RPGs: In Person VS Online

You may have noticed already, but I love RPGs.  I like most forms of tabletop gaming, but RPGs are special.  I really enjoy taking part in that sort of collaborative storytelling.  There’s something so… pure about it.  I’m probably sounding a bit silly, but I’m used to that.  

Generally speaking, I like to play in person.  I’ve tried a forum-based game once, and found it tedious.  I’ve also done a few VOIP-based games over Skype or Discord which were better, but just not the same as having the whole group sitting around the table, interacting directly.  

No, the best approach is still firmly in meat-space, with players sitting together and playing in person.  It really helps the flow of the game to have that natural interaction, including both verbal and nonverbal cues and having the ability to gauge a player’s commitment to, or comfort with, a course of action through their body language.  Having access to the implicit, as well as the explicit, you know?  

This is how I love to play.  It’s how I played last week when I ran a game of Paranoia for a group of friends.  

Actually, consider Paranoia.  I play Paranoia with a lot of paper forms on the table, allowing players to report one another for various acts of treason, real or imagined.  There’s a real tension when someone reaches for a form, and that would be lost in online play.  There’s a pause when someone grabs an index card and starts furiously scribbling.  There’s suspicion when I pass notes around.  So much of the game is subtext and subtlety.  There are smiles, nods, knowling looks.  There are glares and grimaces.  There’s so much interaction that goes beyond what’s actually spoken.  

And that’s not to say that online play does not have value.  I’ve not had much success as a player in onlinr games, but I appreciate that my experience is not representative of all, or even most people’s experiences.  

I’ve had an unpleasant game where proceedings were dominated by a couple of players in ways that I think would have been easier to shut down in person than over VOIP.  I’ve had another couple where I was just left bored as things happened as I struggled to relate to strangers I only knew by voice.  

I’m looking forward to an upcoming online game, though!  It’s a group of people I know really well and am keen to play with again, having played with them in person, previously.  The game we’re playing is the Modiphius-published Star Trek Adventures.  

I’m not even a huge fan of Star Trek, but I like the group, have faith in the GM and really feel like this could be a turning point for me in terms of online play.  This could be the first one to really work for me.  I hope so, anyway.

I see the value of online play.  It helps you find more groups where you might otherwise struggle.  It helps you find groups to try new games.  It connects you to distant friends with whom you could not otherwise play on a regular basis.  I see the attraction, I really do.  

My preference will always be with in-person play, though.  It allows for a level of subtext and layers of subtlety that you don’t find, or at least are less likely to find, in online play.  

But hey, I’m going to continue to try and find a good online game, not so much to change my mind, but rather to broaden my own experience and satisfy my curiosity and my passion for trying new games.  

I’d also be curious to GM an online game – I’ve only tried it as a player, thus far.  

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