In these days of traveling and geographic isolation, the internet is proving that in addition to being our future overlord, it makes a great way to keep a gaming group together—and enrich it.
G+ Hangouts and Skype
Voice, video and chat capability are the holy trinity of an online gaming experience when you want as close to a “real table” as possible. You can hear each other, see each other, paste links to music and reference photos, even hold asides via messenger programs to augment what you’re doing in game. On a personal note, I can tell you that when the robot killing machine is having an aside with my GM, I have learned to be very, very afraid. G+ Hangouts have the added bonus of such horrors as screen sharing.
The drawback to G+ for me have been the phenomenal amount of times the group I game with has had to bail to Skype because the hangout bugged out on the GM or one/all of the players.
The only drawback I’ve had with Skype as a player is one you can have regardless of program: lag. We’ll have nights everyone’s internet clips along, video is impeccable, and the audio is crisp. Then there are nights we’d all like to take our respective internet connections out back and go all sickhouse on that shit.
Message boards are great—primarily—for two things.
- Running your entire game there. Play-by-post is an incredibly practical, asynchronous way to play for people who, due to schedule, geography or personal inclination, are not in a physical game or a ‘virtual table’ such as G+ Hangouts or Skype.
- As a way to augment a game that is not played primarily on the board. In-world fiction, some playing via post, game announcements, rules discussions that would hijack entire games, can all take place via a message board.
For games with a populous that loves Facebook, a private Facebook group is a good way to schedule games or coordinate game logistics in a way that stays out of everyone’s inbox.
It’s a multi-tasker. How do we make the games we love via e-mail? Let us extol the ways.
- We can play entire games via e-mail. Just like a message board play-by-post, but the fix is straight in your inbox.
- We can use e-mail to augment our gameplay that’s done elsewhere. Like the second option for message boards, we can use e-mail for announcements, rules discussions, in-world fiction, you name it.
- You can use e-mail as a GM to send in-world information to players. Dossiers from a contact a week before the next session, an encrypted messaged—e-mail when used well is a way of sneaking hit of that game-born thrill.
The best example I have for a voicemail is from when I was a Storyteller for a Mage LARP. As a player was freaking out in character about the location of a MIA NPC, I snuck a text message to the person who had come in for a single night as that NPC’s estranged spouse. That guest player was kind enough to call in and leave a voicemail for that player. Yes, his wife was alive, yes, she’d arrived as safely as emergency teleporting allows, yes, he’d have her call whenever she woke up. Whenever that was.
It became a treasured plot-point that added some weary realism to the moment.
Text messages, messenger services, video, are all technological ways to enrich a game and add to the world. In a somewhat lo-fi example: an ST at the same LARP asked me to co-author a piece of audio with him for the game. I was a player at the time, and couldn’t afford to go over two hours away every weekend for game. I’d decided not to go for three months. With my character explicitly stated to be Elsewhere, we were able to put together a CD of audio that he then merrily fritzed and cut to Hell—it was her final transmissions from where she was trapped. I had spent a week locking myself in a closet, the only place to cleanly record audio in my house, some of which was tracks of me just screaming. I’m told the session broke into chaos about midway through. We’re both still proud of taking a chance on using tech in the game, and having it work.
When we use technology to add, run or create a game, we do something terrifying and wonderful. Friends bond between time zones and geographic distance. We keep a world going that’s startlingly close to our own, one that it is not perfectly synchronous to our actions and moves whether we’re prepared or not. Video and audio files go beyond plot points and become relics. We do things that make “being at the table” a much larger and plastic concept than it once was.
Have any tips or stories to share about using tech to run or augment your game? Leave me a comment!