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Gamer Burnout – Both GM and Player

With the holidays approaching and schedules becoming more and more hectic many Game Masters are likely to suffer from cases of GM burnout. GMs aren’t the only ones susceptible to burning out on gaming though. Players can burnout on gaming and not bring their usual gusto to the table or even decide not to show up at all. Here are some reasons for gamer burnout and some tips to help avoid it.

Schedule Hecticness

Slow Character Progression

Bored with the System

So now comes the time when I ask you, the reader, to contribute and help prevent my writer burnout. What reasons for burnout have I missed? What solutions have you come up with in the past for burnout? What other ways can you think of?

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.

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15 Comments To "Gamer Burnout – Both GM and Player"

#1 Comment By nblade On December 12, 2008 @ 9:00 am

Good suggestions all around. I also try to host a miniature painting night. That way everyone can get together socialize and paint miniatures. I also try to do Hirst Arts Castle Molds for game pieces.

I agree , Non-RPG games are a great way to shake things ups and to have something to do if a session might be canceled due to lack of people showing up.

Personally, I like changing the system every once in a while, but players tend to try to stick to what they know.

#2 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On December 12, 2008 @ 10:26 am

I love mini painting nights! You can always count me in Nblade!

Rather than be bored with the system, per se, I wonder if the boredom comes more often from genre than the rules. I think the solution John suggested, say moving from D&D to Iron Heroes, is a good one. But I think the subtle difference from Tolkenesque fantasy gaming to Swords’n'(sorcery) might be more compelling than the specific rules. Either way, you are making a slight shift.

I think the typical Halloween/horror switch is usually a good way to mix things up in the autumn. Board/dice/card games work in the winter (Inn Fighting or Three Dragon Ante, anyone?).

Sometimes a one-shot infusion of unexplored gaming type is all that is needed.

#3 Comment By peter On December 12, 2008 @ 10:36 am

nblade wrote:

Non-RPG games are a great way to shake things ups and to have something to do if a session might be canceled due to lack of people showing up.

Our dm suggested this in our group. But to me this is a bad idea. I don’t like the fact that we are not roleplaying but that I am wasting time on boardgames or videogames. I”m not a big fan of competetive games and feel that the time I use while doing that is time I could use do to something usefull (or relaxing)

just to illustrate that different gamers have different needs and that you should be carefull with solutions for the whole of a group

#4 Comment By John Arcadian On December 12, 2008 @ 10:54 am

@Troy E. Taylor: It all depends on why the boredom is occurring. I had a player who got so bored/frustrated with D&D 3.5 because of how limited he felt by the classes. He still wanted the fantasy feel, but hated the way it was done. Conversely, I’ve had exactly the situation you describe. Players who are bored with fantasy and wanted a different genre. One shots are definitely the way to go when experimenting. If everyone likes the one shot you always have the option of switching.

@ nblade and peter: It all depends on the gamers and the timing of the switch. It would be bad to drop a card or board game into the middle of an intricate fight or detailed plot where things are happening and story is being moved forward, but when there is a lull or an appropriate junction it can work wonderfully. I ran a chess game once where the group met a contact in a restaurant. Before he would give them the information someone had to show that they were worthy enough in chess. So we played a quick game (of the knights chase variation, or king arthur chess) and then moved on. We were about 1 degree away from actually larping because I, playing the NPC, and the player, playing his character, were talking in character and deeply immersed in the in-game conversations parries and retorts. We terminated the chess game half-way through because we wanted to get on with the action but it made for an excellent distraction and story immersion exercise.

#5 Comment By nblade On December 12, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

@John and Peter – My suggestion of Non-RPG games is purely a suggestion to the gamers in question and not something that is forced. Sometimes, players have to cancel at the last moment and a player or two have already arrived. The idea is to have some alternative things to do with this players, if the session was going to be canceled otherwise.

@Peter – You are correct, different things for different people. That’s what makes this hobby great.

@Troy – There are those that will complain about using miniatures, but for me, its always fun. It always fun to ask who is this person, what does s/he desire, and what colors would s/he wear?

#6 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On December 12, 2008 @ 12:56 pm

I agree — identifying the source of the boredom is important.

#7 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On December 12, 2008 @ 1:02 pm

Nblade: Often times, investment in a miniature represents an investment in a character. At least, I do. The DM has to respect that. It doesn’t mean that character can’t die — but players who make genuine investments in characters shouldn’t have the DM capriciously off them.

When players paint a mini, it means they’re into the game, into what you’re trying to accomplish as a DM and that’s cool.

#8 Comment By Scott Martin On December 12, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

A one shot can be another good solution to slow character advancement– it lets people play with those big powers without disrupting the ongoing campaign.

#9 Comment By BryanB On December 12, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

I think a change in system and/or genre is a good idea when feelings of burnout set in. One-shots are a good idea for a change of pace as are boardgames, mini-games, or an evening of cards. In small groups, the ROCK BAND game might even do the trick. I’ve often found movie and dinner nights to be a nice break in the routine, especially if there is a particular movie that the entire group would like to see.

#10 Comment By Samuel Van Der Wall On December 12, 2008 @ 8:28 pm

Sometimes people just get stuck in a rut outside of gaming, and it gets carried into their gaming. That can really suck because it can bring other players down with them.

I definitely agree with the switching the system and setting parts of this article. Go from D20 Fantasy to Savage Worlds Sci-Fi or BRP Horror. If you switch the setting and system up, it really changes the flow of the game for everyone.

#11 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On December 13, 2008 @ 12:39 am

Good suggestions. I especially like the “take a few weeks, gain some XP, tell me what you did” approach for those times when the next couple of levels just look like a boring uphill trudge.

John – That player who loves fantasy, but finds D&D a bit too constricting? That could totally be me.

#12 Comment By Sarlax On December 13, 2008 @ 4:52 pm

One thing to check is not just whether the majority of players are having fun, but whether all players are having fun. If one player is just phoning it because they’re not digging the game, the others, including the GM, can get burned out.

We’ve all been there – one guy in the group just isn’t digging the game. He still shows up to hang out with friends, but his heart isn’t in it. Everyone else starts to feel it, and the malaise gets to everyone.

If you proactively check to see that players are getting the game they want, you can reduce the odds of one player’s boredom becoming everyone’s burnout.

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#14 Comment By The Stray7 On December 21, 2008 @ 11:45 am

I had one time when I was just so frustrated with the limitations of a game system (D&D 3.5) that I burned out completely. I solved this by putting the campaign on hold indefinitely and becoming a player again. The 8 month break helped recharge my batteries. Of course, I never did go back to D&D 3.5. My problems with the system were that it was taking too long to prepare encounters and monsters for high level characters, and that just killed my interest in the system. We moved to Mutants & Masterminds, then on to Star Wars Saga, with some brief breaks in between for other game experiments. We knew that we’d come back to D&D eventually, though, and we did when 4th edition came out.

#15 Comment By edcalaban On January 5, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

Some friends an I, when we were all relatively new to RPing and Shadowrun in particular, burned out fast because we couldn’t work out a stable system for DMing. You can only start the same module over so many times before people just stop showing up.

Our solution was to run an extremely pointless campaign in D&D 3.5 where we pretty much rampaged around doing whatever we wanted. Hilarity ensued, and eventually people showed up again. It’s not necessary to change the system though, just take a day and ignore any sane limits ingame.