Like all of you, my normal routine has been turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of my gaming friends, myself included, have conditions that make us vulnerable to some of the coronavirus’ scarier symptoms. In reality, the least of our worries is how to keep a game running. That said, maintaining an oasis of support and friendship is an important lifeline in these trying times. Gaming is, for many, one such lifeline.
Full confession: to this point in my gaming life, I have enjoyed an ideal and uniform experience. Friends that I knew outside of the gaming world introduced me to ttrpg’s six years ago. In that time, we have never lacked for a place to meet in-person or struggled to find someone to run the game. All in all, it’s been a charmed life. So, it was a rude awakening when I realized that it was necessary to jump from in-person to online gaming. Change scares me. Clouds of doubt lingered over my mind. I wondered whether the effort would justify the payoff, and whether I personally could make the leap. I considered putting the game on hold for the duration of the crisis. One month later, I am exceedingly glad that I did not.
If you are a fellow skeptic about the possibility or value of maintaining your game remotely in light of near-universal shelter-in-place orders, allow me to offer these observations:
Focus on the Positives:
Not to sound trite, but happiness is a choice, and many situations are what we make of them. When I initially decided to move the game online, I worried about the learning curve of the software and the perceived limitations of needing to pre-generate content that I am used to generating largely in the moment. Would my players feel railroaded if I hesitated because they zigged when I prepared for them to zag? Without the constant feedback of face-to-face interaction, how will I gauge if a scene is working? Five minutes into our first session I saw just how unfounded my worries were.
“The measuring tools!” “Check out my macros!” “I love my avatar!”
As the players geeked out over flashy new features which I took for granted, I resolved to take a page from their book and focus on the upsides, such as ease-of-life game improvements and the fact that we were gaming rather than bemoaning the temporarily lost.
Treat the Experience Like an Adventure:
Many decades ago, our gaming forefathers navigated the inception of the game, moral panics, gaming without the internet, fewer cons, and generally limited resources. Or, so I’ve read. The point is, that gaming today is more accessible and accepted than it has ever been. There is a sense in which we’ve never had to earn our game. Gamers love telling war stories. Our table still talks about the magical duck, the crazy hermit with meta-knowledge, and the time the bard defeated the final villain with a dance-off. One day, this time in our gaming lives will constitute a real-life war story, when we fought to keep our game alive during a time of self-sacrifice for the greater public good.
Maintain Valuable Social Connections:
Without getting lost in a boatload of research, most people would agree that human beings are inherently social creatures. We thrive in community, which is why this period of isolation is so difficult. Without physical contact and face-to-face interaction, people who struggle with certain mental health issues are in danger of spiraling into a cycle of depression and anxiety. Those that need interaction the most are often the least likely to reach unprompted. We never know which of our friends may be in the middle of that battle right now. For their sake, it is particularly important to maintain every possible shred of normalcy and social touch-point.
A month ago, I was a skeptic who considered cancelling his game indefinitely because change is intimidating. We are fortunate to live in a time when despite our physical isolation, digital tools exist to facilitate our all-important relationships to help us get through these unprecedented days. I hope that I can encourage you to take the leap if you have not. Gaming is just a quick search away.