With yesterday’s look a emotional reaction to character death in gaming, it seemed like a good moment to touch on other sorts of moments triggering similar psychological reactions. From character build breakdowns and the completion of a campaign arc, many aspects of play can lead to unexpected loss reactions.
Unexpected Loss Reactions in Gaming
Building a campaign with our friends can and should be an amazing, fun and rewarding experience. Yet often players and GMs are surprised by negative emotions that arise suddenly and intensely in games. Many of these situations mirror the same patterns of loss we saw in character death. Consider:
Deaths That Aren’t Dying
- Campaign End – When the story ends for a lot of people, so does the character. This can be a tricky transition because to plan and prepare for a new game a group needs to telegraph the end point of the current game. The interjection of the loss reaction into the end of existing game can result in pre-mature mourning of the current play experience and toxify the player against the new campaign as that they haven’t processed negative reactions to the current game’s end.
- Campaign Rejection/”World Death” – When a GM has planned an elaborate campaign in relative secrecy and they fail to acheive “buy in” from players they can experience what has been called “World Death.” This occurs when their setting (developed in a manner similar to a vacuum build) has failed to account for their players and suffers a broad-scale rejection. This in turn causes the GM to lose interest in her or his own creation and collapses the setting.
- Rules Clarification – A player who misunderstood or interpreted rules differently can experience a loss reaction when, after clarification, their character “breaks” or fails to achieve the end or play experience they had visualized for it. Often the player is expected to maintain the character for plot reasons while withdrawing from its reality, creating a sort of “living death” for the player and character.
- Eclipse – New content or new players can occasionally give an established player the sensation that they have been surpassed (in terms of damage dealt, skill at role-playing, or any number of other things). This feeling can in turn lead to the sensation of obsolescence and key into underpinnings of mortality and loss.
- Roleplaying Incongruity/Story Rejection – Sometimes a character doesn’t fit the nature of a party of PCs and the lack of common ground or ill-fitted creation process leaves the character too far in the fringes of the story. The too-righteous paladin or too-grim antihero both commonly experience this ejection from the larger body of the story.
Being aware of these potential loss reactions in a game might make sense of irrational and overly strong emotional reactions. Recognize how much the other players feelings might reach into their games and be ready to offer reasonable support when things suddenly drop off for them. Games will run smoother for the effort.