Hi, I'm a board game addict, and I have Asperger's Syndrome and a Social Anxiety Disorder. I've learned that one of the best ways to deal with it is to talk to others about it. This blog is one of my attempts at doing just that.
My wife and I are officially headed to BGG.CON 2012! We were looking for a little getaway this fall and couldn't think of what to do. It occurred to us BGG.CON was right in a good time slot. I was very, very hesitant to commit to it because just the thought of being in that venue makes me very anxious. It is a combination of a new place, lots of people I don't know, and many, many instances of figuring out the protocol of how to start playing a game with people.
I wouldn't pull the trigger on going, even though my wife was very excited about it. She finally said to me, "If I agree to take charge of getting us into games if it doesn't happen naturally, if I do that, will you go?" Be still, my heart. This woman knows how to ease my fears. With that caveat, I accepted. I will still try to be proactive in socializing and pulling my weight, but it really makes it easier to know she will be willing to be the social butterfly.
On that subject, does anyone have any ideas about easily getting into games at the CON? I saw something about a first-timer badge that you can wear that helps people know you need helping. I've all ready signed up for a pre-determined game that we love, so that will be good.
I think the thing that excites me the most is that my lovely wife has taken to gaming so much that she is willing to go to a convention just to play games because it makes me happy. We play games by ourselves all the time, but she knows how much I want to play with more players and different games. So, she throws her self and excitement into this, and it just makes me feel really loved. I am a lucky man.
Anyway, that's it for now. We are excited. Please share any CON tips you might have, thanks!
And....we're back. 17 months isn't too long for a hiatus, right? Before resuming your regularly scheduled programming, please allow me this quick life recap that will be devoid of anything related to gaming.
Last July, six months after my wife's brain surgery, her neurosurgeon gave us the all clear to have another child. A couple months later, we had taken the family growth action and were on the way to child number 2. Somewhere around February, my son, age 3, basically got kicked out of his Mother's Day Out program. This is significant because it would eventually lead to us suspecting and then confirming with a diagnosis that he has Asperger's Syndrome. This was around the same time our second child was born in May 2012. What a beautiful happy child.
Also, a quick recap of the state of my mental health (uggh, that sounds really conceited, so I'm sorry). I started going to a psychiatrist in late fall, got on some meds for a couple months, got off the meds, started seeing a therapist for a couple months, and stopped seeing the therapist. Throughout all that and my son's diagnosis, I came to realize that I too most likely have Asperger's Syndrome. Someone here on the geek first planted that in my mind with a comment on one of my blog posts last year, so I am very, very grateful for that.
I had an appointment for an evaluation by the same doctor who diagnosed my son, but our insurance doesn't cover it, and I didn't feel like ponying up the $750 to be told something I all ready know. Finding out about Asperger's Syndrome was like finding the rules to Chess after having played it for thirty years and making it all up. Disclaimer: I do know that assuming I have a mental health condition without proper diagnosis is ill-advised. I am ok with it because I feel like my place on the Autism spectrum is well-set on the far edge of high-functioning. I really feel like I straddle both worlds with one foot in Neurotypical-ville and the other in the Aspie-land. As a result, it doesn't completely dominate my life, and I am ok using, on a recreational basis, the guidelines established for helping Aspies deal with life. In addition, I feel like the Asperger's is co-present with a social anxiety disorder that initially led to this blog.
Ok, back to gaming now! I am very sorry to make you wade through that, but it will inform future blog posts. I've got a few lined up that will deal specifically with different aspects of Asperger's Syndrome in my life and how they intersect with gaming. Next up, though, will be about BGG.CON 2012. Stay tuned.
I was surprised and disappointed in myself this week.
On Wednesday or Thursday, I saw the BGG.con registration page pop up on the home page of the site. I mentioned to my wife that despite what I said in my blog post last week, I still really wanted to go to this convention but couldn't see myself doing it. She said, "Why not go? I'd love to go do that with you." This is where I was disappointed in myself. I had never even asked or considered her going with me the past few years each time I thought about going. I had been incredibly selfish; she loves playing games too. She has been really supportive of me in my hobby by getting interested in my games and playing them with me, and I just want to tell her thanks. She's really awesome.
