Multiplayer Anxiety

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#1 Posted by bmccann42 (446 posts) -

I will preface this by letting you all know that I am diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder, in that I have what used to be called Aspergers Syndrome, diagnosed about 2 years ago.

What I have been finding more and more is a kind of anxiety around playing multiplayer games, to the point that I am almost fearful to jump into anything team related as I just feel like I will always let my team down in some way.

I play a lot of Destiny 2, but find the strikes giving me more and more anxiety, with only the Gambit mode being something that gives any kind of enjoyment. I have been trying to jump into Apex Legends, but can't even load it up as it is so squad based and my skills being so limited.

Does anyone else out there have anything similar affect them? The community here has been so open regarding mental health issues, so I just wanted to reach out.

Thanks all.

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#2 Posted by FacelessVixen (2711 posts) -

Random person on the internet with some level of social anxiety talking.

I can do the strikes in Destiny 2 since I'd describe myself as being pretty competent at shooters and I like being a team p[layer. But anything that's highly competitive or involves a high level of cooperation and dedication is a no-go for pretty much the same reasons that you have. Haven't been able to do competitive multiplayer since Killzone 2, and my attempts for going group stuff in Destiny 2 have resulted in me getting kicked from the group due to inactivity.

So my stance is pretty much this: Fuck the randos and only do things with people that I've talked to for long enough.

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#3 Edited by TobbRobb (6591 posts) -

Preface: I have no experience with or real knowledge of Aspergers and will just give my anecdotal advice. You will know best what applies and what doesn't.

I think it's safe to say that everyone suffers some amount of anxiety in multiplayer settings, but to varying degrees. So for some there would be less to mitigate and it'd be easier to reach a point resembling comfort. But my point is that even then those people can feel the eyes of their teammates. So it's not that you are anxious and others are not, you are just more aware of your own anxiousness.

In 2010 when I started playing ladder in Starcraft 2, I would get heavy, heavy shakes in my hands and my heart would beat like crazy. And that's while the match is loading, we haven't even started playing. And after that I would be exhausted after just a game or two and need a break. Nowadays (after 9 years of playing lots of different games) I will casually start a multiplayer game and keep going for hours no problem. And the reason is entirely because of mitigating stress and anxiety. The key word being "mitigating". It's still there, but I have a handle on it.

Perspective and viewpoint are important. How you look at the game or experience will radically change how you feel about it. But the right answer here is different for everyone, you have to pick a positive spin you can actually convince yourself to believe. In my case I am ok with losing or doing poorly, because I try to view it as a learning experience (and often blatant experimentation). It's ok that I fucked up, because I at least had an idea and now I know it doesn't work. Some people just try to invest themselves less by putting less importance into the game, but that never quite worked for me.

Otherwise it's all about toning down the source of the stress. It commonly boils down to performance anxiety, fear of the unknown, and social anxiety.

Social anxiety is best dealt with by playing with people you are comfortable around who will help you out, and toning down your interactions with strangers. Even in team games like Mobas or Overwatch, I totally recommend just turning off both text and voice chat entirely. Their opinions on what you should be doing are probably wrong anyways, and they just add a huge and pointless stress factor. It's not worth it, and you contribute more to the team by being uncommunicative rather than leaving/going AFK or freaking out from the stress. (I'm really not kidding either, people talk with confidence, but they really are only rarely worth listening to)

Fear of the unknown is the secret one that people don't think about, and is also the easiest one to deal with. People hate not knowing what is going to happen, and panic in unfamiliar situations. The benefit of multiplayer games is that you repeat similar situations OVER AND OVER again. So as you play more, this stress factor starts dissipating. You know how to react to things, because you've seen them before. And you know what is around the corner, because the same thing was there last game. Some common general situations occur across genres, so this also only gets easier to deal with in future games or genre switches you do.

Performance anxiety is tied to confidence, and confidence is tied to the scale where you weigh your perceived skill against your actual skill, and once you hit a bar where both are above the line for your comfort, performance anxiety goes waaaaaaaaay down. This also largely comes down to playing more, learning effectively, seeking training/advice from others. But more importantly, you need to look at your development positively, seek to improve and take your successes to heart. If you get better but still view yourself as unskilled, the practice loses value. You have to feel yourself become better and pat yourself on the back for it. I would say to not take failures to heart either, but that's much easier said than done as many of us know... But that's how I combat performance anxiety!

