While most folks consider the constant march of technology to affect all aspects of their lives, few actually consider the impact it has on role-playing games. The current group of play-testers for Mana Punk regularly make use of everything from laptops and netbooks to smart phones and PowerPoint presentations on high definition televisions. In almost every way the function and dynamic of the group and how they track and trade game-related information gets inextricably intertwined with their technology. Yes all of this advancement can have benefit, but are the disadvantages it holds even greater than the blessings it may convey?
Every gamer in a group with a netbook or laptop makes for a very easy method to track game-related information. Notes on the gaming session can be very quickly transcribed allowing for quick yet detailed descriptions of events, important NPCs names, or notations on towns and villages. One player can keep track of session notes while another tracks all of the acquired loot, dividing up the work load and eliminating possible duplicate information. One big technological wonder that earns heavy use amongst our play-testers is DropBox: this amazing service offers free online cloud storage of up to 2GB of data (more if you invite friends to join!), all of which can be seamlessly synchronized in the background on any internet-accessible computer. We here in the Mana Punk Dungeons cannot recommend this service enough if you are gaming with a group of laptop-enabled players, especially since shared folders can be linked from Dropbox user to Dropbox user, making for even faster collaborative data sharing! Another technological wonder that we thoroughly enjoy during the course of our gaming sessions is Google Chat (thanks for that Google!).
Unfortunately one problem that can proliferate even faster in an interconnected environment is distraction. All it takes is one lone humorous YouTube video to bring a technologically centered gaming group’s productivity to its collective knees. A Game Master must retain a firm level of control over a group of players and the technology they command, allowing for a certain amount of levity and humor without letting it all take control of group dynamic. The single biggest problem our group seems to run across regularly is Facebook and all that it can conjure. Between the steady inundation of notes and whispers from every acquaintance a person may know along with a myriad of games to play, Facebook can be a severe detriment to any person’s productivity much less a group of gamers.
Technology can be a large asset to a group of gamers, even to the point of eliminating almost every need for pens or paper. Any advantage gained however can be a double edged sword, requiring a set of rules that must be agreed upon by all involved. Without collective cooperation, distractions can ruin any potential productivity that could be achieved. Such rules are easy to think through and establish:
- Have everyone agree upon an established start time and end time for the gaming session, allowing for flexibility for the ending time to be adjusted as needed.
- Allow for regular breaks to let everyone stand up, or generally cruise the web and cause trouble as they so choose.
- Have the players use a group chat (via such fun things as AIM or GChat) window specifically for any non-game related talk subjects. This may seem like it would split a person’s focus but after a few sessions your players will get the hang of keeping recreational talk to the chat window and keep spoken distractions to a minimum.
- Above all, be flexible! If a rule doesn’t work out, just talk it over and come to a mutual agreement on changes.
Some groups work best in a structured environment while others need very few rules if any. Just stay flexible and keep in mind that the entire point of gaming is to have fun. Don’t let any rules bog you down, much less rules meant to increase productivity. If your gaming group has their own set of rules designed to minimize distractions, please feel free to comment on it as we’d love to hear about them!