A very short post about lone wolves

My buddy Jay and I were speculating (well, dishing, complaining, bemoaning) on the Slack today about what it is that leads a player to be a lone wolf at the table. I’m not even sure this is an “indie” or storygame topic so much as a fact of life at many tables. Without even a faint hint of snark, here are some ideas that came to mind:

1) Desire to not have to share spotlight

I can kind of get this because I love spotlight time, but structurally privileging your own spotlight time is a dick move. Come on.

2) No interest or capacity for interpersonal scenes

There may be legit damage here, yeah? “No interest” is antisocial but “no capacity” might be a scenario too. Or it’s rooted into simpler “why I like to play” stuff, which has nothing to do with chitchat and “fluff” (barf) and everything to do with beating the game.

Yeahhhh. Not at my tables please.

3) Fear of rejection at the table

I have the most legitimate sympathy for this one, and as I was typing it out memories of exactly this thing happening crept up on me. Creative or interpersonal rejection sucks, yeah? And it’s a very nice aspiration to play only with friends who love and respect you. But we’re not all wired to give or receive those things. I’ve disinvited players for just that, after lots of talk and struggling and unpleasantness. Therapy is for therapists.

I have an even greater sympathy for this scenario in convention spaces. Safety tools don’t even begin to address the underlying fear. Some, like the X card, might be seen as facilitating rejection. Not that it’s really ever used that way, but I know that the X-Card haters bring this up as a big argument against it.

4) Fear of having fictional stuff threatened: family, friends, social connections

Yeah. There are shitty GMs out there. Sorry that happened to you. I have no idea what to say to that other than “play with different folks” and/or “flag the shit out of this as a no-go zone.”

5) Bad nerd wiring about “heroism”

Lots of really misguided ideas out there in nerdland. It’s coming in from games (rpg, board, video), from many kinds of genre fiction, or just plain lack of critical evaluation of heroic fiction. If all you’ve watched is John Wick, you know, you might want to expand your horizons.

6) Internal fantasy space about the nobility of the misunderstood loner

This one has hit home a few times in my own life. I wish I had a better grasp of exactly what the arc of the misunderstood loner was supposed to look like, because that might be a legitimately interesting thing to explore. I really dig the feels-forward playbooks in games like Monsterhearts and Masks that get at that. But in both those games, the holding environment of the game jams you up against not-loners. The character concept only works in the context of a broader community.

7) Missing some empathy circuit or gamer training that identifies people as enmeshed with communities

This is at the very edge of one of my darker theories about what’s wrong with (bad) gamers. I won’t get into it now. But: if you literally have never thought about who raised your character, who their friends are, who their rivals are, who they’ve loved, who they’ve lost…that’s weird, okay? At the very least, it means you have no interest at all in engaging with the fiction as anything beyond a tactical game. (I don’t care who my Grim Dawn character has slept with, either.) Which leads me to a more charitable take on a similar speculation:

8) Inability to engage with the game space as “fiction” and/or a preference to engage with the game space as “where the game happens”

I get it. I do. I think inability and preference are two different things on the inside of your skull, but on the outside they kind of play out the same. Happily the most popular RPGs in the world work quite well in this mode!

2 thoughts on “A very short post about lone wolves

  1. It’s certainly not my default style, but I know as an LGBTQ person I have sometimes been pushed towards lonewolfism by GMs and players pushing on 3 and 4. Although in my experience the “fear of” can often be based on previous or current experience.

    1. Being pushed into a lone-wolf position is a super interesting point and I hadn’t considered it. Thank you for sharing it. I know I’ve had players who have complained of this happening — it was the source of a big blowup at the end of the year, even — but neither they nor I can really tell where the outside push-away starts and their own withdrawal ends. Totally not suggesting this is imagined behavior! I just don’t know how to diagnose it if it’s something I’d want to fix.

      In our specific case, we just took a month off, debriefed a couple times, started playing again.

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