I hope my essay helps out a little bit, but it's a subject I find really interesting. And I've put in a lot of self-reflection on it over the years.

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#4 Posted by Yesiamaduck (2569 posts) -


For background: I suffer from clinical depression and Anxiety Disorder that runs from mild to severe. The severe cases are a lot rarer as my condition is currently managed with Sertraline but the underline feeling is always there.

I suffer from multiplayer anxiety quite severely which is a real bummer as I love playing Overwatch and League of Legends. LOL I stopped playing PVP all together and went to bots matches exclusively for a whle and I've become good enough at Overwatch that I can play 1 - 3 games a session before I start getting anxiety symptoms. Sweaty hands, dry mouth, a feeling of unease, on edge, restless. It takes about 2hrs for me to recover from these attacks. League I just cant play anymore unless I've been drinking before I play, which brings me to my next point.

I LOVE these games, I rarely feel the level of sheer enjoyment that I get from playing these games, but I'm unable to do so unless I'm intoxicated which has lead to some really awful habits forming in the past. I used to regularly spend all night drinking and playing LOL and Overwatch several nights a week, which let me tell you Is not a healthy way to do things. I still occasionally slip into it but it's more like once or twice a month as opposed 2 or 3 times a week, which is an improvement. I WISH I knew a method/way to play these games sober without the anxiety disorder kicking but sadly I don't :(

Sometimes I find having a warm drink nearby such as tea can help in the short terms, and occasionally I get lucky (as I do with life) where all my anxiety symptoms have disappeared and I can just play my dang games. This happens rarely though! Only a few times a year :(

Whilst I cant offer you much in the way of advice just wanted to let you know there are more of us out there, maybe we should form a guild or something so we can all be anxious together haha.

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#5 Edited by Oodli (246 posts) -

Just a question to all who suffer from this: do you play with randoms, or do you have a pre-made team with people you know?

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#6 Posted by clintlandon (158 posts) -

Aspergers here, too. Diagnosed a year ago but long suspected. They call mine level 3 now. To respond to @Oodli, I used to play with randos in the early days of Xbox Live before people realized just how horrible they could be and get away with it. Now it’s only with friends, and as I have trouble maintaining friendships, I tend to not play online games as much as I’d like from lack of teammates (and also I can lose whole days to them so it can be an “all or nothing” type thing.)

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#7 Posted by Efesell (4645 posts) -

I am generally terrified to start any sort of multiplayer game. Some games maintain a level of stress in them that I ultimately can't justify for just playing a game. Overwatch was one of those and it was a real bummer because I like that game a lot.

Other things I can power through that initial dread. Dungeons in an MMO are usually like this, I'll have a pretty miserable first experience but then gain enough familiarity to usually overcome it.

I've also spent the last couple of days trying to brute force Apex Legends, another game I really enjoy, with some success while a session lasts but the next day it's back to the same. I can't imagine I'll stick to it for very long.

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#8 Posted by glots (4431 posts) -

Oh, I absolutely feel this in some cases. Playing WoW, I didn't even want to think about doing dungeons with randoms as anything else besides dps, and even that was too much when it came to random raids. I didn't really feel all that comfortable about healing or tanking with friends either, admittedly.

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#9 Edited by wollywoo (326 posts) -

@tobbrobb: Yup, StarCraft is by far the most stressful online game I think. With shooters there is an occasional lull in the action, but with SC any moment you're not intensely focused is a moment you're going to lose. And this is coming from a total loser of a player. I can't imagine how intense it is at the higher levels.

Personally, I don't play any game with voice chat. Socializing is tricky enough in real life for me. I used to play team games like Unreal Tournament or Team Fortress Classic in the early 00's, but once I started having to listen to other people complaining about the way I played... nope, done.