Anyway, after she said that, a little part of my anxiety gave way, and I started to consider the possibility. After a few hours and a long conversation with her over dinner, we decided to go for it! We had some concerns about the financial aspect of it given everything else we have going on this year (major surgery, paying off a van, etc.), but we thought we could do it. I registered that night and went to bed quite excited.
A night's sleep is a funny thing. It somehow manages to take all your proper sensibilities that left you over the course of the day and put them back in their place ready for you to wake up, mentally renewed. Sometimes this is observed as a positive thing such as when dealing with mental and emotional trauma. Sleep, for me, is the best medicine at those times. In this case, though, it just plain sucked. After I woke up, I responsibly observed that the money spent on registration and hotel rooms would be much better utilized in other areas of our lives. I promptly canceled the reservation and was quite disappointed.
Here is where I became surprised.
I was surprised that I had canceled the reservation without any consideration to the level of anxiety that the thought of attending generated. We had been excited about the Con, but it stressed me out to no end those few hours we thought we were going. I also knew it would only get worse as time went on. Despite that, it hadn't been a factor in my cancellation, and that made me happy! I was willing to confront it knowing that it would be so worth it and fun in the end. Small victories!
It's been almost a week since then, and I've thought a lot about why I was willing to go to the Con. It happened mostly because I knew my wife would be there right with me and help me through it. It helped because I knew and trusted that I had someone who understood me and could act as a lens, an interpreter to help me understand how things really would be instead of the fictionalized version my anxieties would drum up.
So, knowing all this, why am I still scared out of my mind to go to my local game group, even with my wife there?!? I was actually more comfortable going to the Con than to a game night with no more than 20 people! The only difference I can see between the two things is less people and the game night is in someone's home (it always is). I think it is the "home" thing because I think it is adding a more complex set of fictional social constructs compared to a more clinical setting like a conference center. It's hard for me to explain this because it really isn't rational.
Recently, I was subscribed to the guild for my local group, but every time it popped something up in my subscriptions, my anxieties would flare. Whether it was someone making a comment about the local game night or just random discussion, it always elicited a negative reaction. I've since unsubscribed and feel a little discouraged about it because I really want to play games with more people! Uggh.
I'll leave you with a little more of a bright spot: The couple we recently played Mansions of Madness with haven't stopped telling us about how much fun they had. They really want to play another game of something new. We are going over to their house to play Arkham Horror on Saturday! They really liked the mythos feel of Mansions, and since we are really, really familiar with Arkham, I think it will go well. The best part is that I'm not even anxious about this get together! Baby steps!
In my first post, a commenter pointed out that a colleague of theirs had social anxiety, but the commenter never would have noticed it because he seemed completely normal in those situations. Another commenter, Patrick (dragon of blood), mentioned his distaste for social rejects like me because I drive people away from the hobby with my weirdness. Wait, so which is it? Do I seem normal in social situations, or am I the freak? Sorry to disappoint Patrick, but I cannot technically be that social reject because I am WAY too obsessed with my behavior and appearance.
I have an inexplicable primal drive to appear as normal as humanly possible AT ALL TIMES (said in your best impersonation of Rex of Rex Kwon Do fame from Napoleon Dynamite; turn down volume just a little bit ). I guess most everyone wants to appear normal to some degree, but I often feel crippled by the amount of processing power I'm devoting solely to that at the expense of actually enjoying a conversation or event. If I'm talking to someone I'm not really comfortable with, 95% of my consciousness is computing what my face looks like from their point of view. It's frustrating!
A great thing about board games is that they provide a structured set of rules that define exactly what is "normal" and acceptable behavior. It is actually a liberating experience for me to play a board game. It is one of the most, if not the most, "free" moments of my day. Forget about who wins; the coolest part is that at any moment I have a distinct list of all my options. Everyone else works within the same framework. For a time, I can not devote massive amounts brain power to behaving normally.
In addition to the rules, many games don't require conversation or interaction involving out-of-game rules context. Even better! If I'm playing Small World, I can swipe your Coquettish Amazons (it should be a playable combination!) off the board without even so much as a how-do-you-do and it works. Sure, throwing a zinger out there like "Looks like your Frivolous Females won't be flirting anymore!" might get some laughs (right? right?!?), but a no-comment is still ok.
