Tabletop through Interwebs

July 21, 2009

After getting back into Skype gaming, I’m noticing some things really interesting and specific to the medium.

One program please

First off, we’re juggling between Skype, a PDF of the rules, a dice roller, emails, web pages, etc.

I imagine that whatever publishers figure out a unified program that handles all the group needs in juggling information- they’ll do great.

It’s not just having these functions, it’s having them in a way that makes information management easy- sort of like how you can have a menu system- or you can have a Final Fantasy menu system- the latter is often a great design in making complicated information navigation a joy to swim through..

The Quicker Picker Upper

Skype gaming isn’t just what you do because your friends live in other states, it is what you do because you don’t have time for 4-6 hour face to face game sessions. This means that games aimed at doing the online thing need to look at minimum setup- trying to get on the same page creatively at the beginning is tougher than getting started and finding momentum and creativity IN play.

Likewise, pacing for a “cycle” of play needs to be shorter as well. Probably an hour-long cycle would make the most sense, allowing people to extend to 2 or 3 cycles if they want to continue play.

Imagine the people you’re imagining imaginary people with

For some reason, Skype gaming feels more taxing than playing face to face. I noticed this the couple of times I did Skype games a few years back, but I chalked it up to work and stress and didn’t really think about why I felt tired.

Now, though, I figure there’s probably something taxing to the brain by asking it to visualize the people you’re playing with AND imagine the fiction simultaneously in real time. (There’s also been some recent research that verbal processing takes some processing power away from the visual cortex, which is why cell phones are extra bad for driving…)

I never found this to be the case with IRC/chat gaming, even though it moves 5x as slow for me. But then again, I’m asking my brain to translate written language- an abstract, which is not the same thing as my brain trying to deal with a voice, intonations, pacing, and, monkey brain that it is, seeking to read facial cues.

Do you see what I see?

That said, games which provide common visual cues will probably do better than games which don’t. Games with heavy visual cues (D&D for example), allow players to spend less mental power visualizing and more on creative action and interaction through the game.

I’d be real interested in finding out what tricks specific to playing voice chat rpgs online work best, though I imagine short of some kind of sub-movement sprouting up, we’re not going to see it anytime soon.


  1. Y’know, after reading this I’m just now making a connection between this sort of RPing and that this past February I became an elementary school library, which often has me reading to children (mostly kindergartners). For myself at least, I could try using some of the techniques I use would the kids, which I’ve mostly picked up from radio dramas and stories read on podcasts.

    It could make some imaging cues easier to… “translate”? Won’t know til I give it the ol’ “try and see” approach.

    • It might help. I think though, either just listening OR just telling a story is less taxing, because this is a conversation, mutual creation, among folks in real time. There’s negotiation happening as to the direction of the story, and, we’re also trying to imagine and enjoy the story at the same time. I figure after a few months of play, especially if we really get into one thing, we can see what “optimal” play looks like and how mentally taxing it is.

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