Today’s comic isn’t about roleplaying games. It’s about things that aren’t roleplaying games. I’m talking about the marginalia of the hobby. Think snacks and drinks. The pause for meal breaks. The lighting conditions and seating arrangements. All the observers too: the might-wanna-play boyfriends; harried get-these-nerds-out-of-my-house spouses; or curious parents hovering in the background and wondering why there’s so much shouting coming from down in the basement. All these things can affect the experience of the game, from mom’s distraction-cookies to dogs stealing those cookies.

This biz is on my mind because of my academic work. While interviewing actual players about the games they play and the media they produce, the theme of “practical considerations” came up again and again. Weirdly, it was the sudden shift in venue that made this stuff so visible. With COVID forcing many of my interviewees to game remotely (it was a year ago when I interviewed them), they became hyper-aware of the differences between in-person and remote gaming.

So for your consideration, the following is a lightly edited excerpt from my dissertation.

“We’re living in pandemic times,” they said, “We don’t get to move around the table so much. In Twitch times, everyone stays as still as they possibly can.” That lack of motion is a nod to technological necessity. If you want to game for the camera, you have to stay in frame. In this way, the technology begins to control and shape human movement. The familiar freedom of physical expression is constrained, and that constraint can feel restrictive.

This is the theme of ‘practical considerations.’ Made up of multiple minor complaints, the overall impact on the gaming experience is cumulative and substantial. One actual player brought up the issue of bio-breaks. “You still have to take a break and you know, use the bathroom and refill your water.” With marathon sessions running up against human needs, another discovered that actual plays and home games tend to differ in length. “I’ve always found that an actual play, when it’s being televised and streamed for an audience, that if you’re running over that two hour mark that the game has this real dip in energy and intensity and intention. Whereas a home game that’s not being viewed—that’s not performative—because that level of heightened energy isn’t necessary, it can go six, eight, or twelve hours.” Meanwhile, another of my interviewees complained about the lack of communication in remote gameplay.  “Body language doesn’t translate as well. Tone doesn’t translate as well.” This was a popular complaint, as creature comforts disappeared from the experience. “In a virtual game,” reported one GM, “Nobody is drinking; nobody is snacking. You’re conscious that you’re on camera, that you’re being recorded. You’ll still joke around and still enjoy the game, and yell and scream and laugh and all of that. But you don’t want to blow your nose. You want to make sure that you’re not wearing a shirt with a stain on it, so you’re more self-conscious.” The relaxed atmosphere of the home game is replaced by the demands of mediation.

Before you get up in arms to defend remote play, understand that this is no knock against VTTs and virtual gaming. It’s more of a recognition that there are barriers to be overcome as folks begin to explore those venues.

The reason I bring it here before my fellow hobbyists is simple: I’d like to know what kinds of “practical considerations” stand in the way of your game night. Do you have non-players distracting the party, like Jeremy’s mom in today’s comic? Maybe you’ve got a mixed table, where some folks are present and others have to phone in? Maybe there are kids in the mix, and you’ve got to trade off with a partner every week so one of you can play? Whatever it may be, I’d like you to pause and consider what gets in the way of the flow of your own game night. And once you recognize that, can you think of any way to mitigate it?


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