How I learned to stop worrying and embrace distance gaming
Over the last year gaming has changed a ton. What was predominately a chance to get together with your friends to throw dice, eat snacks, socialize and game had to change on a fundamental level. Some gaming groups adapted, some did not and some even thrived.
There are many sites out there that include information Virtual Table Top options, “table” etiquette, Theater of the Mind vs. maps/minis and so forth. Definitely check some of them out. For this article I’m going to talk about my own experience moving from in person games to online and back(?) again.
My first steps into hosting games online (or playing them) was forced by necessity. When we realized that we’d have to either shelve our game for a few weeks (oh how optimistic we were back in the days of late March 2020) or look at online options I did think long and hard about just a hiatus for few weeks before deciding to jump in.
Our first game used Astral VTT and Discord. It was just okay. Obviously online, even with audio and video, can’t compete with playing in person. There’s a noticeable drop in energy levels, players (and characters) are less likely to bounce off each other in wild and crazy ways. Between that and the amount of extra work things took on my end – not just with maps and tokens but also inputting sheets and npcs and items and so forth – it was done because we had to, not because we wanted to. It was a chore and a ton of work. Work is not something I, generally speaking, apply to gaming. It’s a hobby and it’s fun for me, even the prep work and the writing and that stuff. Online gaming made it less so in many ways.
Online brought it with some noticeable differences, both good and bad. I noticed that many player and GM habits seemed to be bigger or broader or more noticeable. The player who is always chatty means others can’t get a word in. The player who is argumentative becomes more pushy because there’s that distance between people. The indecisive player who can’t make up their mind now has more things to worry about. The GM who doesn’t prep until 10 minutes before the game means critical information isn’t there for the session. The GM who struggles to keep the players’ attention now has to compete with much more. Everything seems to become heightened. We all had to adjust (and continue to).
Part way in to the pandemic three things happened that sort of fundamentally shifted my attitude towards playing games this way.
With the move to playing online I had the opportunity to play with friends that lived far away that could never get to the same table. People I have known for years, sometimes decades, and yet playing together has been a rare or non-existant thing.
We’re all more mature gamers in my circle, which means that for many of us gaming is a weekend activity and more often than not bi-weekly or even monthly. We have things to do, need to be up at a certain time, need to be in bed by a certain hour etc. Not having to spend 30-40 minutes driving to a game (each way) opened up a ton of opportunity for playing during the week (gasp!!). Playing from the comfort of home means you can easily get a four hour session in on a Wednesday night after supper.
Not in terms of during the game. That’s something that groups will need to deal with on their own. I mean big things. Two of my D&D players moved to other provinces (taking all necessary precautions) during the course of things. Ordinarily this would have been horrible for the game but since we’d already been playing online we just kept right on trucking. It was refreshing to not have to panic about finding new players or letting the campaign die or other such things. Once they got settled we just picked right up.
I do miss playing in person but I have a game that does that (currently Stars Without Number, soon to be D&D) so I can definitely see continuing the online play. Several of my games now involve people in multiple time zones. I’ve grown used to running or playing a game (active entertainment) vs. watching a TV show or movie (passive entertainment). It took me a while to decide if I preferred playing this way to playing in person and honestly I don’t think I have a preference really. I like the opportunities playing online presents. I appreciate that for friends who have health issues playing online provides them an easier avenue to hang out for a bit. I love some of the online tools for organization etc. I’ve gotten quite used to and enjoy adding data into Foundry (my VTT of choice) and making maps with Inkarnate. While I don’t know if playing online is going to continue to be my primary gaming outlet there’s no doubt it will continue to be a part of my hobby going forward.