In my first post, I mentioned that I had a difficult time at my local game group's meetups. This was mostly due to not being able to define, in real-time, acceptable social behavior in that setting. I know that, in reality, these events are so relaxed and chill that such a statement would seem ridiculous to others there, but that's the way I see it. The end result is that before, between, and after games I stop being myself and become mostly disfunctional. Not train wreck disfunctional; more like The Invisible Man disfunctional. I stop talking to people if I can get away with it inconspicuously, and if I can't, I go into near-crisis mode (internally) as I keep up appearances.
Now on to how games help this. In the past, we've had three different couples over to our house for games. With one couple, I am really good friends with him and my wife is really good friends with her. We've played Pandemic, Last Night on Earth, and Thurn and Taxis. She doesn't really seem to enjoy them a lot, but he does. It has always ended up being pleasant. I get a little anxious, but again, it's only because of the social setting. Because we are good friends with them, but not great friends, it ends up being just a pleasant night with not too much anxiety.
With another couple, my wife is good friends with her, but I really, really dislike being around him. It has to do with when I had my assignment in my church, and he had a similar level assignment. He would basically activate all of my anxieties in that venue, and I have been unable to disassociate that from everything outside of church; consequently, every time I interact with him, I get quite worked up (all internally of course, got to keep up appearances). You can guess that even in a structured game setting, I still was quite stressed out.
With the third couple, we are again pretty good friends, but in this case, we played Mansions of Madness. I played Keeper (I was comfortable enough with them to try this role), and we had a blast as I drove them all insane. His favorite part was when I started reading a trauma card to my wife, and after reading the flavor text that said she started to gasp for air, I paused and said authoritatively, "Do it!" She put her hands to her throat and mimicked the action while I finished the text. I found that I was much more able to interact in a relaxed state after this amazing game.
Ok, so I guess after all this rambling, I wanted to show the experiences I've had across this spectrum of relationship levels. Interestingly, with people I am strangers with or better, if the gameplay provides me with a confidence-in-my-appearance boost (like Mansions of Madness did), my social anxiety will be reduced greatly after the game is finished. If the gameplay does no such thing, I'm left where I began (friends=pleasant, strangers=bad). With the bad-relationship guy, no game is going to help that.
Ok, one more time for the point: I obsess over my appearance in social situations with almost everyone to varying degrees, but (for me) some games can help me stop focusing on how I appear by helping me demonstrate my humor or other social qualities to myself via the game structure. And that's a great thing.
As I mentioned in my last post on dealing with change, games are an ideal environment for developing and practicing positive life skills. If I want to be more flexible and emotionally-resilient in real-life, everyday chaos, I can practice on a smaller scale where success is always in reach. Real life doesn't afford as good of odds. In the venue of a game, though, as I am consistently successful in my efforts to control my emotions, I have to believe that this will, over time, ultimately increase my chances of success in real life.
In addition to being more adaptable in the face of change, games also provide a place for me to improve upon some of my other deficiencies. One such is my difficulty in attacking others or engaging in conflict. I imagine this is a somewhat common problem for a lot of people. I find that I am far too cautious in communicating effectively with my wife because I fear that I may upset her, which is silly because she is not a fragile person. I definitely know that I would be very likely to not stand up for someone/something that needed defending in the heat of the moment. These are some of my weaknesses, but once again, board games become a help.
I'm reminded of a recent game of 2-player Endeavor (we use the Faster, Friendlier 2-Player Endeavor variant). About 2/3rds the way through the game, I had done some light attacking in Europe that hadn't impacted her standing that much, and we had mostly stayed out of each others' way. It became clear to me that I needed to use my Docks to finish off her dominated shipping track in the Far East so that I could get control of a crucial city in that region. Yeah she would get the governor, but I really needed one of those cities. Not only would I gain some points but it would reduce her potential there greatly. I had to make a decision: would I be a coward and not attack her because I didn't want to offend, or would I launch in and take what was rightfully mine to take?
She's a big girl and knows we are playing to win, so I took a chance and dove in. It was a little difficult to do, but I trusted that she thought enough of me to take it in stride. I went for it. After that one play, though, I backed right out because after that initial play, the point gains weren't worth it to ignore my other areas. Anyway, she was a little disappointed in the event of the attack, but got over it quickly. It ended up being a close game, and we both really enjoyed it, in a little part because of the increased tension.
