Hey folks, we sure do live in some interesting times right now, don’t we? Covid-19 is some serious business and it’s turned our daily lives upside down. Right now, I’m on mandatory work-from-home and I’m waiting to see if my brother or roommate get temporary layoffs from their jobs. I feel like I’m living in an episode of the Twilight Zone or something.
With all of us mindfully practicing social distancing to protect the most vulnerable in our population, there is the chance for many of us to get a bit of cabin fever as we stay home and try and keep busy. Thankfully, we live in the age of the internet. Even though you may be stuck home and not able to go do your usual things, you can still get plenty of good gaming in. There are a multitude of options to connect to other gamers online, so whether you’re looking for something to fill in your free time or find a way to keep your regular groups going, here’s some thoughts on online gaming.
What You Need
- Solid Internet Connection — This one’s key. Unfortunately, an unstable connection can really adversely impact trying to game with folks online.
- Device Capable of Handling Site/Program You’re Using — We’ll get to the various interfaces shortly, but the specs of what your device needs to be able to handle is going to vary depending on that interface. If you’re just doing Google Hangouts, that’s pretty easy with a tablet. If you want to do something a bit more graphically intensive, you’ll need a full PC.
- Headphones and a Mic — A microphone of some kind is absolutely essential, and for the sake of your fellow gamers, make sure you have headphones. Why? Well, if you’re listening to the other gamers on regular speakers with your mic active, you’re going to give them a whole lot of annoying feedback as they talk. Be kind and make sure you have headphones even if your device has a built-in mic. A gaming headset offers a nice combo of the two.
- Webcam — Okay, this one isn’t exactly necessary, but it is nice. I’ve gamed with folks where we just have only audio before, but I have to say I honestly prefer being able to see people’s faces while we game. It just really helps with the roleplaying and getting into the game.
Some Online Gaming Etiquette
- Everyone or No One — Try not to mix in-person and online folks in the same game. While I know some folks have done this with varying degrees of success, it can be tricky. If you’re new to gaming online, even if some folks are in the same house, make sure everyone has their own connection.
- Don’t Talk Over One Another — Online it can be hard to see physical cues that let you know when you can start talking. It can be very easy to start talking over one another and it is nearly impossible to have multiple audible conversations going at once. Be mindful of who’s talking and make sure everyone gets a chance to add to the conversation.
- Respect Each Other’s Time — While emergencies can come up and force you to cancel, getting together online should be treated with the same respect you give getting together in person. People are putting their time and energy into this and should be given warning if you need to cancel on them.
Where to Connect
- Google Hangouts — Starting basic, Google Hangouts offers a quick and simple way to connect and have both video and voice. There aren’t too many bells and whistles, but it gets the job done. If you’re looking to play more narrative games or rules light games, this may be the perfect way to go. You may want to look into some external tool to keep track of character information, though, like a Google doc or sheet.
- Other Meeting Software — Beyond Hangouts, there are also many other programs designed for meetings that you can use in a pinch. Some of these require subscriptions, some don’t. If you just need a way to connect video and audio, you can use Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and I’m sure there are others. Again, like Google Hangouts, no frills, but you may not need that.
- Discord — While Discord only has a voice option for groups, the platform itself has gotten quite the reputation at organizing gamers. Even if you don’t end up using the voice options in Discord for your game, you might find some value in looking into various game groups using the platform. (EDIT: I have been told that Discord does have video options, so ignore that part of my comment.)
- Roll20 — Probably one of the more well-known of the options, Roll20 offers a virtual tabletop along with video and voice chat options. For the most part, it’s free, but you can get a subscription to get access to more tools. Because the platform encourages user content, many games have different character sheets already available, making dice rolls much easier. The GM has a lot of tools at their fingertips, but the learning curve can be a bit steep. There are plenty of resources out there to learn how to do more with the platform.
- Astral Tabletop — Now, I’m not as familiar with this one, but I’m told it’s similar to Roll20 in that it’s mostly free, but it has far more bells and whistles for those who really like giving their games some visual spectacle. I’ve also heard they’ve got a discount on their subscription portion during the current pandemic situation.
- Fantasy Grounds — This one has a solid foundation for folks to run many of the more well known games, but it is a pay service. Either the GM has to have the ultimate license or everyone has to have a standard. Right now, they’ve got a discount on their one-time pricing. For folks running games with a tactical bent, if your system is supported by this one, it might be worth looking into.
I hope all of you stay safe, stay well, and stay kind. We can get through this, and maybe get a little extra gaming in while we wait it all out.