Boxed Culture: Recovering From Gaming PTSD


This article is not meant to poke lightly at the term PTSD. As we adventure through the story of my situation keep in mind that as topical and light as it seems in my head, it was a very stressful nerve-racking time. I will just get started with my story. It begins with a slightly younger gamer (me) and the purchase of Descent 2nd Edition.

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I was so excited when I purchased Descent: A Journey into the Dark (2nd Edition). With so many miniatures, tiles and other components I was in gaming heaven. We played the first few games and we really enjoyed it. Even looking back on it now I can see the problems that eventually led to my dislike of the game. The desperate race, the pressure the game puts on you to play efficiently, and the snowball effect were all there from the beginning but they were easy to ignore when you love fantasy and board games. The fourth or fifth game was when I truly began to understand my dislike for the game. The idea that we were trying to complete a quest and the overlord was trying to shut us down at every turn solidified the idea that this game was not a Dungeons & Dragons style dungeon delve. A Dungeon Master generally wants to see their party succeed. Descent pushes for the Overlord, which is not a DM at all, to want to crush the players. I am not going to blame the player, that is not fair to anyone. By the end most of the non-Overlord players were stressed while playing and were too intimidated or averse to even talking about picking up another session. So we stopped, I sold all of my Descent stuff, and I used a lot of my energy to dissuade people from getting into it if they were looking for a D&D style dungeon delver game.

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Enter Star Wars: Imperial Assault, a Descent style, campaign driven Star Wars game. A hard no from me was the first response. Even though Star Wars is one of the few sci-fi franchises that will pull me away from my love of fantasy, I was not about to touch a Descent style game again. However after reading a few reviews I decided maybe I should give the game a chance. Again my love of Star Wars pushed me forward through the horribly stressful and decidedly unenjoyable memories of Descent. I got pretty lucky and set up a BGG trade for Imperial Assault. I was very excited when I got it but as soon as I opened the box the memories of Descent started to flood back. I organized the components and put it away.

I had decided early on I was not going to play anything but the campaign. This made it so I never bought any of the small character expansions. Then the Twin Suns expansion came out and I decided (and by “I”, I mean the odd bit of completionist that was able to get out from under the Descent trauma) that I should keep up with the big box expansions. Twin Suns was mine and once again I opened the large Imperial Assault core box, sorted the new components, and put it all away. I still felt scared to try it out but now it was long set up, finding the right group, and other nonsensical excuses that were covering up my true fear.

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A few months later both the Return to Hoth expansion and The Force Awakens came out. My passion for Star Wars grew tenfold. I got into Armada and started playing Edge of the Empire. Imperial Assault (stuffed to the brim with the Return from Hoth expansion) still sat dormant. Then our bi-monthly game night came around, I brought it out and we decided to give it a shot. One of the other players was a veteran of what we are now colloquially calling “The Descent Wars“. He was just as timid and hesitant as I was about playing.

We started the game with a lot of learning, setup, and organization. I could still feel the stressful nature of the race; however, after having a long time to think about why I disliked Descent I was able to cope with this aspect of the game. The odds still seemed against us most of the time but we got through the first mission. Next up, we chose a side mission for my character, Diala Passil: Haunted Exile. I was to retrieve my lightsaber from my former master’s temple, *gulp*. I felt the fear rush back. The last time we played Descent and we needed to retrieve an item we wanted an upgrade, we failed so hard. It was stupid, demoralizing and game-killing for me. Suffice it to say I was less than fun to be around for the first twenty minutes of that game, but in the end we won and recovered the lightsaber. It was awesome.

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I don’t know if I will ever be able to play Descent again. I don’t know if I truly like Imperial Assault yet. What I do know is that I was able to come back from a bad gaming experience using my love for a genre, a fantastic gaming group, and the desire to give all games a chance. I guess I am really trying to tell everyone that I understand your hesitation. We have all had a game that has killed our interest in ever playing that game again from the first play. But we should not let these games spoil our enjoyment of other games. Play as many games as you can as often as you can, that is a good motto I am going to start using. Thanks for listening to my story and if you have any stories of your own to share, put them in the comments! See you all next time.

-Kyle

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