Sanity Check – dealing with self-doubt

The Sanity Check is a common test in The Call of Cthulhu RPG, and it’s as good a title as any. This is slightly off-topic for the usual blog but I think it’s relevant to a certain degree. Ultimately it’s why gaming has been good for me, and helped me grow as an adult. RPGs (and gaming) are a big part of my life now. I’ve seen the whole Geek subculture turned into a fashionable moniker, and have run dozens of games over the years. I’ve never really considered the effect they’ve had on me as a person, though: mentally, socially, and even physically. Yes, you read that right.

  • Let’s begin with “Mentally“. I’ve had to learn the rules and plots for loads of games, as well as do research. This is a workout for the mind at the best of times. While I was researching the WW2 raid on St. Nazaire, I learned so much about that incident in history. That was for one adventure. I’ve also learned to compartmentalise my thoughts and structure them properly. In other words: get myself organised! Plus creating worlds and running games is cathartic and helps exercise the mind and imagination. I’ve also learned to communicate better – verbally and otherwise.
  • Socially. I’m far more self-confident these days. I’m easily at home meeting new people.  As GM, I may meet players for the first time. As de facto head of ORC Edinburgh (a title I’m just going to accept) I often have to deal with people and problems. Although I’m still very quiet (a legacy of sensorineural deafness), I’m no shrinking violet these days. I can deal with confrontation better, as well as dealing with difficult situations. As a gamer, I’ve even been able to talk to women; “the greatest mystery there is” to quote Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Gaming also gets me out of the flat and into the open air, albeit briefly. Sometimes my flat feels very small, especially in the dark winter months. It’s good to get out of it!
  • Physically better is not something that readily comes to mind when you think about RPGs. I sleep better when I’ve GMed a truly epic session, often leaving  me exhausted. If I feel knackered, it’s a job well done. Plus, any GM who’s carried a rulebook or 5 knows how heavy those books can be, en masse. Those who do LARP probably get a fair bit of exercise in their games – the armour and weapons may not be real, but the weight is.

Ultimately, like Batman‘s Joker and Spiderman‘s Green Goblin, I have a nemesis. The name of that nemesis is Self-doubt. I’ve never been one to shy away from a healthy bout of self-pity. I’ve been looking back over the years and the boy I was at 16 is nothing like the man I am at 40. My personality and perceptions have changed on a scale I’d never have believed – and for the better. However, Self-doubt often puts the boot in. Like a lot of people these days I find myself far too busy, and occasionally there are periods of reflection where self-doubt starts to creep in.

I want to be a writer. I want to see my name in print and feel that sense of achievement when I see my printed work. I want folk to be engaged with creations. To see Twitter take fire when a beloved character is killed off. When I wrote the spell descriptions and fiction for The Secret Fire RPG, I had no problems. Likewise, the sections on Demons for the Way of Tree, Shadow & Flame (20,000 words, the most I’ve ever written).  I want to be able to write a novel. I have plenty of ideas, including a selection of short stories related to the Cthulhu Mythos too. At this point, I can’t seem to get started though. I’ve found myself making excuses for this: “I’m too busy” or “I’ve got the ideas down”. Also, I can’t help but feel I’m not as smart as some of the other authors out there, and I’m making a mistake – “Will the story be intelligent enough?”. At which point, Self-doubt starts whispering in my ear that I lack the discipline needed to write, or that it won’t be any good, or it’s been done before.

This self-doubt, these “crises of confidence” aren’t uncommon for me. It is almost like a form of depression, albeit on a minor scale. I’ve suffered them for years in a wide range of situations, and they are immensely frustrating. It’s not even a “Writers Block”. I’ve often had it happen with games I’m running, doubting my own abilities as a GM. I’ve found that the best way to deal with this self-doubt is to find something else to engage my time and refocus on the project once some time has passed. Following these “crises”, I’ll usually complete a number of smaller projects before coming back to the original.

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at and regularly play RPGs.