Monday, October 19, 2009

The Joys of Online Gaming

I started gaming online because I had to. With my favorite group of gamers an ocean away, I could game once a year on a rare vacation that inevitably involved me spending too much time sleeping on someone's couch, getting into arguments with my host, and so on, or I could start gaming online. I started online after reading about telepresence, and it has slowly changed from a necessity to a pleasure.

Cameras and Microphones: Of course, I needed to see and hear my gamers, or it wasn't really a game, and thus I sent my cam and microphone. Interestingly, at first, these were the only camera and microphone available to the group. Now, though, these are hardly necessary and we have several people playing on one computer. This connection has allowed me to watch children growing up, to interact with friends an ocean away in real-time, and really brought the game back. Technology has reached the point where these calls are like being in the same room. I love it.

It's also begun to move away from "almost as good as the tabletop" and towards the realm of "as good in a different way." Roomie can stay at his house, provided his connection is good. Our gaming can decentralize and shift from house to house without anyone needing to host anything. More, the centrality of the computer to the social interaction provides an added level of fun. Sometimes we "just hang out" talking on our microphones, sharing pictures, sharing youtube videos and so on. This is, to me, far more fun than watching Tony play video games, especially since those of us with the proper software can up and start playing a game together, if we wanted.

PDFs: This is a big one for me. I started collecting PDFs for two reasons: first, GURPS quit trying to publish most of its material in dead-tree form and started publishing most of its cool stuff in PDF, so I delved into the game with Dungeon Fantasy and Action like many of my GURPS compatriots. But more, crossing the sea with a thumb drive and a laptop was far easier than taking my entire collection (which often resulted in fees for excess weight). Since then, online gaming has pushed me to gather even more PDFs, and I've begun to prefer them to hard copies.

First, PDFs are far more searchable than hard copy books. If someone has a question about an advantage, rather than stop, dig up the book, flip through the pages, flip back and read it off to him, I just type in the name of the advantage and hit "next" until it shows up, usually two clicks. The amount of time it takes me to find a reference with a hard copy is measured in minutes, as compared to seconds with a PDF.

Second, PDFs are far more handy for computer gaming. I can have my notes on one side, Maptool on the other, and all of my PDFs at my fingertips in the bar below. I could not possibly show up at the Hobby Center with a stack of 20 books, but I can do so with my computer, easily and casually flipping from one to the other without ever moving my eyes from my screen.

Finally, PDFs are really portable and... I already talked about that. Uh... oh! PDFs allow me to gain access to little games I never would have heard of otherwise. Gone are the highschool days of hearing tales of cool games like Werewolf. Now, I'm at the forefront of totally sweet gaming, enjoying minisupplements and obscure games.

Maptool: Walter has demanded visual representation of all characters on the battlefield. When I pointed out that this was the first time he had ever asked for this, he didn't really have much of an answer as to why. I think, though, that it's become so easy, so cheap, to represent our characters online that his proper response could easily be "Well, why not?" It's totally changed how I see GURPS. I used to skip the tactical combat section, but now I find myself lingering there (Roomie hit a guy with 5 out of 15 rounds. Never occurred to me before to check to see if he hit anyone else down range). I used to miss NPCs and I could only handle so many of them. Now, they're just chits on a board, so it's easy to remember each and every guy, or to note how many characters you've killed, or to show you the sheer volume of enemies you face. I just discovered I can have tables at my game, something I can just click and have, say a hit location show up. Maptool makes complicated gaming easy and available in the same way that PDFs do.

I donated 5 bucks to them. I encourage everyone else who has enjoyed it to do the same.

The Computer itself: This isn't strictly limited to online gaming, but I noticed it then. My Exalted and WoD game existed primarily in notebooks that I have, since, lost. I can tell you the names of many characters, such as Lathe, Brand, Mithra, Sarah, Ashes and so on. There are several I have forgotten (Roomie's love interest. I can picture her, but what was her name as a Dynast and what was her name as an Abyssal?), little details that have been lost. Our WotG game, however, has every note, every NPC, statted, saved, archived and backed-up on several computers. I can't remember the name of the cute-sad eunuch-boy, but if I need to, I can look him up. This also allowed me to stat up people I never would have in the first place.

I'm pleased with computer gaming and it occurred to me the other day that running on tabletop would miss alot of this, which kinda makes me sad. I can keep the computer and the PDFs, but I'll loose the portability of the camera/microphone and the utility of Maptool and friends. Interesting how much technology changes your life and your hobbies.
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