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#10 Posted by cikame (2959 posts) -

I don't suffer from any issues, but if i try really hard to do well in a multiplayer competitive game i get extremely angry when i fail, then once the anger passes i become really depressed at how inferior i feel.
To counter this i only really play multiplayer games now if i've got a podcast or video to watch on my 2nd monitor to distract me, it stops me from trying to hear footsteps or making intelligent plays since my mind is elsewhere.
This doesn't work for fighting games, i take Tekken pretty seriously and put in hundreds of hours of practice, and due to the very personal situation of a 1v1 it hurts so much more when i don't do well, i try to counter that by only allowing myself best of 3's with strangers, that way i don't constantly rematch and wind myself up.

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#11 Posted by eccentrix (2429 posts) -

I have a lot of social anxiety and have no friends to play games with, so I'm stuck playing with strangers. The worst game I've experienced it with is SpyParty. I love that game a lot, but it's such an intimate experience that I just can't bring myself to interact with someone on that level, so I've very rarely played it.

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#12 Posted by Luchalma (554 posts) -

I got Firewall Zero Hour for PSVR because the bundle was the only way I could get an Aim comtroller around here. The game seems SO cool and the kind of game I dreamed about playing as a kid. But the game requires so much communication and teamwork I can't bring myself to play it because of my social anxiety.

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#13 Edited by norm9 (65 posts) -

My first real experience with online multi-player was SOCOM on the ps3 and let me say, I almost swore off playing online after my first experience.

I hop in a lobby. I get kicked. Hop into another lobby. They tell me to leave because they're saving the spot. Eventually I get into a game and I stink and people let me know how much I stink. I can practically feel their criticisms to when I'm the last person left since they get to talk smack with each other waiting for the round to be over. Got to the point where I purposefully tried not to be the last person left.

Eventually got over it by muting everybody. Also, it's a bit contradictory, but SOCOM is also my favorite multiplayer game ever. The lows were low as hell, but those rare highs, oh boy, they were good.

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#14 Posted by selbie (2576 posts) -

I avoid those games for the same anxiety reasons. The problem I see that conflates the fear is the impostor syndrome you get with the perceived expectation of "getting good" to perform well enough. When you are at a casual level of experience coming into a game where there are people spending thousands of hours playing, it makes you feel useless in comparison.

The best counter to this fear is to find a group of like minded players that don't have those expectations of their team mates and simply want to participate in the game. Some small streamers will let you participate if you get involved in their channel for example and there are so many now that you are bound to find a group that is like-minded.

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#15 Edited by nutter (2400 posts) -

I treat most online games like I do phone calls.

If you’re not whitelisted, I’m not going to talk to you or listen to you.

It sucks from a social perspective, but most interactions with strangers are so bad that it’s a no-brainer for me.

Part of it is that I’m past my prime with games. The other part is when you’re just looking to goof off for an hour and strangers are going full try-hard, trash talking, etc.

I miss that old Xbox 360 Zones idea...

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#16 Edited by ShaggE (9313 posts) -

MP games can totally get my anxiety going, especially if my role in the match is important or I can be spectated.

Weirdly, I love Dead by Daylight, even though that game is a nightmare for anxiety and has a particularly toxic community. I guess because doing almost anything can help a match to varying degrees, so I don't feel completely useless like I do in, say, a game of Counterstrike. (and I eventually learned that you can hide post-game chat, so if I do wang it in a match, I don't have to hear about how and why I should go fuck myself)

I also really like games like Battlefield for anxiety reasons. There's so much shit going on in a match that nobody notices my 5 Ks for every 30 Ds, haha.

Now, fighting games? Fuck no. Nonono. Not online. Friends? Absolutely. AI? That's what I play fighters for. But I learned my lesson when MK9 and Injustice came out: Stick to single player and don't even look at the multiplayer menu because it might as well not exist.

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#17 Posted by bmccann42 (446 posts) -

Thanks everyone for your stories and advice, it has been great to get insight into how others deal with similar circumstances.

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#18 Edited by Casepb (781 posts) -

Randoms give me anxiety as well, especially with my past experiences with them. I don't have aspergers or anything but I do understand where you're coming from. I can do pve modes like Destiny strikes, but pvp stuff makes me feel odd, like I will just end up getting bitched at by some random person that thinks losing a match in a video game is the end of the world. I stopped playing Overwatch because even in quickplay people were ridiculous. I do have 2 real life friends I play pvp with though. But if I'm not playing pvp with them, I'm usually not playing any pvp at all.

