Empty Tanks: Coping with Gaming Burn Out

From time to time, our creative drives start to sputter. Whether you’re a player or a GM, burning out when it comes to gaming is a thing that happens. Armed with tips and tricks on how to cope (or respond) with burn out has a lot of common threads.

Feed Your Brain

If you feel like you’ve run out of ideas, you can cast around for creative inspiration. Museums, libraries, wandering your town (or a town you don’t live in) provide visual and written inspirations. Public parks, children’s museums and a trip to a friend’s crafting closet supply some tactile ways to shake loose the cobwebs. Reading anything, listening to audio (podcasts, books on tapes, music) gives you another source of input to jiggle your brain. Try food you’ve never experienced, or find ways to incorporate new smells and tastes (or combinations) into your life for a week or two. The more you feed your brain new and interesting things, the more you can rev up your creative abilities. We can’t do physical things without sleep, food and liquids. We can’t do creative stuff without some kind of fuel.  Whether you’re a GM or a player, this is something gaming has in common with writing. You need to consume media in order to create your stories. Fill the tank with whatever media will get you where you need to be, and try out each of your senses available. You never know what ideas a new approach will yield until you try.

Stop The Ride, I Want Off

There’s also the opposite problem, when there’s too much in your brain. You may try to keep up with too much media, too many games and events, or have one activity too many going on.  Working from the inside out, look at your home/family/work/school commitments, keeping in mind how much all those things take in both time and energy. Then branch out into time you have to spend consuming media (and whether or not it’s for work, like many working in games or media), hobbies, events, games.  If you hit a wall in terms of things you’re doing and burning out, that burn out will slowly spread through every facet of your life. At a LARP I attended, we had a credo: Life trumps game. If anything that needs you there is going on, taking a break is always an option. Whether you’re a GM or a player, you can hammer out a good pause point, and tend to real life till you can pick up your treasured game time again. Playing games isn’t fun if we can’t enjoy them. Evaluate your time, reshuffle when and how you can, and give yourself permission to take a break from game if that’s what’s needed or required.


Stuck In A Ditch

There’s a well trod ditch the gamers of yore slogged through, and at some point we may follow their footsteps, wondering why cat litter or a candle can’t solve this crap. Your storylines feel forced, your character isn’t fun to play, the game is boring everyone, and they’re all too polite to say it. You’ll stay stuck in the ditch unless you acknowledge what’s happening, and own it. If you’re a player, talk to the rest of your table. You have options! Playing a temp character, taking a week or two off game to try and free up some mental/emotional energy. Talking out why you’re bored or frustrated with your experience. No one at a table wants someone to suffer through game (unless it’s a game where that’s awesome.) Your table is your best think tank on this one; still, trust your gut. Maybe you’re burning out on the genre you’re playing in, or genuinely done playing your character.

If you’re a GM who’s burning out, talk with your table. Communication is key for a healthy gaming group. Maybe you can have someone do a one-shot, or even a four session mini-game. Take a night to hang out, watch movie or play other games that aren’t RPGs. Talk to other GMs you know to get their take on how the coped with burn out, and get their insights for how you can tackle it. You might even need a little time to be a player again, and take on player responsibilities for a bit. Being a GM can be stressful, especially if you run a weekly game. Game isn’t fun for anyone when someone at the table has it rough—and that goes double when that person suffering is the GM.


If you have ways you cope with creative burn out, game related stress or being stuck in a rut, share them in the comments! Only you can prevent a loss of fun.

About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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