Awkward family situations – a social challenge?

I had an uncomfortable and revealing conversation with my sister and niece the other day. It was the first time I had seen them long enough to share a meal and hangout in years, so after a few drinks and some probing questions, we got to sharing our feelings.

It’s worth noting that I’m very guarded with my family. They have no interest in gaming (when I bring it up the eye rolls are palpable) and they often want to go from 0 to tell-me-your-deepest-darkest-secrets in 10 seconds…too fast for me. They share a lot and I tend to keep my cards close to my chest. Why?

  • Some of my history isn’t all mine to share (it involves other people’s stories as well).
  • My family tends to jump straight into giving advice, even when they lack the context to do so. After I’ve shared I often either spend a lot of time saying “thanks but that doesn’t work for me” or just nodding along hoping it will end soon.
  • I just don’t feel…safe. I don’t know where that knowledge will go. Will it be shared as gossip with the rest of my family? Will it be used as ammunition against me later?

And that last bit is exactly what happened. They shared stories, I shared stories, we talked about our feelings, and then something I shared wasn’t okay. I had jokingly complained about my mother, who is LITERALLY the kindest, most generous, most loving woman in the world. I think complaining about parents is like one of the major sources of sibling bonding, but it turned out instead to be a point of contention, and I spent an hour trying to prove that yes I did in fact love my mother, that I think she’s wonderful, and that I do say nice things to her. It was a frustrating conversation that I felt drained by, but from my families account, it was an incredible night and they are so glad that I shared with them. They aren’t wrong, we did share a lot, and maybe it was really good for them. But for me, it was an emotional battleground that I felt exhausted by (Level 1 Harm, emotionally drained).

Why is this a gaming post?

Reflecting on it, I wouldn’t want to play out a scene like this in a game, but I can see some useful gamer bits to draw from.

  • Sometimes you don’t know you’re in a dangerous situation until you’ve already stepped in it. My family has the emotional jujitsu to put me on the defensive before I even realize that’s on the table. I think “you’re trapped in an uncomfortable situation and navigating you’re way out of it may be impossible” might be a good example of a time when you make a resistance roll just to act on your own accord. Probably Resolve (to keep my emotional balance) but I could see making an argument for Insight (to have NOPE out before it even gets that far).
  • Harm in the form of emotional exhaustion, zero fucks to give, or drained by family all makes sense. It tires you out, leaves you second guessing yourself, and takes time to recover from. I don’t want to conflate that with mental illness or emotional abuse, but good natured “sharing” can be exhausting. I think I got a mixed success. I walked out with my family satisfied (success), but I was exhausted and felt more guarded than before (consequences).
  • A great example of how the action you chose affects position and effect, but also the kind of outcomes (successes and consequences) you might end up with. Normally in Blades the players states their intent, the GM says what the threat is, the player chooses the action, and then GM sets position/effect. But it’s a conversation and sometimes things have to be amended. The threat may vary if you choose to Consort vs. Command vs. Sway vs. Wreck (hey, different people get out of awkward social situations in different ways!). I think I was consorting, trying to lead with emotional honesty, but I may have had less at stake and probably less to gain (safer position but less effect) if I had stayed guarded and tried to Sway them by placating them rather than being honest. If I had instead tried Command, I think it would have just been bad all around (Desperate/Limited) as I think the best I could hope for would be to end the conversation early, and the likely outcome if I didn’t thread that needle just perfectly would have been years of family gossip.

Any insights on gaming mechanics from your uncomfortable family gatherings?