I went to a birthday party a few days ago and it was awful. Well, to be fair, the party was fine but I went as a Plus One -- which is not to say that it was a Google-themed costume party -- and I didn't know anyone there. Some people are fine in that sort of situation, some people even thrive, but for me it was difficult, painful even.
I was a quiet child and while I had friends and I did spend time with them, I often preferred my own company, reading and drawing and using my toys to enact epic stories -- more often than not ripped off from Simon Furman's Transformers comics -- in which members of Action Force or the Rebel Alliance were recast as characters of my own making.
It will come as no surprise that I was bullied. Nothing too horrific but enough that it made an awkward and quiet child even more awkward and quiet, happier to stay in with a Fighting Fantasy gamebook rather than going out to play.
Things got better as I got older but it's fair to say that I have never quite overcome my social discomfort, as I showed at the aforementioned birthday party; even if I know you -- even if I know you well -- it's not uncommon for me to fumble and splutter through a conversation, like Hugh Grant with a head injury. Sometimes I just go quiet; I am not being unfriendly, I am just so scared of messing up that I mess up.
This doesn't happen with a game. I can sit around a dinner or pub table with a group and I will probably embarrass myself, but sit the same people around a board or role-playing game and something changes. That's not to say that a handful of dice is like Dumbo's magic feather and all of a sudden I'm sliding around the room gladhanding and hobnobbing, and it also doesn't mean that conversation is limited to the game, but the game becomes a sort of focus and that takes some of the pressure away; I don't have to entertain anyone or maintain their interest, because the game will carry that burden.
(And yes, I know there's no obligation to entertain anyone, but there's nothing rational about fear.)
When there's a game involved, the clumsiness and anxiety you would expect to see in me dissipate and I become more open and talkative; so much so that I have made good friends at the gaming table, and I even served as the best man at the wedding of one of them.
Perhaps it's a crutch. Perhaps I should try harder to deal with the anxiety because I can't lug a copy of Call of Cthulhu or Blood Bowl with me to every social gathering -- or can I? -- but perhaps it doesn't matter.
I don't know; I just wanted to get this out there. It's what blogs are for, after all.