First published 7/15/2002; last edited 1/10/2005
Recently someone suggested that I might adapt my "how to deal with writers' burnout" article to game masters (GMs) and players. Well, I've certainly dealt with roleplaying burnout before, so I thought, why not? Since I'm adapting an article that was originally meant for writers, I hope it will result in some unusual ways of looking at the problem. This article is aimed at the GMs and players who burn out - as well as those who game with them!
#1. Take a vacation
This one is obvious - take a short break. Take a week off and do something fun. Then, try taking a vacation not from roleplaying itself, but rather from the way you roleplay. This can take several forms.
If you're a GM, get someone else to GM for a week or two while you play for a change. If you're tired of playing then convince your group to let you try GMing for a week, or play an NPC so that there isn't as much pressure or need to concentrate. (Pick someone with a personality that suits what you're up to. Perhaps a flamboyant and witty NPC would rekindle your enthusiasm, or a chance to play the villain might be a fun change of pace!)
You could even try watching the game for a week rather than playing. If you're just tired of the character you're playing, then see if the GM will allow you to create a new one that you would enjoy more.
Try a new genre or style of gaming. Try diceless, or switch from fantasy to science fiction or SF to horror. Pick up something unusual like "Nobilis" or "Children of the Sun." Play something like "Paranoia" if you really need some fun!
How to help
If someone in your group is feeling burned out, don't push them to keep going. Let them know that you'd love to have them stay in the group, but don't make them feel as though they're under some sort of obligation to continue. If they want to try something new, then help them do that! If your GM wants a break then give GMing a try, even if it makes you nervous. Be open to trying a game the burned out person has always wanted to try. If you're the GM, allow a burned out player to try a new character that appeals to her.
#2. Exploration Of Self
Figure out what elements led to your burnout. Are you stressed at work? Are you unhappy in your relationship? Are your players or GM driving you nuts in some way? Then try to work on that issue. If you're unhappy with your life you're going to have trouble being happy in your hobbies as well, after all.
Most importantly, sit down with your gaming group and talk to them. Explain what the problem is and ask them to give you a hand. Have some concrete, constructive suggestions for small ways in which they might help you. If you're just too stressed right now to handle marathon all-night gaming sessions, for example, suggest a switch to a shorter and earlier time frame. If you find that Fridays are your most stressful day at work and therefore you're miserable after work on Fridays, then see if you can switch your game to a different day.
How to help
Do your best to accommodate these requests, or suggest other things that you believe might help. Most of all, don't add further stress to the burned out person's life! If there's something about the sort of roleplaying you do that bothers the person and you'd like him to continue in your gaming group, then try to figure out a way to make things easier on him.
#3. Take Care Of Yourself
If you're burning out, that's a good sign that you need to take better care of yourself, your energy level, and your enthusiasm.
If you just don't feel you have the energy to GM, then sit down and write out what all you do during your week that uses up your energy. Prioritize the list; write out why each activity matters to you. Reorder your life a bit so that you're putting your energy into the things you really want to do. If roleplaying is less important to you than other things, then maybe that's a sign that you need to find a way to do it that uses up less time and energy. If it's more important, then maybe that's a sign that you should stop doing some other activity that matters to you less.
If some members of the group are very critical and vocal with their criticism, you might feel as though it isn't worth putting time into GMing or playing. Talk to your group about the concept of constructive criticism. You may have to explain it a bit - many people incorrectly believe constructive criticism to be a process of ignoring problems or being dishonest. It isn't. Honesty is key to the concept of constructive feedback, which focuses on solutions and positive change rather than accusations and blaming. Encourage the members of your gaming group to clarify the problems they have, give specific examples of what bothers them without blaming and making accusations, and suggest solutions.
Remember that it's okay to screw up. Every GM and player makes mistakes, particularly in the heat of RPG combat and quick decision-making. Don't expect yourself to be perfect.
Remember also to relax. Roleplaying games are supposed to be fun! Try not to stress out so much over preparing the next run or doing everything exactly right during game.
How to help
Try to be less vicious with your criticism. Don't berate people for making mistakes - after all, if you're being honest with yourself then you should be admitting that you make mistakes too. Nicely explain why something bothers you and what you see the solution as being. Try not to pressure the GM or other players with respect to the amount of preparation they should be doing or the number of times that they do something you consider to be wrong. Relax, and let people have fun with their gaming experience!
#4. Exploration Of Roleplaying
Instead of just reading one game, read a variety of gaming material. If you can't afford to buy it then poke around on the web. Read new games, particularly ones that are wildly different from the ones you already play. (Even if you don't play them, they might give you interesting ideas that re-ignite your enthusiasm for roleplaying in general.)
Let your excitement be your guide. When something strikes you as really cool or neat, go with that! Check it out. Find more information on it. If possible, convince your GM or players to let you introduce it into the game (or start a new game based on it).
Play around. Experiment with plots, characters, rule systems, and so on. Perhaps you could convince your group to let you start up an experimental gaming run (instead of or in addition to your normal one). You could use it to try new games, play with unusual plots and material, and just generally fool around with things that seem like fun.
Find people who like to talk about roleplaying who have enthusiasm and a similar desire to play around with things. Have email conversations about neat roleplaying ideas. Chat with other players in your game about the neat things that have happened or that you think might happen in-game.
How to help
Give someone a chance to play with something new. Be open to trying unusual things. You can always alternate gaming runs if you don't want to give up your previous game.
#5. Roleplay For Yourself
Remember that roleplaying tends to be a very personal thing for many people. Play with characters that interest you. Explore themes in your games that interest you. While you should always take the rest of the group into account, also make sure that you aren't ignoring your own desires and needs. Enjoy yourself - that's the whole point of a game.
How to help
Remember yourself that roleplaying is a game. Don't put undue pressure on the GM or other players - let them have fun! Allow the GM or other players to play around a bit with things that interest them, even if you aren't entirely thrilled with what they like. (Besides, if you let them play with the things that interest them, then maybe they'll be willing to do the same thing for you when what you want doesn't interest the others.)
Figuring It All Out
If you're having trouble figuring out exactly why it is you're burned out, then take a page from writing traditions. Pick up a notebook and pen and start writing about your burnout. Use "free writing" - i.e., write quickly. Don't stop to think. In fact, don't think of it as writing - think of it as thinking on paper. Don't even worry about grammar or ending your sentences with periods. Set a timer for 5, 10, or 20 minutes and write through the whole time non-stop.
If you start to slow down and aren't sure what to say, just start writing about how you feel about being burned out, or about the fact that you aren't sure what to say. If you seem to be digressing onto a different subject, then go with that - it might be more related than you think. Most people find that this eventually leads to some surprising revelations as they write down things they just weren't expecting to say.
So there you have it. Much of this boils down to the idea that you need to take care of yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Play around and try new things. Pay attention to the rest of your life as well as your gaming life - the two aren't entirely divided and separate. Hopefully these ideas will help you if you're experiencing problems with roleplaying burnout.