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My Guy Syndrome

posted Jan 29, 2015, 11:15 AM by Matt Nickolette
Ran across this article.  Thought you guys might find it interesting.

"It's what my guy would do!"

"My Guy" syndrome is when — often unwittingly — you disclaim decision-making power and responsibility by acting like "what my character would do" is inevitable and inviolable, even if it gets in the way of actually having fun in the game or being able to play the game at all.

JD Corley wrote up a story that covers it pretty perfectly in one of the original discussion threads:

So here's a practical example from the halcyon days of My Guyness and me.

d6 Star Wars. I was playing a trigger-happy demolitions expert. We were going onto an enemy ship in order to get the bad guy.

I say, "I have enough explosives, you know what? We don't even need to sneak onto the ship. I'll just plant the explosives below the engine exhaust."

Jedi player: "Dude, don't do that, I want to have my guy face off with the evil bastard in a big lightsaber fight."

Me: "But it's what my guy would do, it's the most effective way to take him out with the least chance of getting caught or hurt."

Alien diplomat player: "But I really wanted to find out what his plan was!"

Me: "It's what my guy would do, who cares what his plan was if he's dead?"

After some back-and-forth, the following transpired, which REALLY shows how much the well can be poisoned:

Jedi player: "Damn, well, you're right, it's what your character would do, go ahead."

Alien diplomat player: "Crap on a stick, yeah, go ahead. It's what your guy would do."

Me: "Sorry guys."

GM: "Roll 'em."

And I blew up the ship and the campaign was over and we won and all the players, myself and the GM included, had a miserable time.

Who's fault was this?

Sure as hell wasn't "my guy's" fault. (Or the designer or the GM.) It was MY fault.

And yet I felt absolutely no responsibility at all, and my fellow players didn't think it was my responsibility, and perversely, they often said, "I guess it was good roleplaying..." in campaign postmortems. Good roleplaying?? Damn, if good roleplaying means "everyone is miserable and thinks it's stupid", let me go find another hobby like getting beaten with sticks.

Even though I had designed the character to make that decision, and the GM had set up the general situation, and I had evaluated the specific situation, somehow an inanimate piece of paper became a token by which we could disclaim all responsibility for our own miserableness. We didn't even say "hey next time we should make sure our characters end up doing things that make us here in the real world happy and fulfilled". We just went and made the same mistake again. Why? Because I didn't do it, "it was what my guy would do". Pfui. I shall never do that bullshit again. Knock on wood.

"My Guy" thinking ruined that game because it made the players feel powerless in steering it towards where the fun was.

Why is this busted?

"My Guy" behavior is busted because you, the person at the table, are the one actually making decisions. Always. You always have the option not to pursue a path that'll be bad for the game as a whole. You may feel compelled to act a certain way out of a sense of fidelity to established characterization, or you may be worried about losing a character (or a character losing face, which can be just as ego-bruising). But, well, the health of the game is in your hands, not in the hands of a fictional character.

Handling "my guy" syndrome

Dealing with "My Guy" is pretty easy once you're aware of it, really: don't hide behind "It's what my guy would do," and don't accept it for an answer. Instead, communicate and engage with each other as people at the table.

Just, like, say what's really on your mind. If something makes you uncomfortable, say "This makes me uncomfortable." If something seems out-of-character for the kind of game you're trying to run or play, say that.

As the player making a decision, look beyond "My Guy" to "Our Game." Are you doing something that you, as a player, actually want to see happen in play? Is it fun for you? Is it fun but only at the expense of someone else's fun?

Rich Burlew's article "Making the Tough Decisions" may be a useful guide, especially for traditional adventure RPGs like D&D:

You are not your character, and your character is not a separate entity with reactions that you cannot control. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a player state that their character's actions are not under their control. Every decision your character makes is your decision first. It is possible and even preferable for you to craft a personality that is consistent but also accommodating of the characters the other players wish to play.

[...]

Separate your character's thoughts from your own thoughts, but don't forget who is in control of both personalities. The division between your personality and that of your character only goes so far as it helps the game; once it begins becoming a disruption, a player has a responsibility to alter his or her character's decisions in the interest of the group. In the end, your relationships with the people you are sitting in someone's living room with are more important than your character's internal consistency.

Another good resource to look at is Same Page Tool, which helps you establish goals and structure for the game you're playing — if you do this ahead of time, you know have something concrete to talk about when a confusing issue happens in play.


Wait, can't the GM just fix it?

Kinda sorta, sometimes. But mostly no. Here's the thing: you can't really make something happen despite the other players and have it be the same as something happening because of them.

There's a world of difference between a game where the PCs naturally follow the genre-based (e.g. "Star Wars!") or structural (e.g. "2-3 fair fights a session") conceits and one where they don't but the GM tries to "backdoor" them in somehow. It's the difference between all building towards something together and one person having to expect extra effort just to block and twist what another player is doing.

Also, fundamentally, the protagonists define the fiction. You're not going to be able to create the experience you want (e.g. "Star Wars!") without having all the players at the table play their characters in a suitable way. There's no way to force the genre onto the PCs if the players aren't playing along.

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