All in all, it really wasn't that big of a deal, but it did mean that, in that moment, I was able to overcome my deeply-ingrained, flawed mindset of conflict/confrontation = bad. As I've continued to engage in appropriate conflict in games, I've noticed it getting easier for me to do this in our games AND in real life, and that's awesome. Also, it's important to remember that I also didn't take the conflict too far and knew when to back off. Besides, I wasn't going to fall victim "to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is to never get involved in a land war in Asia." Thank goodness my wife isn't a Sicilian!
Thank You! Wow. I have to say that I'm surprised by the feedback I got from my first post. Firstly, thanks for all the support. Secondly, thanks for all the awesome comments. They have definitely fueled my brain storm for things to talk about in this space.
Ok, someone mentioned in the comments the idea that eurogames with less interaction might be easier for those with social anxiety (SA). I'm going to do a two-parter on this. This post will deal with structure/randomness and the next, conflict/non-conflict.
This Eurogame is So Predictable! Eurogames are awesome. You can never fault a good one with an unlucky draw/roll/whatever because it plays under the assumption that you should have planned for such an event. You take on the role of fortune teller as your brain processes all the possible combinations of future plays by you and your opponent. As you make your moves, you see how it impacts that forecast and adjust dynamically to it, fine-tuning your master scheme. Euros are like a good friend that you can trust to behave a certain way and never change.
This is awesome for my anxiety (not necessarily social) because I constantly struggle with adapting to changing conditions. I don't handle abrupt changes well, though I am trying to improve that. For example, last night we were going to play a game after my son went to bed, and as I was giving him a bath, I saw my wife pull out the laundry to fold it. Illogically, my mind just snapped into super-anxious mode. One moment I was easy-going husband/dad, and the next I was irritable, moody husband/dad. It took me a bit to understand why, but I figured it out. I saw what appeared to be an abrupt change in our schedule for the night (from fun to boring), and I didn't deal with it properly. I sorted it out in short order and became chill again, but it was a good example of how I respond to such things. Anyway, euros generally avoid such jarring changes and are just predictable enough that you don't feel like it snuck up on you.
Deputy Dingbat is a Weapons Klepto I take no stance in the eurogames vs. ameritrash battlefield. I own plenty of both and enjoy them all. Their effect on SA, however, have been quite different for me. Let's use our game of Arkham Horror from this last Saturday night as an example. Picture with me, if you will, a menacing Hastur looming in the shadows, making gates almost impossible to seal with his appalling requirement of eight clue tokens to seal gates. As we were out and about amassing our wealth of knowledge, the gates became too numerous too quickly, and Hastur burst forth in glorious terror that...oh wait, no he didn't because the terror level made his modifier a measley -1, and we dispatched him in short order.
Ok, I got carried away, let's back up to the beginning. One of my investigators was Bob Jenkins, the salesman. He started out with enough weapons to give him +7 in both the physical and magical spheres. He was destined for monster-slaying greatness and would be spoken of with reverence for generations to come. That would be if he hadn't spent the entire game in the smurfing police station. Arrested after exiting the train in Dunwich, encounter after encounter prevented him from leaving that damned building! Deputy Dingby (though after a few rounds, I required that we only call him by his true name, Deputy Dingbat) seemed to be the cause of all these setbacks. It all culminated in an encounter that had Dingbat strip Bob of ALL his weapons.
Sad story, right? Appropos to the environment. Chaos and all that. Despite knowing that, I lost it for a bit. I became irritable, moody husband again that was about to ruin the game with his moping. After about a round of this, I was able to see it for what it was and move on, laughing at my expense and pronouncing curses upon the Dingbat and his children. I didn't let it control me, and I had a small victory. It also helped that my other character the death-trumpet wielding Jim Culver was an Elder-God destroying machine.
Trial Runs So, yeah, it seems that ameritrash games can sometimes lack that safe setting that euros provide. I don't believe it though. If I wanted to always be coddled and not grow and progress, then that might be the case. But I do want to learn and grow, so games like Arkham Horror have a definite benefit because they provide controlled trial runs at unexpected situations in social settings. They are small-scale enough that I can have success on a regular basis. Arkham Horror is actually a really good example because I guarantee that same scenario would have ruined the game for me 20 plays ago. I'm getting better at it!
I know that example probably seems silly to many of you or incredibly childish, but I consider it a point of growth. Yeah, it's just a board game. Not really that big of a deal because it doesn't directly affect real life. Still, when you struggle with something at such a base level, you take any improvement you can get. If I can formulate it so that I can make that improvement on a regular basis as I game throughout the week, then yes, it becomes a significant benefit.
