Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Laptops and Tabletops

In a recent EN World discussion on the future of gaming and what role computers would play, I posted the following , , ,

I've been a laptop GM as long as I've been able to bring one to the table.  Apps and programs capable of streamlining my game so I can focus on presenting the setting and NPCs to facilitate a more immersive experience are a boon to GMing and I love what they can do for me as tools of the trade.  I'm also not adverse to players using laptops, netbooks, or other handheld devices provided they do not become a distraction, do not become a distraction any more so than typical table talk and or other distractions that have been part and parcel of friendly tabletop games since I began back in the early Seventies.

There's no need to think of the tools of today any differently than the tools of yesterday, and if a quick text from someone's father to pick up a gallon of milk on the way home from a game or from a spouse to let a player know their daughter's cough has subsided and the kid is sleeping soundly helps the player to relax and enjoy the evening of gaming, then I have no problem with it at all.  So, too, if a player finds it easier to keep track of their character using a laptop, including spells and other setting information they have accumulated, I'm just as happy to accomodate that technological advance.  They don't play their character 24/7, they don't really inhabit their skin, and there's no way they can do as efficient a job remembering all of the minutiae as they can if they use a journal, particularly one that is electronic.

However, I'd also caution that the players of today, old and young, can find juggling technology and diversions difficult, at first, and sometimes some parameters need to be set to ensure it is not a table-distraction, a distraction to all players, or even a crutch that causes players to bury themselves in the devices and not remain focused on the moment.

My current final playtest of Griffins & Grottos includes mostly players in their twenties (but some as old as fifty) who are all nearly as tech-savvy as myself (though I generally have the better equipment *wink*).  Sometimes, with this group that includes some players I have known for years, there can be some new-shiny that steals focus from the game, but I have found it is just as often a low-tech interference as it is a high-tech distraction.    In such cases, I find it is useful to adhere to an old standup comedy adage of calling out the obvious, and I don't mean in a bad way.

There was a standup comedian named Steve Mittleman, who some might remember from the movie Roxanne, who had a decidedly understated chin.  When he lowered his head, his chin basically disappeared.  You could draw a line as straight as a string from his nostrils to his sternum.  Just like with a comedian who wore a loud tie or had some other outstanding feature, he knew that if he didn't call attention to it right away and dispose of the focus on it, it would remain a distraction the rest of his set.

The other night one player had a new miniature for use in the game he runs on the weekend, an ettin lich (which he was happy was released in time for him to use it, PFers take note), and another picked up the "chase" card deck for PF.  Although the player with the deck wasn't necessarily obsessing over it, I could tell he was wondering how it would be useful to his other games and so I quickly recalled how one player who was away for a couple of weeks had left the in-game group and went "back to the inn" with a chance to collect a wandering gnome.  This gnome, an NPC, had succombed to a poison trap that left his mind addled with an opiate.  He was wandering the moors and realistically (as much as I dislike handwaving such things) the NPC was off and not going to be recovered but thinking on my feet I asked the player with the deck to break it out.  We ran through the rules of how to use it quickly, made a few adjustments for the system to system disparities, and played out if the character who was headed back to town could capture the opium-addled gnome.  As it turned out, she did not, but we had fun playing it out and by then we were immersed in the game-world and off to the races.

So, admittedly I am rambling, but I think my point is that I'm not sure a computer will ever manage to replace a GM in quite the way that I think necessary to create the same face-to-face game experience that we generally have week-to-week with our group, let alone any I have known over my near-forty years of gaming and despite my being happily open to using as much technology as I can muster for any game I play, when it can bring about an immersive tabletop roleplaying result.

Hell, I'm all for being tech-friendly but I'm also a steel-driving man and am not sure this John Henry is ready to be replaced by a machine, let alone thinking one could handle it at an impromtu level and produce even close to the same results.  Not, at least, for a roleplaying game.
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