Be Nice, Roll Dice: Tips For Dealing With Social Anxiety At The Game Table

When I was asked to contribute to the Goonhammer team, I was very excited. As a Warhammer 40k, Age of Sigmar, and Necromunda fan, Goonhammer has been one of my main sources for information. I had reservations however. I have no real gaming expertise: I am the world’s okayest hobbyist. You might be asking, “Why did they ask you then?” Well, as a creator, I make content related to making wargaming a nicer place for everyone. These articles will seek to further that goal.

One of the most enjoyable parts of Warhammer, and tabletop games in general is the social aspect of meeting face-to-face to roll dice and move models across the board. With that can come a lot of stress for some folks. Social anxiety is an elephant in the game room. I personally have worked through (and continue to work through) what was once crippling social anxiety. I do this work quite openly, in the hopes of inspiring others to come to the game table and not let anxiety hold them back. This process has brought many people into my life who have shared stories of their own struggles. It shows me that social anxiety is a more common presence in the lives of wargamers than I originally thought when I first found this hobby.

Facing my anxieties has allowed me to truly enjoy life and experience all aspects of wargaming. Here is my story.

Back in my first early steps into Warhammer 40000 I had a series of very negative, misogynistic confrontations with people on the internet. Having mild social anxiety to begin with, these interactions, being my first encounters with other hobbyists, made me feel that this attitude was what I would encounter at the game store as well. It made me extremely self-conscious at the game table, and eventually led to feelings of panic. I would only play with a handful of close friends and my husband, and only in my own home. Going to a game store was extremely uncomfortable and I really only went there to get exactly what I wanted and then I would leave. There would be no socializing, and certainly no gaming.

Fast forward six years and a local Facebook group was created and it was filled with kind people who supported each other. I started to feel more comfortable sharing my hobby, but still couldn’t play. With the encouragement of my friend Alex I decided to face my anxiety and join the community at game night. Now game night is one of my favourite times of the week, and I play in tournaments, and I have made some amazing friends. The process to get here was messy and uncomfortable but in the end it was worth it. If you are also having trouble getting to the table I have compiled a list of tips to get you there too.

This is me quietly struggling through anxiety at my first tournament ever. Photo courtesy of Brody Mader.

 1. Join an online space for you local group

Almost every local area will have an online space for gamers to share their hobby progress, talk shop and find games. If your local area doesn’t have a space like this then I encourage you to start one. These spaces often give you an idea of how healthy the local community is. Lots of encouraging comments and friendly banter are usually indicative of the community as a whole. Once you are in, take a look at the commenters: the most active and supportive users as well as moderators are usually the best folks to meet at the table. I like to call them community builders, and they will support you in your goal to get to the table. Reach out and introduce yourself digitally. This is the start of your support network and this network will be very helpful in your quest to beat your anxiety.

2. Walk through your local store

Don’t just go in to buy something and leave; this visit is for a purpose. When you get there, pay close attention to how you are greeted. Do the staff smile and make you feel welcome? If people are playing, make a note of their general mood. The atmosphere of the store can sometimes tell you  a lot about the health of your local wargaming scene. (For the more settled and experienced wargamers among us: this is why it is important for all wargamers to take ownership of their gaming spaces: you never know who might be watching. Greet other folks who may stop to watch a game including family members or friends who are just tagging along). If you feel good in a particular store, or with a particular staff member, ask if they can suggest a kind and supportive wargamer to help you transition into the group. If you will be playing your first game with this person, be sure to mention it. Most store staff want you to have a great time, and will know just the right person to ensure this happens.

3. Break it down into smaller steps

For some, just walking into a game store seems like it is too much to handle. By breaking it down into smaller and more manageable steps you can train your brain to stay out of “fight or flight” mode. The first step, in this case, might be to go the store location and just sit in the parking lot. You don’t have to go in right now, but you could if you are feeling up to it. Next time you might go inside, just to take a few steps in and then leave. Nothing bad happened, so maybe next time you walk around a bit, or buy something, or say hello to the staff. Eventually you will get more comfortable and maybe then you could go and walk around at game night. This technique of breaking it down into manageable tasks is how I eventually gained the tools and confidence to start going to tournaments. It really does work. You can’t fail either: any time you push outside of the comfort zone towards the scary thing, whatever that is for you, you are one step closer to the goal of living your life on your terms. Every time you challenge that comfort zone the anxiety will have less of a hold on you.

4. Make friends

Everyone needs a support network, and my gaming friends have quickly become the foundation of mine. Many know all about my anxieties and offer advice. Some even offer a gentle push in order to keep me moving on the path to getting better (both at the game and healing my anxiety).The good thing about hobby friends is that they are so easy to make: you already have so much in common! Going to game night at the store offers so many opportunities to talk to many different people and some of them could be “your people.” These friends that make up your support network can help you integrate into the wider community, provide a person to support you and reassure you when you feel anxious, and give you a reason to stay and work through your anxiety instead of running away.

5. Gaming Aids

A lot of my anxiety, and the anxiety of folks who have reached out to me, is linked to looking unintelligent or playing too slowly at the game table. I counteract these feelings by employing a number of gaming aids. Gaming aids come in many forms and are different for everyone, but in their basic form they are any tangible thing that helps you play the game. For me, that is cue cards and a notebook. For others that might be tokens and spell cards. I make cue cards with spells, abilities and stats on them because I hate looking through a book or an app for information. I might not need the cards every time, but having them gives me peace of mind and takes a bit of pressure off of me. I keep a notebook so that I can make notes of what my opponents army does and what secondaries I took. Having a visual reminder makes me worry less about my oftentimes terrible memory. Sometimes anxiety is triggered by an overload of worry, so taking away even a small percentage of that worry brings you one step closer to relaxing at the table. Gaming aids also make you look super organized, which impresses people a lot: unintended bonus!

Obviously this list is not exhaustive; this is just a compilation of things that have worked for me. In the end, with social anxiety, you just have to try things to see what works for you. There is no wrong way of working through it. Don’t lose hope, because you can do this. There are many people out there who want to help and see you succeed: I’m one of them.

I hope to see you are the game table very soon.


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