Gaming Introverts

It was only a few years ago that I started thinking about introverts and extroverts. It was the book Quiet by Susan Cain that really got me thinking, and it crystallized a lot of realizations for me. I’m a huge introvert. I know that some of you reading this probably have a hard time believing that. You’ve seen me in Kickstarter videos, giving seminars and classes at conventions, running games (sometimes in front of crowds), or managing other large, very public events. What you don’t see, of course, is the other 99% of my life, where I sit at home, alone or with my partner Shanna (and our dog, Ampersand). I avoid large groups. I don’t like talking to strangers. I get exhausted at parties or social events. I virtually never talk on the phone. I hate small talk so much I put off visits to the barber as long as I can, and go far out of my way to avoid chatty, social situations. I like being alone. I like reading, and—obviously—writing.

The idea of a gaming introvert probably sounds like an oxymoron. Gaming is social. Why would introverts ever play RPGs? Well, we do. A lot. Introverts are often very imaginative. We spend much of our lives inside our own heads. Most introverts really like escapism, and let’s face it, there’s no better means of escape than a great RPG session.

However, because RPG sessions are social activities, they sometimes favor extroverts. You know the ones I mean. The people who talk with varied accents, stand up when their character talks, and make a lot of gestures. I like these people. They add a lot to a game. But not everyone is an extroverted thespian, and they can dominate a game session. That’s not an accusation—I don’t think they want to run roughshod over the other players—but it happens. (Although I identify as an introvert, gaming can sometimes bring this out in me as well. But only sometimes.)

Invisible Sun is an RPG with three “modes.” Action Mode is when there’s a fight or a chase or something like that going on. Narrative Mode is when the PCs are traveling, looking around, shopping, interacting with NPCs, and so on. All games do those modes. Invisible Sun’s third mode is called Development Mode—as in character development—and it allows for gameplay away from the table. Although this has many applications and advantages, for introverts it offers a chance to have some one-on-one time with the GM. It offers a chance to talk about their character and take some actions where they don’t have to worry about the other players jumping in. If desired, Development Mode can even be handled in written form, so players who feel more comfortable writing than talking can express themselves and describe their intentions in that way.

Beyond Development Mode, Invisible Sun addresses the introvert/extrovert divide in other ways. For example, character advancement in the game isn’t handled through levels, but through progress in story arcs (a PC is likely to have many arcs happening at the same time, just like a character in a book or TV show). You track progress by reaching certain “story points” in your arc. So at the end of a session, we do something called a “Character Summary,” where everyone explains their characters’ point of view on the events of what happened and how it applies to whatever story point they might be trying to reach. While the default is that this occurs as a group, players are welcome to do this one-on-one with the GM, through email, text, online chat, on the phone, or whatever makes them most comfortable.

As an introvert myself, I’m building in different ways to make the game fun for different types of people. Pulling down barriers that stand in the way of someone having a good time is an important aspect of game design.

Monte Cook
Monte Cook

Monte Cook has written hundreds of roleplaying game products, along with numerous short stories, novels, nonfiction titles, and comic books. He is probably best known for his work on such notable titles as Planescape, Ptolus, the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (which he codesigned with Jonathan Tweet and Skip Williams), Arcana Evolved, and of course Numenera and the Cypher System. He is a cofounder of Monte Cook Games, and is our lead designer.