I believe that gaming helps me to connect to meaningful experiences with others. Thus, social gaming is important to me – vital, even. Without regular gaming either as GM (my preference) or as a Player, I would become isolated and all the depression factors would rocket.
Work in the modern world is deeply isolating – we all have our targets and goals; we are often pitched in competition to one another; we are permitted limited social interaction time with colleagues; we live inside strictly enforced social parameters that deter meaningful relationships; we are contracted to work many hours and usually expected to work longer. For me, this is deeply isolating. And I can’t usually risk being very open with anyone about who I really am. Being a free-thinking liberal with a religious faith and weird hobby is not good for one’s career prospects in 21st century conservative (small c), secular, pragmatic, utilitarian Britain.
Gaming helps me to connect to meaningful experiences with fellow gamers. It also allows me to explore alternative ideas. As a teenager, I used gaming to try on other elements of my identity and – by extension – realised that, very largely, we become in real life what we show other people through our actions and speech. Roleplaying allowed me to explore alternative realities. It encouraged creative thinking. Ultimately, it led me to imagine my way into ancient stories and ways of thinking that are very different from standard modern and post-modern assumptions. Gaming led me to faith, ironically.
But solo play lets me do what I want to do, without risk.
Playing alone, I can play the games I want to play in the way that I want to play them. Despite the accusation that this is both selfish and narcissistic, I think the opposite is true: selfish is forcing your take on gaming on other people, especially when they are not really wanting to play that way; narcissism is believing that your self-image is the proper source of gratification.
Playing alone means there is no audience. No critics and no praise. You can do what you want, how you want. Sure, there are plenty of people with recipes for how to play solo – some of those recipes will work for you too – but in reality how you play is something you have to figure out for yourself.
Playing alone on Sundays has been liberating and deeply rewarding. I use the time in three ways:
- to try out and learn a game;
- to revisit games I have previously enjoyed;
- to experiment with new elements or approaches to play.
I aspire to run a long-term campaign solo, but that is probably a long way off for me. In truth, I enjoy the single session sat alone doing something that is pleasant and relaxing.
I roll up or design characters. Rolling up involves dice and is therefore fun. Design is an intellectual exploration of a new game.
I run combats. Whether a wargame, a skirmish game, or a roleplaying game, I enjoy a good battle. It’s cathartic. It blows off steam. It makes me laugh. And I always win. Ha!
Sometimes I switch into building something in GM mode: a new world gets mapped, or a scene gets imagined, or I design something for an imagined world. But it’s never stuff for a game I am running with people. It’s about noodling with ideas that don’t require the approval of others.
And then, of course, sometimes I do actually play solo. My tools of choice include the Mythic GM Emulator Deck – usually used as a simple oracle tool, but sometimes deployed as a narrative-shaping methodology as originally conceived by Tana Pigeon, the Mythic system’s creator.
I also enjoy The GameMaster’s Apprentice Decks from Larcenous Designs, which provide a variety of tools from a simple oracle tool through to descriptive elements. The Base Deck is very widely applicable and the Fantasy, Horror, or SF decks add spice. There are also Demon Hunter, Age of Sail, and Steampunk decks out there too.
But other than that, I quite like just picking a game I am curious about and starting a new story. Playing to find out what happens. Playing to explore the world and characters I create. Freely imagined roleplaying without the expectations of other players.
Of course, Kenny Norris (the person who led me to solo play) recommends you do record your play and he is right to do so. But, and this is very recent learning, I have realised that there is a difference between recording your play session – whether scribbled notes or an audio recording, the former being my preference – and then choosing to share that session with the wider world.
The benefit of sharing is that you can inspire others and receive feedback – sometimes this is good for me. The benefit of privacy is that I am free to play however I want. Lately, I am choosing to enjoy my time alone in private… but sharing can always come later if you have something you feel the desire to explore socially.
Solo sessions have improved my well-being hugely. I am able to step outside my week and escape into play. I can return to reality recharged and refuelled by solace. I can let my creativity roam wherever I like, without fear of judgement from the outside world.
When you get to play alone, you can explore the games you want to. Maybe it’s an old favourite. Maybe it’s the latest release. Whatever. You can roll up or design characters, play out scenes, run combats, or play in extended multi-session adventures. And you can do it all alone.
For me, it’s a much needed step towards playing with others.
This is an excerpt from the podcast episode Solo Sundays (Season 9, Episode 3) released on 19th June 2021.