Would you consider yourself a leader? Do you thrive on having the people around you look to you for guidance? Perhaps you’re naturally authoritative and your alpha personality inspires your peers to be more like you. For the majority of us, this isn’t the case – humans tend to be followers on a varied scale. Personally, I spent much of my life keeping quiet in any given group and speaking only when invited to do so. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve got plenty to say and I enjoy chatting to people, whether I know them or not, it’s just getting started that’s tough. However, one tool that’s really helped me come to terms and begin to combat this feeling has been co-operative gaming.
I was recently explaining why I love co-op board gaming so much to a friend and had a lightbulb moment when the words ‘it’s the only time I feel confident in my teamwork and leadership skills’ fell out of my mouth. It’s not always easy to find real-life scenarios where you’re able to work as a team in a comfortable way that actually allows you to develop – perhaps at work with a team of colleagues, or with other students at school or university, but many of us lack those types of opportunities. Co-op gaming puts you in the position of being in a safe (and hopefully judgement-free) environment with friends, where you can come together for a common cause and have a voice that’s equally as valuable as everyone else’s.
Because of this, co-op gaming has impacted my sense of self as a true team player and potential leader, especially in my professional life as a magazine editor with a fair amount of responsibility on my plate. The first co-op game I ever played was Pandemic, followed by Dead of Winter: two games that require a team of people to work really well together for the sake of the world’s fate (no pressure). Eventually, a few years ago I bought a copy of the second edition of Mansions of Madness, and I’d go so far to say this game in particular had a hand in shaping my sense of self as a confident, professional person.
It’s a co-op horror game supported by an app that is always being improved upon with both digital and physical expansions. It’s also the game that I use to introduce non-gamers to games, because I know it inside-out and the app makes it a little more accessible – and this is where the sense of leadership that I used to rarely feel elsewhere comes in. Playing Mansions of Madness brings out the fledgling boss bitch within me and, now, that’s coming out with other games as well – particularly things like Dungeons & Dragons, which is mostly player-led and filled with decisions that are rarely black-and-white in outcome – as well as in real life.
Taking the lead
I feel no self-consciousness when I explain the gameplay of Mansions of Madness (or Descent, or Eldritch Horror, or any other co-op game that I know well) to new people, or when reading out the next direction from the app – often, as encouraged by my partner, in a Vincent Price voice – and I have no problem taking control of a situation when other players are running low on ideas. Up until recently, this is not something I would have felt comfortable transitioning into my daily life – however, I’m seeing the signs of gaming leadership increasing my confidence in other ways, such as when I’m holding court with a group of peers at a work event, delivering a speech to them or simply entertaining multiple acquaintances in my down time.
The real test of how co-op gaming has made a difference to my life came about when I went self-employed at the beginning of last year. The main challenges of being my own boss have been reaching out to strangers and attending events – both of these are things that I, historically, would grow anxious about and struggle with, but being a strong team player and source of guidance in games has helped me to see myself as someone who does know what they are doing and is confident in their position.
Slaying imposter syndrome
Crucially, what I’ve gained from co-op gaming helps me to battle imposter syndrome at work – that nasty little voice a lot of us have in our heads telling us we don’t belong or that we’re not qualified. It helps to identify that feeling and quash it with the knowledge that, professionally, my position is important and a large readership looks to me for wisdom. When that feeling of not-belonging becomes overwhelming, it’s helpful to imagine sitting around a table with friends and reliving the sense of pride that is felt when they look to me for guidance on how to escape the latest monster on the board.
And, if I can slay a Hunting Horror with one blast of a Wither spell, what’s to stop me slaying that first flush of anxiety when stepping into an industry event with my head held high?