Most people who know me would call me shy. I’m also a writer who loves a good story, so when I first stumbled on the video game Dragon Age: Origins several years ago, I fell in love with how immersive the storytelling was. I was used to reading stories or watching them unfold on movie screens, but in a video game, you’re in the story. You create a character and make decisions that affect what happens next. It’s an interactive experience.
As a shy person, role-playing video games became a passion after that. I could become anyone I wanted in the game. That this was a solitary hobby was a good thing, because it filled up my free time when I wasn’t at work or with my family and close friends. I need alone time like that.
My love of video games soon led me to a job writing video game manuals and working on marketing material for games. One of the most fun parts of the job, early on, was that I was working with a bunch of other geeky people for the first time, and it wasn’t long before they invited me to a board game night. Though I didn’t know my coworkers well yet, it proved to be the perfect place to get to know people in a low-pressure setting.
For me, there’s hanging out with people I already know, and then there’s Socializing—capital “S”—smalltalk kind of Socializing. I’m the type of introvert who tends to feign extraversion in new settings, but it wears me out fast. However, with a board game on the table, there’s an instant conversation topic. The game steals all the attention. Going over rules, laughing about people’s moves, and discussing what to do next makes it easy to be social without having to think up things to chat about nonstop.
Since then, I have attended many board game nights and suggested a few myself. My coworkers and I even played at lunchtime for weeks on end. With board games, being shy didn’t stop me from being able to actively participate in the social experience of hanging out with new friends.
Many months later, one coworker decided to start a Dungeons & Dragons group. I had never played D&D. All I knew was that it was a role-playing adventure game that requires people to create characters for themselves and act out stories together. Given how much I enjoyed role-playing video games like Dragon Age, I decided this was a perfect way to do something similar in a more social setting. It was like a board game night, but with an RPG flair.
I printed off some materials that taught me the basics of how to play. I created my character, giving her a rebellious runaway backstory and a sweet-but-sly personality. The first couple nights were fun, as the D&D group went around the table, sharing their characters and learning the intricacies of the game together. (There are a lot of stats involved!)
By my third or fourth week of playing, the group was heavily into role-playing. The Dungeon Master (DM), who writes the stories that inspire our group interactions, created an amazing fantasy world with a mystery-of-the-week structure. While I enjoyed it, I also found myself feeling nervous when my turn was coming up. Rolling dice was one thing—even choosing an action in combat was fine—but thinking on my feet proved challenging.
What I learned very quickly is that D&D is basically improv. Situations can change in an instant based on how everyone else plays, so there’s no predictability. When I write stories or play video games, I can take my time, assessing options and making a careful decision. In D&D, you don’t have that kind of solitude or time to think.
As an example, the DM once took me aside because my character was going to encounter a band of warriors away from the rest of the group. Were these warriors friends or foes? Could I inspire them to help us, or should I just kill them? I was nervous, because nobody else in the D&D group was there to help me, but my decision could affect everyone. If I’d had time to think of an interesting response, it might have been more fun, but I had less than a minute to make a choice. I bumbled around in a rather boring fashion, and afterwards I wondered if other people in my D&D group would have thought of something more daring or funny.
After about two months playing D&D, I decided it was time to say goodbye. Though I’m glad I gave it a try, in the process of playing several times, I learned that group improvisation is not my strong suit. It’s outside my comfort zone to the point where it’s not fun for me. And that’s okay.
I was still playing video games in my spare time, but any type of multiplayer that had me playing online with other people made me clam up. Competitive modes didn’t appeal to me at all, while cooperative modes instantly brought out my shyness. I tried playing Mass Effect 3’s online cooperative multiplayer, but being in a public space with other players made me forget all my gaming skills. It might be silly, but I felt on display there. The social component—even as I sat by myself at home with no headset to chat with other players—was not that fun for me. It’s not why I play video games.
But about a year ago I started playing Halo couch co-op for the first time. I’d always wanted to finish a Halo game, and playing with someone I knew well who was an avid fan helped me through the experience. (I don’t play a lot of shooter video games, which is what Halo is!) Because I was at home with someone I cared about, the experience was less intimidating. Couch co-op is a great way to experience a video game with someone else, working together to take down enemies and complete objectives.
My co-op partner and I went on to play other games together cooperatively, including Destiny. We even tried the competitive modes together. These pit players against each other, which can be daunting at first. When the opponents are other players rather than computer-generated, predictability goes out the window.
At first, losses felt demoralizing. I didn’t know what I was doing, which didn’t make me feel good. (Again, that’s not why I play video games!) But my partner reassured me that we just had to learn our way around and strategize together. Eventually, we started winning matches. Sharing the wins as well as the losses with someone I know personally felt truly rewarding. While competitive modes may never be my favorite, the cooperative side of them—playing with a friend—is.
Through all of these games, I’ve learned more about my personal brand of shyness. Introversion is not something I’m going to overcome, and I don’t view it as a flaw—it’s just my personality. As long as I continue to take chances, meet new people, and try new things, I don’t feel like I need to apologize for being introverted, for needing time to myself, or for deciding that the improv element of D&D is ultimately not for me. Playing games with others has helped me explore the social side of my life in exciting ways.
At the end of the day, there’s still nothing better to me than sitting down, all by myself, and starting up a video game that will take me somewhere new.