I am an extroverted person. I am energized by social situations and find myself feeling bored and anxious if I have too much alone time. People who know me well would describe me as social, cheerful, and chatty. However, if we met for the first time that is not likely what you would experience. I struggle with an often gripping shyness.
Wait. Shy and extroverted, is that possible? Yes, in fact, these two personality traits have little to do with one another. Introversion describes a desire for quiet, low-stimulation environments; introverts recharge by time spent alone. Shyness, on the other hand, is a fear of negative judgment. Shyness often presents itself as low self-esteem, fear of rejection, or acute self-consciousness; often cripplingly so.
These two aspects of my personality conflict less than you might imagine. I feel no shyness around people I already know, so social gatherings with friends only fuel my extroverted needs. Additionally, I have no issues with social situations with strangers as long as I’m not put on the spot: a large crowded party is great as long as I don’t have to engage with a bunch of unfamiliar faces. When they do conflict is in meeting new people. I’ve moved multiple times in my life, so this has come into the forefront for me many times, most recently in my move to Nashville, TN at the beginning of 2017. Particularly during that transition, I found that gaming can be an excellent tool in helping me to overcome my shyness to meet new people.
Preamble – Getting to a Gaming Event
Though not the focus of this article, I want to touch on the first hurdle which is actually getting to a gaming event. I feel this is important to point out because it is something I really struggled with. Even before moving to Nashville, I had read about Meeple Mountain and knew about their monthly hosted game nights. That, itself, was not enough to get me to one after moving here. Every month I would tell my husband, I am going to go to game night to meet some people and find my gaming community. However, each time the game night rolled around I would make excuses, crippled by my anxiety.
Again, this isn’t the topic of this article. An entire article could be dedicated to that experience and the six months it took me to build up the courage to go. What I will say here is that when I did go, I found a group of people who were welcoming, warm, and interested in getting to know me. I can’t speak for all gaming events, but this is my experience for the board gaming events I’ve attended. Additionally, due to the structure of board gaming events, it is easy to get into a game with people you don’t yet know. My first game night, I practically fell into a game with strangers.
I admit, finding myself suddenly at a table of strangers about to learn a game was intimidating. However, in that experience, I realized that the game actually acted as the icebreaker. It helped me to skip a lot of the uncomfortable, awkward part of meeting someone new.
A board game can act as a conversation icebreaker. The act of playing a game with others can help in leading to a level of comfort with the those at your table: a way to warm up to them, an initial topic of conversation. Sitting around a table and having a discussion about the game is a nice segue to move into the conversation which allows you to get to know each other. The game acts as a binder, a mutually shared interest. Not only that but, at a gaming event, I would make the assumption that you and those at your gaming table are all interested in gaming. This gives an easy, non-personal point of entry into a conversation.
Get to Know Ya’
After the ice is broken, you can get to know those you are playing with. This is two-fold. First, you are bound to have a conversation while playing, getting to know each other on a surface level. Introductions and small-talk take care of that. The other side, one which I find more interesting, is getting to see displays of people’s personality embodied in their gaming. Some of this is game dependent, but you can learn a lot about a person based on their in-game choices. Are they thoughtful and cautious? Are they cut-throat and vicious? Do they play their best game, even when it’s obvious they will not win?
One upside of my shy extroversion is that I make a great people-watcher. As I mentioned I love being in energized places full of people, but not the center of attention. This has allowed me years of standing back at parties and taking people in. For this reason, I feel I often can tell more about a person, their personality, whether we click based on how they conduct themselves in a game setting than what I learn about them through our first conversations. Through this observation, you will find people you “vibe” within gaming, people you enjoy as company. This is a nice first step toward a future friendship.
Now you’ve played a game with someone and found that you vibe. On the next game night, you can leverage this for future conversation beginning material. Not only will there be familiar faces next time you attend an event — and boy does that help — but you also have something to talk to them about. You and those you have previously gamed with have shared memories. That play session is a shared experience between you and can be a nice bridge toward approaching this acquaintance. Maybe you will play a game with them again; it could be the start of a friendship.
Not everyone’s shyness manifests in the same way. My experience is unlikely to mirror yours. However, I hope that through this article based on my experiences at gaming events (Meeple Mountain Game Night, Nashville Tabletop Day, and CMON Expo) you can build up the courage to attend your first gaming event. Perhaps you might even choose to build up your own gaming community. I hope it will help you make the move toward meeting people in your community and making connections with folks who share a common interest. If you don’t personally suffer from shyness I hope this can help enlighten you to how some around you may feel. Make an effort to welcome newcomers, go out of your way to invite folks you don’t know into your games. As gamers, we are a part of a shared community; let’s ensure that our community contains safe spaces and that it is equitable, approachable, and compassionate.