When Rules Contradict

Yesterday, I read a couple of apparent contradictions or miscommunications in the RuneQuest Glorantha rulebook. No, this isn’t about those contradictions per se: I want to talk about how it triggered my anxiety.

Regular readers / listeners will know that I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety last year. I have recovered from the intense crisis (in the original Greek sense) and slowly learning to unwind that anxiety. But let’s get to the point.

When I come across an apparent rules contradiction or mistake, I don’t react by thinking how easy it is for the author – as a human being – to make a mistake and then set about resolving how I would like to handle it in play. No. My anxiety is triggered in three ways:

  1. I assume I must be misreading or misunderstanding the text – i.e. my internal “I am incompetent” switch gets flicked.
  2. Once I recognise that, no, I am reading it correctly and there is a contradiction then I immediately feel let down and even angry… and then begins the worry about how to fix it. Uncertainty is detected and I worry (that’s the GAD).
  3. Why worry? Because once the GAD is triggered, the social anxiety kicks in when I start thinking about how my players will react to this problem. I worry that the solution – the ruling – I make won’t be acceptable.

This is enough to spiral me into not wanting to play. It’s enough to send me into a mental tail spin. It’s very unpleasant to experience.

  • Trigger: Detect an inconsistency / mistake / contradiction in a rulebook.
  • Behaviour: Double check it and then start to worry about how I should fix it; worry about how others in the group will react.
  • Result: Feel more anxious; not want to play anymore; feel angry at the author; lose sleep; spend a lot of time agonising over how to fix it and explain it to people.

But this is my internal, imagined problem. I am unjustly angry and emotionally reacting. It’s not logical, nor is it fair. It’s my experience.

It’s also why I think I dislike the mantra of, “Rulings not Rules”: I would prefer a nice, solid, dependable rule. If I have to make a ruling, I want to write it down so that I can consistently apply it next time. I want to make the ruling into a new rule.

This reveals (at least) two beliefs I have about the rules:

  1. Rules should be internally consistent and be applied consistently.
  2. Having to make rulings is a failure of the rules.

That said, I can recognise the flaws in those beliefs… but they exist in me nonetheless. I am writing this out by way of exposing these ideas to myself as much as to share them with you.

What shall I do with these realisations? For one, I am going to try and notice those reactions to rules inconsistencies and note when they appear. Secondly, I am going to try and develop some cognitive experiments to challenge the two beliefs I have unearthed.

For now, though, I hope that this helps someone else out there… somehow.

Game on!

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