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I've been reading forum posts and blogs who mention "my guy" syndrome as a specific type of difficult player, but I can't seem to find a solid definition for the term. Can someone explain this particular kind of problem player to me?

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Accepting an answer so soon discourages other people from giving you different versions. Please wait at least a couple of days before accepting it. –  Zachiel May 3 at 22:27
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@Zachiel: that's debatable (though the majority opinion seems to agree, FWIW). –  Nick Stauner May 5 at 2:54
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@NickStauner That link doesn't indicated it's debatable. It indicates that it's true for many users, and not for others. Since "some" is less than all, the result is that yes, it does discourage new answers, in that fewer will be submitted than otherwise. –  SevenSidedDie May 6 at 17:40
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3 Answers 3

"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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I think by many standards, the scenario would be considered too easy if just killing everyone is both straightforward and a win. One option therefore would be for you to say "it's what my guy would do, but surely they'd have thought of that and defended the exhaust vent. Let's check for surveillance etc.". Then look hopefully at the GM to tell you "yep, looks like the place is thick with sensors. Practically bristling". Basically you can acknowledge your guy but undermine him OOC, if you don't feel happy just saying "I guess I should act completely against character. Sigh". –  Steve Jessop May 4 at 1:02
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A very common example, D&D-specific, is to abdicate responsibility for decisions that annoy other players or hurt the game, to the one or two letters of alignment. "I had to steal that treasure from the party - see, Chaotic Neutral!". –  Neil Slater May 4 at 8:43
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By the way, blowing stuff up instead of engaging enemies diretly can be a totally valid style of play. That kind of strategic play is particularly popular in OSR circles, I believe. But then it's not because "it's what my guy would do", it's because it fits that style of play, and everybody will have fun and congratulate each other on successfully avoiding a dangerous fight. –  mcv May 5 at 9:57
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Great answer overall. I think that example in particular is poor though. I think it was tactically sound choice on the explosives expert's part, and if it wasn't fun I think a better GM would have found an in-fiction reason for it to not work, at the most blunt he could have suddenly declared the expert finds half his explosives are duds when he went to prep them (and a really good GM could have done much better than that). –  TimothyAWiseman May 5 at 16:10
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Assuming the players are on some sort of team, you could have the characters argue with the "just blow it up" guy, explaining why they want to talk to/fight the bad guy, etc. and, if need be, tie up the bomb-happy member to prevent him from just blowing up the ship. Shifting this conversation from the players to the characters changes it from "but my guy would do that" - "but it's no fun" to "I wanna blow it up!" - "No, here's why we can't do that" –  Tim S. May 5 at 19:11
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"My Guy Syndrome" is the tendency of gamers to justify anything they do in game, as "what my guy would do", even when that means the actions undertaken are contrary to genre, to game agreements, or other things the group may value.

For example - if you're playing a Golden Age Superheroes game, but someone decides their "hero" is going to start killing people. "It's what MY GUY would do!" they whine. You're playing a fantasy game, and they start trying to develop steam engines, advanced metalworking, etc. "It's what MY GUY would do!". The team of heroes off to fight the Big Evil and one player starts stealing from the other characters, "It's what MY GUY would do..."

The linked post I have, that is referenced in Zachiel's answer, mostly has this key point to consider:

Come up with as colorful a concept as possible, preferably somewhat irrational, so that you can carry out the following safety-measures from “in character” and blame the character for “making” you role-play in this way.

And that the whole reason for this is that you have a player who WANTS to have input into play, wants to have power over their character (either because the current game doesn't give them enough, or they've come to expect it of ALL games), and that this is the dysfunctional solution they've discovered gives them some power.

"If I can't have the power to do what I'm interested in, I'll act out on what's going on in order to have ANY input and control at all."

This isn't necessarily done with hostility, since a lot of players pick up this behavior pattern by seeing others do it too.

The Solution

"Ok. Pause the game. Here's what I see going on - my interpretation. Your character seems to be doing XYZ, but that doesn't exactly fit with what this game genre/setting/point of play is about. I'm not sure what you're trying to do here. Help me out. Tell me what you're aiming for so we can make this work."

And, the more blunt point of it is, "How is this fun?"

Ask the player directly. Treat them as an equal and get input. But also, recognize that this behavior nearly always comes from a place where people expect NOT to be heard, not to be listened to, and not to be given any kind of input. It's an ingrained defense mechanism and hard to get out of.

Bringing it to the player wipes out the illusion that this isn't US, at the table, talking to each other and making things happen. What happens at the table is happening because WE, make it happen. By putting it out in the open, we can coordinate it and get the fun we want together. "My guy" doesn't ruin the game, or make the game fun, it's me, it's you, it's us here right now.

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+1 for offering a practical solution to the problem. Would be better still if you could offer advice for what to do when you are stuck on "but that's what my guy would do" and can't think of an alternative. (i.e. when you are the "my guy" player, recognise you're doing it, but are stuck) –  starsplusplus May 6 at 10:22
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@Bankuei, who often wanders around these halls, tells us it's a synonym of the abused gamer syndrome, where a player with bad roleplaying-related experiences on his back has become unable to trust the environment, the game master, the system or the other players and plays against character, and often metagames, to protect his character from outside harm.
I should know, being a good example of the trope myself.

In Ron Edwards' words:

  • Play optimally concerning character survival. The game system is perfectly capable of killing your character, and at least some GMs are invested in making this happen or in not doing anything to prevent it.
  • Play optimally concerning your own ego. The GM is very invested in making his story happen, and if your character needs to be overly gullible or stupid for the story to work (often the case), then the GM will take him over and make him that way, making you look stupid and basically stripping you, personally, of social and creative power at the table. Such a GM is not a player-killer like the ones I mentioned in #1, but in some ways, he’s worse!

If “play my character” is construed from these parameters, it results in the following tactics (I’ve stated them a little bit extremely):
a. Come up with as colorful a concept as possible, preferably somewhat irrational, so that you can carry out the following safety-measures from “in character” and blame the character for “making” you role-play in this way.
b. Safety-measure – treat all GM characters as hostile, treacherous, and of no emotional importance whatsoever.
c. Safety-measure – avoid rolling the dice or otherwise engaging in the resolution mechanics as much as possible.
d. Safety-measure – create as much minor strife or minor friendship for your character with the other player-characters as you can, because such interactions carry no risk, take up time

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I think you're describing general turtling more so than "my guy" –  Alex P May 3 at 23:18
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