So, yeah, to the original commenter, I see euros as a really comfortable environment, but ameritrash definitely has its place as well.
Warning: this is a large wall of text. I promise future entries will not be this long!
Introduction Since this is my inaugural post, I should probably tell a little about myself. I started into boardgaming a few years ago after reading a blog post from my friend about this crazy night they had fighting off great horrors from other worlds in a game called Arkham Horror. I knew I had to play that game. After googling it and ending up here, I started my foray into this vast cardboard universe.
I wasn't sure my wife would be that into Arkham Horror (oh how wrong I was as I found out later that year), but I did think the cooperative scene might go over well. What better than Lord of the Rings, one of our favorite book/movie series? Since then it's been a constant trickle of new games into our closet, including three games from the Cthulhu Mythos, our very favorite. We are now up to twenty "designer" games which would not count your standard chess, Pictionary, etc. All of them get regular play, and I don't foresee the collection growth slowing down.
Getting Out of the House At some point in 2009, it became clear that even though we enjoyed our two-player gaming quite a bit, I wanted to have exposure to 3, 4, and more player games. We would invite friends (the few we have) over for a play of Pandemic or Ticket to Ride, but these were few and far between. I then found out about the main local gaming club. Wow, here were 15-20 people that got together on a monthly basis; I knew I needed to go. My wife and I showed up at one late 2009, and it was a lot of fun. We played some Stone Age, Small World and Last Night on Earth with tons of people and had a lot of fun.
Trouble was, we didn't go back, and I wasn't sure why for a long time. Starting in the beginning of 2010, I assumed a new assignment in church that not only required a lot more of my time (10 hours a week), but had me being responsible for leading a group of people and interacting with new people all the time. It was very quickly after I started this assignment that I felt the effects of social anxiety in a dramatic way.
Learning the Hard Way Through almost all of 2010, I would go through dramatic mood swings week-in and week-out. I would get really stressed out and depressed towards the weekends, but once Sunday was over, I would climb out of that valley quite rapidly. I knew this roller-coaster ride was due to my church assignment, but I assumed it was normal for being new at it. I told myself it would eventually go away. Surprise, surprise, it didn't. My wife and son both suffered the effects of this as I wasn't very dependable for much of anything, and I definitely was giving them the love and attention they needed. I certainly wasn't doing my church assignment well. Less importantly, I wasn't enjoying board games as much either.
Around the end of summer of 2010, I finally figured out that my problems were due to some anxiety disorders including social anxiety. I was dreading my social interactions that were inevitable with my assignment every week, and those anxieties would then trigger the panic attacks and depression. I also heard that a way to overcome those anxieties was to confront them in a setting that was enjoyable to me, like board games. In September 2010, I decided to go back to the local game group.
It was a train wreck for me. I'm pretty sure no one there noticed me being weird or anything, but I had a hard time dealing with it. I obsessed the entire week before it going over and over and over how I would behave, talk, look, etc. The night of the event, I was physically ill on my way over there. Once I got there and got playing some games, I was ok. Unfortunately, after I left, I couldn't stop thinking about everything I had done wrong in talking to people, how I looked, etc. I couldn't think about anything else for the next week. Despite that, I tried again the next month to worse effect because it was at someone else's house where I was even more uncomfortable (not his fault! all my own!).
The Way Back Up This was pretty much my low point. It was here that I knew I needed to change some things and get help. Professional help was out of the question because all our money was going to be put into a likely brain surgery on my wife for quite a while. So, I went to one of my church leaders and asked to be released from my assignment. It was not the right thing for me or the people I worked with. It wasn't right for my family. Once my church was able to find my replacement around the New Year, I felt like a new man. My relationship with my wife is doing much better. I still get really stressed out by all sorts of small, stupid things because it's not just social anxiety that I deal with. It's ok though because we are both much more aware of what's going on with me; we just roll with the punches now.
Ok, so that's basically who I am and where I'm at right now. I'm going to use this space to detail my efforts to expand my gaming beyond my 2-player games with my wife. I feel like this is the right direction for me to overcome the social horrors that I've had a hard time escaping. I love board games, and I want to play them with lots of different people. I just need to figure out how to acclimatize myself without being overwhelmed. Wish me luck!