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#19 Posted by clagnaught (2151 posts) -

I don't have anxiety, but I think there are a couple of things you can do to reduce the amount of pressure when it comes to multiplayer games in general. First, I think certain games and modes come with a set amount of stakes. For example, being the sixth person in a Destiny raid has more of an obligation than a Strike. The same with playing a game like Dota, or Competitive Overwatch versus Quickplay. Certain stress factors can also be reduced like not joining voice chat, or disabling text chat (if that is an option). When I play Overwatch, I stick with Quickplay and the more casual modes in the seasonal events. Part of the reason is many of the more competitive modes have a greater need for voice chat and team coordination. While those can be fun, I didn't want to deal with my team being angry or quitting for whatever reason. I would much rather have a lower stakes game. If I were to play poorly, I would more often than not laugh at the mistake I made rather than feeling guilty. With instances of somebody being a dick, I would do things like muting / blocking the player, leave matchmaking for a minute or so to avoid the odds of me ending up with them again, and keep playing as if nothing happened. If I were to ever get back into Overwatch again in particular, I would probably hide all chat options (voice and text), just because at this point I'm interested more so in those mechanics than working cohesively as a team.

Not sure if anything of this is useful, but those were the first thoughts that came to mind.

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#20 Edited by deactivated-5d1d502761653 (305 posts) -

I think you should look out for some of the GB clans or some other more social clans advertising on the bungie forums.

There are actually a lot that have a high emphasis on supporting newer/inexperienced players or players that prefer playing group content in a relaxed atmosphere.

Just be upfront with your history and people will gladly help you.

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#21 Posted by doctordonkey (1864 posts) -

I used to suffer from this a lot, and still do sometimes, but I mostly got over it. Now, the method I used to get over it is by no means for everyone, but this is how I did it: I just...threw myself into it. It was a trial by fire that I enacted upon myself, just because I was sick of that anxious feeling. I jumped into Heroes of the Storm and queued Quick Match over and over again. Once I was comfortable with that, I started queuing for Ranked, which required you to engage with people a lot more because of the drafting and banning system. I just kept forcing myself into those situations, regardless of how I felt at the time. I guess it was mostly discipline. I still won't do voice coms with randoms, though.

That technique won't work for everyone, certainly. My best advice would be to just keep queuing up for games. You don't have to speak, you don't have to type, but just keep queuing. Sooner or later it gets easier, and once you've gotten over that hump on one game, it makes it easier to get over that same hump on another game, and the hump gets smaller and smaller over time.

Heroes of the Storm is a great game to deal with this, I think. You can queue up with any character you want, you can disable chats if you want, and just play. Pings are all you need for communication in that game anyway.

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#22 Posted by AdamStambaugh (42 posts) -

Oof, that sounds rough. I haven't played any online multiplayer games with random people in a long time (outside of some free-for-all in something like Xonotic). Anymore, I find it a lot more enjoyable to just have fun with some couch multiplayer whenever my fiance or guests are up for it.

If something is making you anxious, especially a game that should be something you're enjoying, then maybe you should try something different. Is the community toxic or anything like that? Maybe try getting a group of friends together to play with or something like that.

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#23 Posted by BaneFireLord (3573 posts) -

I'm with you, OP. I'm in a very stressful place in my life right now (law school: I don't recommend it!) and I play games to relax. Despite loving them, I'm not very good at games and the thought of strangers yelling shitty things at me when I'm trying my best makes me severely anxious. That's the exact opposite of what I'm looking for when I have downtime. I'll play some multiplayer games with IRL friends every once in a while, mostly GTA Online and some strategy stuff, but I haven't done random multiplayer matches with strangers for years and I don't buy multiplayer games anymore. It's a shame, since so many of them look like fun. I keep meaning to get in with one of the GB clans for some of the games I have sitting uninstalled in my Steam library but my schedule is very unkind to any sort of regular playtimes so it never seemed worth the hassle.

