It was the late nineties when I first attempted an online, “chat” based RPG. My gaming group had dissolved unexpectedly and I found myself unable to find another group. After weeks of hitting up the only comic book and gaming shop in the area, I finally got a suggestion from someone to try a website where I could play any of the White Wolf RPGs. On that website they were running several chat rooms that were open to all who were playing the game, each chat room represented a different “physical” location in the game world. Each player could enter these chat rooms and interact with everyone else as they pleased. Should any action take place that required rolls, you would alert a Storyteller (GM) who would then help you with the scene. It was a bold, inspired, and visionary approach to online gaming and I couldn’t wait to make my character!
After about two weeks of going into this website and poking around, I noticed that there was one character who seemed to keep seeking me out. In the end, I would describe that experience as something more akin to a virtual stalker situation. I’m very glad that hacking hadn’t been such a prevalent thing back then, my identity may have compromised and things could have gotten much worse. But other than that, I would say that the bulk of my experience was more like me attempting to interact with people who didn’t want anything to do with me. It felt a lot like a high school clique brought online, and not anything much like an actual RPG. Fortunately, my life was going through some pretty major changes around then so I was distracted from my utter lack of RPGs and my addiction to said games was allowed to die back a bit!
The second time I attempted to play an RPG online was sometime around 2010. I’d already had a gaming group that I’d been running for years, but I was tired of running things and I wanted to play again! This was a very different experience, the site had an embedded dice roller, the DM was able to put graphics on the screen for everyone to see, it was light years ahead of my first experience and it had only been ten years! On this website, there was a series of games that were separate from each other and you had to basically apply to be allowed into a gaming group before the campaign started. Each GM vetted their players according to their own standards and either allowed or didn’t allow people based on their own criteria. I played several games on this website, from D&D to Cthulhu, to modern-day superheroes! They had just about every game you could imagine on this website!
What finally decided me on this website was the absolute lack of action. I would spend hours online, trying to play one of these games and we would be lucky to get beyond character interactions and the NPC dialogue. I wasn’t sure if it was simply internet speeds or that the other players were multi-tasking and kept getting distracted, but it quickly went from being fun to being a chore. It stopped being interesting when the game had to pause for *literally* fifteen minutes because one player was necessary for a scene and they had gone unresponsive. It got to be tedious because every game day we would waste half an hour waiting for all the players to log on. It got to be annoying when people would go use the bathroom instead of going before the game started!
Okay! So, here’s the part where I tell you what I think about technology in gaming.
I don’t like it.
*cringes at the backlash*
Hey, hey, HEY!! ….Don’t get me wrong, I think that technology has its place in the gaming world! But I think that there are certain qualities of an RPG which don’t translate well when used over the internet. I think the same thing applies when it comes to chat and the like, it’s just a limitation of the technology in most cases. When we finally have fiber optic connections hooked up to the back of every PC, then we’re starting to get to the point of technology performing as good as sitting down at a table with friends. Because you need to run video feed with a halfway decent frame rate to get in the ballpark here. People have emotions that run across their faces, they make gestures and movements that are unique to them. And the REALLY good GM’s and Player’s can change those aspects of their body language when they get into character. It adds a visceral layer to the scene that helps to transport you into the game!
Now, some aspects are good and getting better! The ability to do voice-only helps substantially! No more waiting on the slow typist in the group to tap out two sentences in under five minutes! The dice rollers are fantastic! I love what is being done with those, but I have to admit, I prefer my physical dice simply because I know that some roll higher and some roll lower on average! That’s one of the things that technology is good for, no more warped dice that always seem to land one way or another! If anything I think those dice rollers make the game more difficult for me! And NO MORE CHEATING!! I hate that! Quit using dice that are made to cheat or ones that were made for a different game with a different system! It’s more fun to just PLAY THE GAME and deal with things as they come out rather than cheat all the time!
But to be perfectly honest, I think that it’s simply a matter of technology catching up to the complexity of tabletop gaming. The experience of being at the table is leaps and bounds ahead of sitting in front of a computer screen, looking at a frozen image of your GM because his connection cut off and you’re waiting for him to catch back up. A face to face interaction between players is going to be better than watching a 15 frames per second video that freezes right before your friend says “Let’s just kill the Dwarf!” And now I’m sitting here wondering if he was supposed to have given me a wink and a nod to say that he wasn’t serious because I’m ready to do murder…
So, no. I don’t like technology in gaming right now. But I’m pretty sure that I will one day!
What would like to see me cover in future “Beyond the Dice” articles? Drop me a suggestion here: A Call to Action – Cindy Needs You!
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