“What do you need?” is a powerful question. It makes no assumptions about someone’s strengths or limitations. It commits you to nothing but opens to door to opportunities. It gives people with mental health issues the chance to participate comfortably in activities that might otherwise seem too intimidating.
It’s easier to ask for reasonable accommodations when you already know that someone is open to considering them, after all.
The fine folks at the Fear The Boot RPG Podcast recently sat down to talk about the tricky subject of mental health issues in tabletop gaming. Why tricky? On one hand, many of us in the tabletop RPG community have mental health issues — just like the video game community, and most other communities out there. On the other hand, tabletop RPGs have a huge focus on group dynamics, and can’t work if players can’t commit to coming together regularly at a set time and place — something that can be difficult when you’re dealing with social anxiety, panic disorders or other mental health issues.
So stigma thrives, and plenty of players are more than willing to chalk up their bad experiences to one member of their group being “crazy” or people having “issues.” But as Fear The Boot’s Brodeur, Chris, Dan and Wayne explain in this excellent 2-part podcast, it doesn’t have to be like that.
While some of them have been hosting an award-winning RPG podcast for the past decade, they’ve also been dealing with the ups and downs of depression, panic and anxiety. In part one of the podcast, they open up about their own mental health issues and how they’ve affected their lives in general. In part two, they dig into the ways those issues have impacted their gaming.
In the process, they discuss things that may be familiar to a lot of us, like the growing dread of knowing you need to go out to play the game that is, actually, your favorite hobby by far — and how little your love for the hobby matters in the face of anxiety. Or the feeling of loving the game but hating the downtime afterward, when you have nothing to do but dissect your own performance as a player or game master.
They also talk about the workarounds they’ve found as well as the ways that players and game masters can accommodate people with similar issues. That could mean making allowances for players who can’t comfortably commit to a set gaming schedule. It could mean using something like X-cards or lines and veils to give players the chance to easily communicate when something is crossing a line they can’t handle. Or, as the Fear The Boot hosts recommend, it could mean communicating openly, so everyone is aware that they can say when something is too much for them without fear of being mocked or kicked out of the group.
As they point out in the end, you can also use those four little words that make all the difference: “What do you need?” Playing a game with friends or strangers can be fraught for someone who is coping with mental health issues. Just knowing that you’re willing to listen and consider making reasonable accommodations can be enough to make a lot of players feel more welcome and better prepared to play.