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:
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 negatively impact you and your friends' enjoyment of 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.
"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.
"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.
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
You - the player - can always come up with a reason that makes sense for "MyGuy" to not do something that is too easy and makes the game unsatisfying. Using the forum.rpg.net post cited by Alex P, there is nothing actually stopping that player dreaming up how their explosives expert could ever possibly think of not ending the story way too soon.
A list of reasons that "my guy" would use to not do the thing that wouldn't be fun:
- He doesn't want to use all his explosives on one target when he has no idea what he'll face later when he'll need the explosives rather than what would simply be a convenient way to use them.
- It's so easy it's probably a trap, since it's the sort of thing anyone would think of therefore they probably have a countermeasure for just such a thing, so "MyGuy" realises he has to be less predictable to fool the empire.
- He is hesitant about blowing up a ship that he knows his Jedi friend made clear he'd be heading to to face off with the Sith villain, he could be killing his friend.
- It is actually such an excellent opportunity to blow up this ship it's too good an opportunity to miss, he could plant the bomb and only detonate it at the critical moment when it's most needed. If blown up now then they could send a replacement in time but detonating as a VIP ship is escaping is the perfectly timed distraction
- If such a weakness were attacked now it would tip off the Empire to such a weakness in this minor battle, they'd easily get it fixed by the time of a major action. Hell they might just be grateful for exposing the flaw in their entire fleet.
- He knows that's just what they'd expect him to do, who knows how he is being manipulated "what a fool I've been, if there's important diplomats on that ship and they can prove a rebel blew it up that's another propaganda coup!"
So you haven't broken character, he's still the ruthless explosive expert, you've just had him choose the option which is on balance more interesting for the story.
"My Guy Syndrome" can also refer more generically to defending poor social behavior at the game table as somehow justified by the player's character concept.
In this instance, a player is repetitively rude or unkind to fellow players, and it may not be clear whether this is "in-character" or "out-of-character" (especially at a convention game, where the players may have only just met), but the player will defend the poor behavior as obviously "in-character" and appropriate for their character concept (aka "it's what my guy would do").
In the end, whether it's in or out of character doesn't make much difference for the player on the receiving end of the poor behavior. For a game based around teamwork, collective goals and cooperative story telling, having "jerk" as your character concept is not generally going to promote a fun atmosphere.
"My Guy" Syndrome is a Symptom of a Larger Problem
Syndrome: a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder, disease, or the like. (In this case, it's a "disorder" in the Tabletop Dynamic between Players and each other and the GM)
Typically, there are three main problems that result in "My Guy": Metagaming, Glory-Hunting, or Trolling, none of which have any place at the Table. So, to fix "My Guy", you have to fix the problem that's causing it.
My Guy is Metagaming
One of most-common issues with My Guy is when players don't trust the DM, and they are using previous experiences (which they know about but their characters don't) to try to "My Guy" their way around things which previous experience has taught them is a "trap."
For example, you try to set-up a story where the Party gets lured into a trap by a seemingly-innocuous Job, but a Player smells a trap and says, "No, My Guy wouldn't agree to that. He would think it's a trap."
Alternatively, you could be describing a room with a secret door to a treasure chamber, asking the Party to make a Perception check, and they all fail, so they don't notice the treasure door. But one person says, "My Guy is going to make an Investigation Check for Secret Doors."
And the worst instances are the ones with Mimics. An experienced player will have a sense of whether a chest is a Mimic or not, but the issue is that his Character doesn't. The general way a problem arises is that a Character fails to determine that a chest is a Mimic, but the player knows its a Mimic, so they say, "My Guy smashes the Chest with an Axe, just to be safe."
You counter this just like you would counter regular Metagaming:
- Going "out of game" for a moment and asking, "Wait, how does your character know that?" It's a gentle call-out of Metagaming behavior, without being accusatory, which can often make people rethink their actions.
- If the behavior persists, you can discuss with the DM about calling a meeting with the rest of the party to discuss that what they know outside of the game has nothing to do with what they know in the game.
- Mimics can be fun to play with: If someone assumes that a Chest is a Mimic, quickly edit the story so the chest isn't: they just cracked a chest open and some armor, a golden goblet, and a sword fell-out. Of course, one of these items is the actual Mimic. If your players are trying to Metagame, don't be afraid to undermine them a bit.
My Guy wants the Limelight
My Guy can also be caused when one player really wants to make the story about their character and not anyone else's. It's a form of hijacking, and is just as bad at the Table as it is in a fanfiction, novel, or movie.
A good example of this is the Star Wars situation in the answer from Alex P.
Another example could be when someone says, "Well, My Guy keeps [insert critical item here] in-reserve for just this sort of occasion, so..."
In this case, it's best to talk to the player who is making the game not-fun about Mary-/Gary-Sues and why they can't hog all the limelight. Tell them that they need to share the glory and not just take it all for themselves.
Alternatively, you could give them the Apollo Diomedes Treatment (accompanied by a talk afterwards about the issue and why you had to "punish" them like that), though this may not work and may only exacerbate problems in the Tabletop Dynamic.
This is the hardest situation to deal with because, often, the player refuses and the situation escalates to the GM having to kick the player, who actually wants to play, from the Table, something which should never have to happen.
My Guy's a Troll
This is the worst form of "My Guy" out there because, unlike everyone else, the player is not interested in actually playing the game, and so they are actively trying to derail the party or mess-up the GM's plans.
Often, the solution for this kind of "My Guy" is to ask the Player why they are even at the Table in the first place, which will either result in an unfulfilled expectation or other issue (usually on-part of the Player) being expressed, or the Player might leave of their own accord.
For example, you have a Player who feels like the other players are out to "get" them and the GM isn't doing anything about it. Expressing this, which is often best done alone with the GM and the player, can help the GM fix the underlying issues.