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#24 Posted by pappafost (230 posts) -

I have been playing Apex Legends for a few days. Is it relaxing? Not really. Is it fun? Yes, but in a highly competitive way. These competitive shooters have a player base with a certain level of skill and there is a steep learning curve to get there. PUBG and Battlefield 1 were the same way. You really have to have a bad frustrating time for a while until you can compete with the 'average' player base, and have a fighting chance to survive encounters. It's fun once you get there, but realistically not everyone wants to lose a lot for the first 10 hours, and then play 2 hours a day to stay competitive.

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#25 Posted by dcantman (9 posts) -

I suffer from a very similar anxiety, so much so that I've pretty much cut off all competitive multiplayer of any kind. With the exception of occasional crucible quickplay matches in Destiny, I haven't touched competitive multiplayer since Quake III. I don't care about my k/d ratio or number of wins or anything like that, but the prospect of being the albatross that costs my team the match can be so anxiety inducing that it negates the reason I play games at all, which is to relax and shake off the day. I don't have much advice for they hyper-competitive games like PUBG or Overwatch (even the thought of playing those gives me anxiety), but I have been able to use Destiny to work on my anxiety some. So I'll share what helped me, at least int he context of Destiny and Destiny 2's low-stakes multiplayer modes. (I've actually let this anxiety keep me from Gambit, but if it doesn't trigger your anxiety so much, it sounds like I should give it a shot.)

I think the first and best piece of advice, which I have seen above and will echo here, is to turn chat the hell off. While this negates highly-coordinated activities like nightfalls or raids, it's perfectly fine for quickplay in the crucible or strikes. I used to have a very minor extension of that anxiety related to strikes in Destiny 1, but after forcing myself to spend some time in the playlist, I realized two very important things.

1) No matter how badly you perform, the number of people who will bother to message you just to tell you how bad you did is negligible bordering on nonexistent. While I can't speak to other folks, in neither Destiny 1 or 2 have I ever had anyone message me and say how terrible I was, no matter how abysmally I did. And that's mostly because no one really cares. If a match goes bad it is just on to the next one--anyone who really cares about their numbers is in ranked, iron banner, or trials. The fear that I'm going to ruin someone's session is incredibly powerful, but also entirely unfounded because I've never experienced it: I've never had anyone tell me I ruined there's, and, just as significantly, I have never had my session ruined by someone else, no matter how poorly they performed or how much I had to carry a strike. I have no wall of infamy where I scrawl the names of players who have let me down so that I may warn my friends and shun them should they appear in matchmaking. This sounds utterly absurd, but part of my anxiety was exactly this ridiculous fear--that I would somehow acquire a mystical scarlet S for "sucks" on my player id. And if I'm not doing it, it stands to reason that few if any other players are doing it, despite what my anxiety screams at me. My anxiety got a lot more manageable when I realized...

2) It is utterly impossible for one player to ruin a strike. Part of this is mechanical; Bungie has made sure that players who are too far behind get brought forward, for example. But I realized also, partially through Destiny, but mostly through Warframe: the vast majority of players in strikes (or missions in Warframe) are so overpowered and know the strikes inside and out, so you doing well or poorly matters not a bit. Especially in the playlist, nearly every strike I do very quickly becomes one player utterly dominating, and in only the rarest of cases is it ever me. Most of the time these are people who could run these strikes blindfolded while holding the controller with their feet. And most folks I know play Destiny with their attention divided; I listen to audio books and podcasts because I'm getting to the point of knowing these missions that well. So your ability to personally "ruin" their session is nonexistent. I can barely remember the previous strike ten minutes into the next. There's a lot of focus on the need for teamwork in co-op modes, even if it's not really required, by developers; some people thrive under the pressure. But if your anxiety is anything like mine, it was incredibly helpful to realize that my contribution ultimately doesn't matter and will be quickly forgotten. With the pressure removed, I can just play for the sake of enjoying the game (or even just to have something to do with my hands while I listen to new book). All that said, there is one kind of player that can impact my session, but it is only for the better, and led me to my third realization...

3) Be the player you need in these games. If you want to work on your anxiety and step into multiplayer you will suck for a time. And it will suck to suck. But at a time when I really needed engrams, I steeled myself and did the five or six weekly crucible matches to get the powerful engram. To my immense surprise, I improved a lot faster than I thought I would. It did not take that long or as many matches as I had feared to get decent (this will depend on how you define "decent", of course; I define it as where the enjoyment outweighed the anxiety and regularly not being last). Once I got decent, I began to notice players who were struggling. Rather than get frustrated, though, I have always tried to be helpful. While it doesn't bother me anymore when a player runs ahead and does the strike basically on their own, I always appreciate when players wait for me and rez me (circumstances permitting). In the crucible, I would recommend just shadowing whoever on your team is closest and watching them; jump where they jump, shot who they shoot at, and see what you can learn. You may worry you are hindering them, but support is always appreciated, and even while you are learning maps and strategy, you are doing more for the team providing even limited support than running around the map lost and getting picked off. And if my ineffectual ass taking fire allows the better player to avoid it and make a couple of kills, then I have contributed, at least a little. This is how people learn these modes, and more people than your anxiety lets you believe understand this and are at least tolerant, usually patient, and sometimes actively helpful. The latter is always the best, and I always appreciate that person when I am playing (and especially when I'm sucking). As a minor gesture, dancing always cuts the tension. If I see someone dancing after a strike, I know they're not stewing over my performance. I try to dance after strikes because there may be someone like me (and you, it sounds like) who is worrying about just that.

Hopefully some of of this is helpful. These realizations, and Destiny in particular, have helped me a great deal. That said, there is a coda to this that I'm not sure how best to include because I don't want it to come off as hopeless. Getting decent at the crucible, and playing a lot of Destiny in general led (some might say inevitably) to needing a break from Destiny. After just scratching the Warmind expansion I took several months off, fell hard into Warframe, and only returned with Forsaken. I tried to fire up the crucible and, sadly, the anxiety was back to its full strength. People had been playing all this time and I had not, and from this kernel of truth the anxiety just snowballed back into me: I will ruin the match for my team; my name will appear on the nonexistent Wall of Shunning; somehow my poor performance will make a FUN game NOT-FUN for anyone who plays with me, even for but a single match. To anyone who doesn't suffer this kind of anxiety, these thoughts probably sound absurd to the point of farce, but they are overpowering and inescapable. Even when I was on the cusp of moving from "decent" to something resembling "good", I was never able to get rid of the anxiety entirely. But it can become tolerable and be outweighed by enjoyment; it can be managed. And if you find yourself able to find more enjoyment than anxiety in these games and modes, I would say stick with them, even if just enough to keep the anxiety in check. I'm having to start over with Destiny, and even though it may go faster this time (I hope), it's still incredibly unpleasant to force myself through that anxiety again.

I will probably never be able to LFG a raid with strangers, which means I will likely never see the raids; watching the GB crew run the first raid and just thinking about trying to participate, and inevitably screwing it up, made me physically sick to my stomach. I will probably never be able to chat with strangers in any mode, or play a battle royale of any kind. But I was able to play more of Destiny 2 than I could before, even the team modes, without the full weight of anxiety that plagued me through most of Destiny 1. I could have more fun with the modes than they caused me anxiety. And this entire thread has given me new resolve to get back to that state.

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#26 Posted by Efesell (4645 posts) -

@dcantman said:

But if your anxiety is anything like mine, it was incredibly helpful to realize that my contribution ultimately doesn't matter and will be quickly forgotten. With the pressure removed, I can just play for the sake of enjoying the game (or even just to have something to do with my hands while I listen to new book).

This right here sounds like kind of a depressing thought but is absolutely vital to a lot of the games I really like to play. I work very hard to keep in the forefront of my mind that nobody is really paying nearly as much attention to you as your brain wants you believe and constantly fret over. It's weird for the comforting thought to be "Yo chill out nobody actually gives a shit what you are doing right now." but it really is just extremely important to me, especially for something like an MMO.

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#27 Posted by csl316 (15041 posts) -

It's why I just mute everyone. It makes it feel like I'm just playing a bot game with more interesting AI. Never been a fan of talking to random people and prefer to just put on a podcast. I don't care about playing at super high levels anymore. Probably not the best teammate but eh......

The only time I get true anxiety is when I'm on the Starcraft 2 screen debating if I should find a game.