Saturday, February 15, 2014

Some Rough Impressions on Gaming in Hangouts

I have now GMed one game via Google's Hangouts feature. Thus, I am an expert in the matter.*

Last Sunday, I managed to force two hours of free-time into my life.

So, I ran a 1 on 1 game for my buddy, +Joe White, through the mighty inter-webs. Beyond checking out Hangouts Roleplaying generally, we were also play-testing a new system of my devising and a module I'd written. We crammed a whole lot of new into those two hours.

I improv'ed the setting pretty-much whole cloth; which, in retrospect, was likely not a wise choice. I was already a bit nervous about the new format of playing, the completely untested system, and not having GMed anything in months.

Also, Joe had somehow lost his laptop so he was using a smartphone.  It wasn't an ideal setup.

About Hangouts Roleplaying:

  • I felt like there was a slight barrier that prevented me from GMing as well as I would've face-to-face.
    • I've gotten very used to "feeling the energy" of the room and adjusting my Gamemastering to suit. It's part taking in body-language, part noticing what the players' eyes are fixed on, part tone of voice, and partially a thousand other specific little things I'm not consciously aware of. I just couldn't get a good read .
  • Any accidental misinformation was a harder to correct. 
    • If we misheard each other, it seemed like we were much further along before we noticed than would be the case in face-to-face roleplaying.
  • I tend to GM with my whole body; I couldn't do that as effectively.
    • I was able to gesticulate more or less fully, but the lack space as dictated by the webcam was a mild constraint. The experience has actually made me realize how much I rely on physical movement as a GM, for good or ill.
  • The above points combined to make the immersive, "Theater of the Mind", character's eye-view roleplaying we prefer generally more difficult. I can see why all those battle-map applications are so popular. 
  • While I felt the audio quality to be pretty damn good, all things considered, it seemed like some of the more emotive tonal qualities got lost in bit-packet translation. C'est la vie.
Pseudo-Conclusions: 
  • With Hangouts, you're probably going to want to use either a very simple system or a system everyone knows inside and out. The potential for miscommunication is compounded by the format alone. Why would you want to further complicate the issue?
  • Prepare yourself for technical issues. It's the sort of thing that just comes with the territory.
  • The format seems best suited for shorter sessions. Without the sense of presence that being in the same room with a person brings, there's simply less "energy" to put into it.
All in all, it was a good experience, and the choice between hangout games and no games ain't no choice at all. As an adult with a baby and a job, I really don't have the time to roleplay any other way. I'm looking forward to more games and figuring out the format. 

Anybody got any similar or dissimilar experiences and/or advice?


*Citation Needed