A friend of mine, Mikey B, was pondering using an iPad to handle his game mastering responsibilities during convention games. He posted this query of the ages to his Facebook page and Mikey, having lots of gamer friends, got a fair number of responses. But this question and the answers got me to thinking about using tools, like an iPad or other tablet, for a tabletop game.
Let’s get something out of the way, I love technology. I use e-tools at the game table, mostly to handle the game books and as a reference source. If I don’t print or I forget my game notes I will use my tablet or phone to go to my Google Docs folders to get what I typed. But I also see where technology can get in the way of a decent game session.
On the game master side of things, if you don’t have a good unifying tool to handle initiative, NPC/encounter management, game notes, books, etc. you will spend an inordinate amount of time just flipping through apps to find the information you need. If you tend to run games in my style, mostly from the seat of your pants improv, this can and does trip you up. I imagine if you spend a lot of time reading off your notes for reference, the impact of swiping through screens may not be as major.
On the flip side of the GM screen I have gamed with a lot of players who use their electronic devices as character sheets, dice rollers, and to just look up spells in the book. I’d say it works well most of the time. I have had a player who incorrectly programed all his rolls for his character and didn’t roll any higher than a 6 all night, turns out he programed every single roll to be a 1d6…oops.
Based on observations I would say using a tablet to manage what you do in a game session depends on the person a lot. Easy answer. But Mikey asked a question deep in his post that most of us didn’t catch on to at first…“But do you think this would lose the spirit of the game? That the dice, paper, sourcebooks and so forth are part of the whole experience?” These are questions I never bothered asking myself about this issue.
I have had a few conversations with people about the topic of e-books. Traditionalists will tell you that you can’t get the same feast for the senses from a novel read off a screen that you get by holding an actual bound book in your hands. As I write this paragraph my brain is reminding me what it is like to feel and smell that book in my hands as I absorb the content from within. Meanwhile the techheads (such as myself) will speak of the convenience of being able to access your library from any of your devices. No longer do I have to carry a book with me to read during my down times. I can just pull up where I left off on my smartphone.
I find it difficult to pick a winner in the debate as far as e-books go. I can see both sides of the argument. But what about gaming? Let’s talk just dice for a moment.
Nothing stimulates the pleasure center of my brain faster than hearing dice being rolled on a table. I think that no app can replace dice for sheer tactile and audible enjoyment one can get from using them in a game. I have several dice apps on my phone, mostly just in case I find myself in a game without my dice bag. I think the ‘spirit’ of a game would be diminished if all dice rolls were boiled down to a program doing all the work in the background. Imagine a group of people just hitting a button then reading off the hit or miss result based on what the magic box told you?
Just based on the dice example you will think I am anti-tech at the game table. Well you will find yourself to be on the wrong side of correct. I think there is a balance to using tech in a game that every single person and group must find on their own. I do think once you start eliminating more and more of the human element, and this includes adding up the values of your own dice, you take away from the spirit of the game. A projected map on the table with 3-D elements is cool, but is it a better game than if someone draws a map that we put our hand painted minis on?
If you do use tech at the table I have some etiquette items to pass on to you:
- Do not use the e-devices in question to the point of distraction. If a GM or player has to call your name more than twice to get you to look up from your phone to do something in the game, you are now breaking an unspoken social contract with the rest of the table. Life stuff happens and I’m not saying don’t answer a text from someone that needs an answer, but be polite to the the GM and other players at the table and be don’t let the shiny tech pull you away from the shared activity.
- If the app/tool you are using isn’t improving the flow of the game then do not use it. What I mean by this is if you are GMing a game and it takes you more than a minute to input everyone’s initiative, it is time to go back to writing it down on paper.
- Do not distract others with your tech. Showing the newest Godzilla trailer during the game is not cool. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
I’m sure there are more pieces of tech etiquette that I haven’t listed here or thoughts about blending tech in with the old school methods of tabletop gaming. If you have any feedback please post away!
P.S. if you use your phone during a movie at a theater, you are what’s wrong with society.