjoy it, my social anxiety always shows itself.

I love running games for new people and playing games at cons… once we start playing. Before the game begins, I am wracked with doubt and anxiety. “Is anyone going to play?” is the loudest and most annoying question that continuously repeats in my head. The anxiety of waiting to start a game is worse as I wait, especially if I’m running a game at a con without a set time to start. So to calm my nerves, I do a few things that either ease my anxiety or attract players.

Set Up Between 1/2 – 3/4 Of The Game

If the game is completely out, people may think it’s too late to join. If it’s not out at all, it looks like you might be finishing up or it will be a while before you can start. If it’s obvious you’re starting soonish, you may snag a few extra players.

Have Chairs Already Set Up Around The Table

If you want people to join, you want to be as inviting as possible. While it wouldn’t be hard for a new player to find chairs, having them there is inviting and shows potential players there is space for them already.

Bring A Friend

I’m not trying to be cheeky. If there are two people at a table, you are far more likely to have people join you than if it was just you. There are a lot of personal reasons someone may not sit at a table with just one person. Maybe they don’t want to make the person run a game for just them if no one else shows. Maybe they feel anxious about having a one-on-one experience. There’s a lot more possibilities and I don’t know the science behind it. However, having one person already at the table attracts people in my experience

If Someone Looks At Your Table, Ask If They Want To Play

Interested or semi-interested people will peek at the table to see what game is about to happen. Engage them. If you don’t want to ask if they want to play, ask if they’re familiar with the game or some other related question that allows them to speak. Answer whatever questions they have. Deliver an elevator pitch (under 30 seconds), just enough to peak their interest. If they’re asking about it, they want to learn what the game is, not commit to a tutorial. If they want to know more, then explain the basics of the game. If you don’t engage them, they may assume you are waiting for specific people. People like me are awkward and always appreciate hearing that I am welcome to join.

When I’m at a con or game night and I’m the player, that anxiety doesn’t vanish. It takes on a new form. Aside from seeing the things listed above, there are a few things I do that offer some relief when I’m looking to join a game.

Anticipation Is Worse Than Action

The growing dread that bubbles up higher with each step I take toward a stranger I know I’m going to talk to is far, far worse than finally opening my mouth and asking “What game is that?” It’s easy to forget which is actually worse, and I’m not always successful using my own advice. However, when I do accept this, it makes it easier to just ask what game they’re setting up or if I can join.

No One Expects Me To Be Conan O’Brien or Neil Degrasse Tyson

When interacting with new people, I too often assume they expect me to be the most entertaining person ever, filling our time with an onslaught of jokes or insightful information. In reality, they just need a fourth hero for a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse. If I can make them laugh while we play, that’s great. Do they expect me to? No. Do they even want me to? Possibly not. Managing the perceived expectations of others can do a lot to calm my nerves.

Most of all, whether you’re running the game or joining it, remember that everyone is there to have fun. Seriously. We all have that as a common goal. Remembering and embracing that fact can take some of the edge off.

Make sure to follow Jesse on Twitter @RexiconJesse!

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