Psychologists reckon that about 7% of human communication comes from the actual words we say. The remainder is supposed to be mostly body language and tone of voice. I am sure this is a radical over-simplification but it perhaps helps explain why I get so anxious dealing with players between-sessions.
Anxiety is, at the heart of it, a response to uncertainty. I am the type of human being who is highly sensitive to uncertainty. I can detect uncertain moments almost subconsciously. It’s like having a radar for stuff that’s not very clear, anything ambiguous, and everything vague. Including this post.
Because roleplaying games involve other people, they are inherently filled with uncertainty. How will the other people behave? What characters will they create? How will they respond to the situations you present? What will the dice results generate during play? And so on.
On one level, it’s a nightmare and I should avoid RPGs like the plague. But, of course, RPGs are highly enjoyable because they involve my friends. I like friends and hanging out playing these games is loads of fun.
Being in charge is even worse because it triggers my social anxiety. That is, my imagined self-image is problematic because I often get worried about the uncertainties around how other people view me.
How are they judging me in this situation? What do they think? As much as I might like to believe I can mind-read and predict my friend’s thoughts and feelings, the truth is that I can’t. Thus, uncertainty. Therefore, anxiety.
I have noticed that in the post-pandemic world of roleplaying, where we game almost-exclusively online, this is worse. My theory is that anxiety between-sessions is worse because most of it is conducted via email, Discord, and text using only words. The same words that are only 7% of human communication.
Words without tone or body language are limited. That’s probably why the emoji got invented, a poor substitute for body language but what we currently have. Limited to just interpreting the words, my highly sensitive uncertainty radar goes haywire. I read all sorts of tones and meanings into the words I read. This triggers anxiety which, in turn, tempts me to go hide.
The best solution I have found has been the Zoom call with cameras on. This gives me some of the body language (the face, at least), the tone of voice, and the words. It’s not like being in the room but it is better. Well, as long as I turn off my camera’s self-view and avoid triggering my social anxiety about how I look.
Between-session anxiety is a thing I struggle with. The best counter is to have a chat with the players, either one-to-one or in small groups. Even better is when we use cameras. I don’t know if that’s helpful to anyone else, but you are still going to judge this post either way.