Prep To Play

As many readers and listeners will know, I have a diagnosis for social anxiety. On the surface, it might seem a little odd that a person with anxieties around social interaction would record a podcast and run games for groups of people both online and face-to-face. Why would a socially anxious person become a teacher?

Well, let’s begin with this: when I am in the moment of teaching, gaming, or recording there is no anxiety.

The action, of beginning and working through the process, is how I have learned to manage the anxieties that I experience. That the cure for the fear is to focus on the process and action rather than the outcomes or people’s opinions.

Today, I am playing in a game. Over the past few months, I have evolved a process for preparing myself to play and then actually turning up to do the playing. Maybe it’ll help other roleplayers out there overcome their own social anxieties if I share it.

Prepping To Play

Before the game, you need to prepare. I have a different process for GMing (a whole other post, if anyone is interested), but this is my one for prepping to play with a player character.

The key to unlocking the social anxiety and moving away from self-focus and environment-focus – that is from either being aware of your feelings and experience or looking for threats in the environment – is to focus on the process of playing in the game.

Usually you are alone when you prep. Begin with practicing attention – for me, this is meditation. Just a minute or two is enough to bring focus to the moment. This present time. The temptation is to project forward into what the game will look like, feel like, what people will think. But the trick is to come back to now, the present moment, and do the prep.

For the prep, I have a process. Whatever your process is, that’s the best thing to focus on if you are socially anxious.

As a player:

  • Do I have my character sheet?
  • Is everything all ready to play? (Dice, sheet, Roll20, pencil, whatever)
  • Do I know and remember all the stuff on my sheet?
  • Re-read my character notes.
  • Refresh memory of my character’s goals and motivations.
  • Get ready to inhabit the character at the table.

This is best done just prior to play if possible.

I have begun to realise that, as a player, I don’t really need to know the rules unless the focus of the game – the particular game style in play – is focused on the rules. For example, playing Pathfinder or D&D 5e, it’s useful to know enough of the rules to be able to deploy the specific abilities or powers your character has on the sheet. But I don’t need more than that. I don’t need to be an expert on the rules.

Sometimes, with a generous GM, you don’t even need to learn the rules at all and are allowed to learn as you play. This is my preference.

The process focuses me on preparation. It’s a discipline. I show up, sit down, and do the prep. What will the others at the table think? Well, I can’t know that. What do I think? If I think it’s a pretty cool character concept and I did my best to build them, to inhabit their perspective, then that’s good enough.

Game on!


  1. This chimed with me so thanks for sharing. I suffer from social anxiety too and have done since the middle of primary school (I was very confident up until P4). It was only a few years ago that I realised that this anxiety is associated with non-task-based situations. At work I am not anxious at all, even in the social side of work. This also extends to being asked about subjects that I know quite a lot about where I will happily share opinions and insight in front of an audience.

    However at all other times, even sitting in a cinema or restaurant I am deeply uncomfortable and feel as if I am being watch and judged. I have to really steel myself beforehand to do these things and it really takes it out of me to maintain a calm.

    With this last 2y of working from home and my wife also wfh too she says that she sees a completely different me when it is work.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I can totally relate to this. Whether I am at work or acting as a GM in one of my games, there is no sign of my anxiety whatsoever. However, walking from my car to the mall or going to get my haircut (back when I still had hair) and suddenly I am totally uncomfortable and feeling like everyone is watching my every move.

    Liked by 1 person

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