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? How do you deal with this kind of problem?
"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:
"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:
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.
"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:
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.
"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.
@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.
In Ron Edwards' words: