Abused Gamer Syndrome

December 11, 2009

Ron Edwards has a damn good summary of the behaviors I’ve labeled Abused Gamer Syndrome in the past (also, “My Guy Syndrome”)

That viewpoint toward “play my character” is what I was referencing with the problematic term “traditional.” I’ll try to summarize it as follows, based on my own experiences.

– Play optimally concerning character survival. The game system is perfectly capable of killing your character, and at least some GMs are invested in making this happen or in not doing anything to prevent it.

– Play optimally concerning your own ego. The GM is very invested in making his story happen, and if your character needs to be overly gullible or stupid for the story to work (often the case), then the GM will take him over and make him that way, making you look stupid and basically stripping you, personally, of social and creative power at the table. Such a GM is not a player-killer like the ones I mentioned in #1, but in some ways, he’s worse!

If “play my character” is construed from these parameters, it results in the following tactics (I’ve stated them a little bit extremely):

a. Come up with as colorful a concept as possible, preferably somewhat irrational, so that you can carry out the following safety-measures from “in character” and blame the character for “making” you role-play in this way.

b. Safety-measure – treat all GM characters as hostile, treacherous, and of no emotional importance whatsoever.

c. Safety-measure – avoid rolling the dice or otherwise engaging in the resolution mechanics as much as possible.

d. Safety-measure – create as much minor strife or minor friendship for your character with the other player-characters as you can, because such interactions carry no risk, take up time

I had never really tied “wacky inappropriate character” to the defensive behaviors but it makes sense.

It’s also tied deeply to something I’ve been thinking a lot about- the kind of dysfunction that comes from a group that doesn’t agree to a common set of rules.

The GM that takes away player power over their characters is nearly always breaking agreement and the players who react defensively are already showing they didn’t have any faith in that agreement, whether or not the GM has violated the social contract.


  1. Heya,

    I think it’s somewhat natural for gamers when they first start playing to defer to the GM. Usually, he is the one that owns the books, read up on the setting, and hosts the game. But as the players become more familiar with the game and want to begin expressing themselves, the social dynamic either has to change or devolve into conflcit at the social level. RPGs are not the GM’s game, they’re the game of everyone at the table. Deference to the GM is acceptable, IMHO, when learning how to roleplay for the first time, but eventually the GM will have to give up his absolute authority in order for the group to grow.



    • Hmm. I think you might want to re-read the post again.

      The behaviors listed are really not things people new to roleplaying do. They’re reactions that indicate a broken social contract from the start.

      • Heya Chris,

        I agree with you that it’s not something done by people new to RPGs. In my experience, the social contract for people new to RPGs is deference to the GM. But as those players get more seasoned, the social dynamic changes. They want more control. If the GM tries to maintain his grip, he’s now violating the changing social contract- or the players are, however you want to look at it.

        My point is, that social contracts will change over time as players become more experienced. If the GM does not recognize those changes, dysfunction will likely result. Then you end up with the behaviors Ron describes or a group that breaks apart.



        • The GM “maintaining his grip” isn’t an outcome of leading the new players… it’s a result of Illusionism.

          There’s a common myth that roleplaying begins with Illusionism and with mastery, evolves to player input and improvisation. One need only play stuff like Inspectres with non-roleplayers to see that is patently false.

          I’m hoping that’s -not- what you mean by players and social contracts evolving.

          When people build passive-aggressive defense mechanisms, that’s not the sign of an evolving social contract- that’s the sign of one falling apart.

          • Well yeah, but how many non-roleplayers get involved with RPGs through games like Inspectres vs. DnD or Vampire or Call of Cthullu? I’m not asseting that introduction to roleplaying must begin with illusionism, but I believe there is a massive amount of anecdotal evidence out there that it frequently does.



          • I’m not understanding what you’re saying here.

            C: Look, Ron has summarized all these defensive behaviors that come out of a problematic thing.
            T: Yes, people naturally model more experienced people, when they’re new at something.
            C: How does natural following = Illusionism?
            T: Most people start that way!


          • Heya Chris,

            I think my comments may be off topic. I appologize for that. I was just stating that new gamers might be okay with the GM taking control of their characters when they are learning to play. But once they get the hang of it, they likely won’t want that to happen anymore and will rebel against it. Their methods of rebellion often take the form of the defensive behavior Ron outlines. I was just trying to suggest one possible cause to the defensive behaviors Ron discussed. I think I did that poorly.



          • “Not knowing better” doesn’t make a problematic situation more functional. (consider: people being swindled by conmen…)

            If it were a more functional or healthy situation, the end results would be different: “Hey man, I thought we get to control our characters. What’s going on?”

            The fact that the people don’t end up talking openly about play is a good sign there is no trust – because the social contract has been violated in the past, probably repeatedly.

  2. Hi!

    Can you probably give a link to the place where Ron explains this? (I am experiencing minor technical difficulties with the Forge these days.) Thank you!

    Let me grab the opportunity and allow some praise here. To me, this place of yours is clearly becoming a top source of how could I make my game — and thus that of (some of?) my friends’, too — shine again. And I’m getting more confident in this each day. I am most grateful.

  3. This is a really interesting post. It goes a long way to explaining lots of the strange gamer behaviour I’ve seen over the years- rationalising metagaming and other defensive behaviour. Do you have a guide for how GMs should approach this kind of damaged player?

    • See my Same Page Tool as an initial orienting method. The two other useful actions are stopping play and pointing out:

      1. “There isn’t a ‘right answer’ or thing you ‘have to do’. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I haven’t pre planned it, I’m not trying to hint or push you either way. Do what seems (fun, appropriate to the genre, smart) to you.”

      2. “Ok, you’re taking time to (do this paranoid thing), this game isn’t actually about that. When I say (there’s no traps), that means there’s actually (no traps). That’s not the fun part of the game, the fun part for this game is (whatever we’re focusing on). If that’s not what you think is fun, we get that figured out because we’re playing two different games here.”

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