Dozens and Dragons

I have aphantasia

What it means and how it impacts my games



  1. What Is Aphantasia
  2. How It Impacts My Games
  3. Advice for GMs
  4. Frequently Asked Questions
  5. Resources

What Is Aphantasia

I don’t have the ability to visualize things in my mind. I have no inner eye or visual recall.

This extends to other senses too: although I’m a music lover, I can’t really imagine and “hear” a piece of music that I love and know by heart. I don’t have much of an inner voice or inner monologue.

It’s just kind of still and quiet in my head when I try to visualize things.

For most of my life I thought that “counting sheep” was just a weird saying.

I meditate a lot, but never understood that people actually visualize during visualization meditations. I thought “visualization” was just another way of saying “descriptive.” Come to find out, there’s a reason I always found guided meditations kind of boring.

It probably has a lot to do with my poor memory. I can probably tell you facts about things, but I have no immersive recall of anything that has ever happened to me.

How It Impacts My Games

I play lots of games—both as a player and as a GM—in a variety of formats: in person, online, text only, voice only. Theater of the Mind is often my preferred mode of play. I make lots of games that I publish both on this blog and on my itch.

Aphantasia impacts my games the same amount that it impacts the rest of my life: hardly at all.

Remember, to me, this is normal. The fact that all of you can willingly hallucinate on command makes you the weirdos.

If I am a player in your game and you describe the following scene:

Your warrior crosses the battlefield, sword held aloft, and leaps onto the tail of the blue dragon. The tail twitches, but the dragon is distracted by the wizard currently hurling fire bolts at its face. You stumble but keep your footing as you scale the beast’s back. Finding your perch between its shoulder blades, you raise your sword overhead in both hands. The wyrm throws its head back and roars in furious agony as you drive the blade deep between its wings.

… that’s dope as hell, and I know exactly what’s going on when you say that. I’ve been exposed to the same fantasy media and tropes that you have. I know what a dragon looks like, and I know what an epic fantasy battle looks like just as well as you do. I just can’t “see” it the way you probably can.

Speaking of battlefields, yes, maps and minis for in-person play, and virtual tabletops for online play, help me visualize distances and sizes during combat. But I think that’s true for everybody. And those things are only important in wargames like D&D where tactics, range, and precision are really important.

Honestly, tactical map-based combat is fun for me if it’s fast and risky, but if it ever lasts more than 3 - 5 total rounds, it starts to get boring. I’m here for stories. Not for battlefield simulation: I prefer cinematics over tactics, and tend to enjoy more abstracted combat.

I think my aphantasia is also a big reason why I’m such a historian / chronicler / notetaker / doodler during my games. Player or GM. It’s a way for me to engage with and remember the session in the absence of being able to visually recall or think about it later.

Advice for GMs

So if you’re ever running a game for me or somebody like me—and you may not ever; it is estimated that only ~2% of the population are aphantasics—then here is my advice for you.

  1. Talk to your player. This is the universal number one rule for all games. For any relationship whatsoever, really. Ask them about their experience, ask them what their needs and expectations are, and be honest—with them and with yourself—about whether you can satisfy them.

  2. Be patient. If the scenario in play relies on lots of visual or spatial information, you may need to repeat yourself for them. Or get out some paper and make a few squiggles. This is true for battle scenarios, who’s currently injured how much, and puzzles. Puzzles especially, for me.

  3. Maybe use some maps and figures?

Frequently Asked Questions

Have a question? Let me know and I’ll answer it here.

How do you do creative stuff if you can’t imagine things?
First of all, I reject the premise. I have an excellent imagination. I can imagine things all day long. I just have no visual imagination. But if your question is, what is the creative process like for you, then my answer is probably the same as for a lot of people. I try to inject some randomness into a familiar system, juxtapose different ideas, and draw connections between seemingly unrelated things. For example, what if honeybees infected bears the same way cordyceps does ants? Then you’d have gruesome zombie bears piloted by their bee hosts like in the Forest Game
Do you dream?
Yes, I have vivid dreams. It is the only time I am able to visualize things in my mind, and is probably why I love sleeping and dreaming and taking naps:
You don’t know what your mother (or other loved one) looks like?
Yes, I do. I just can’t “see” her. I know the shape and features of her face, her size and height, her haircut, the clothes and jewelry she wears, and the sound of her voice. I probably know them as well as you know the person you know best. But I don’t know what color her eyes are.
Can you describe that one apartment you lived in?
No, I cannot. We lived there for a brief time during an extraordinarily busy time in my life, and I have no memory of it whatsoever.
What’s it like when you read?
I really don’t know how to answer this. Most of the time when I’m reading, I hear nothing at all, my eyes just pass words straight to my brain for processing. If I slow down and actually read. each. word. or couple of words. really. deliberately. then I get a voice, sort of? Imagine a quiet voice that doesn’t form words or sounds. Or it does, but it’s super monotone and mostly quiet whispers on the wind. It’s the difference between hearing somebody speak out loud, and reading printed word. But again, I don’t know if that’s a useful distinction if you can hear printed words spoken in your head.


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