Monday, August 3, 2020

Virtual Conventions -- Animadversions

My buddy Vance is given to accusing me of being that old guy that yells at clouds (cf. The Simpsons).  I'd probably agree on most days.  I truly have, though, been preaching the virtues of virtual gaming for many months.  Ever since I got over the modest learning curve of Tabletop Simulator, I've been addicted to playing all kinds of games, but particularly miniatures, against friends spread out all over the world.  And, yes, this has informed my dislike of solitaire gaming and, by indirection, my incomprehension of those who prefer VASSAL to TTS, but those stories are both for another time.

I do feel like the world has come home to me, if only because this terrible COVID-19 business has driven so many indoors.  GenCon, Origins, Historicon, Adepticon, Little Wars, and a host of others made the eminently prudent decision to shutter this year.  Some bid us see them next year.  Some tried to go virtual only to have the venture crash and burn for other reasons (Origins).  Two weekends ago, though, Historicon offered up Cyber Wars and, last weekend, the Armchair Dragoons offered up its Virtual Assembly.  I ran games in both -- spent right around 20 hours between the two conventions on-line -- and now offer these thoughts.

Here Are the Games We Played!

Likely my biggest regret is not having more time for Austerlitz.  It was just starting to get spicy and that was a really good group.

The best game?  Hard to call, but I'd give the nod to Epic Eggmuhl which was really, really close.

Technologically Speaking, We Are Not One World

It would be easy to blame technological misapprehensions on age, e.g., that advertisement where the one old lady tells the other one that "Facebook doesn't work that way", but it's more complex than that.  I think tabletop gamers of all descriptions have so long shunned virtual games that they can't function in a world that, for them, is profoundly other.  Of particular note is communication protocols.  I was amazed how many folks struggled with their sound setups.  Note, I'm not talking about folks needing to get acclimated to TTS; that was always going to be a necessity.  I"m talking about how to find a session on-line, how to manage a chatroom, how to prevent audio echo, how to manage push-to-talk, and the like.

Logistically, It's Mostly Plus's, But There Are Minus's

I have set up more than my share of games at conventions, from RPGs, to simple TTGs, to full-blown spectacle type stuff.  I liked being able to wander into my computer room, fire up the PC, slap on the headset, and play.  I liked even more being able to clean up by shutting TTS off.  And it's all cheaper in the bargain.  That said, player wrangling gave me a very bad case of the nerves.  Pre-planning is vital and opening up an early channel of communication saved my day.  The worst of it is that we've developed an awful habit of proliferating on-line names for ourselves.  I try to be either Jim or Cyrano wherever I am.  This is not a universal practice and some of you -- you know who you are -- are far too inventive for the sanity of kindly on-line game hosts.

The Audience Was There, But Not Massive

Let me be clear, I didn't expect over-much and was not disappointed.  My games had a pleasant mix of new-comers and familiar names.  The experience of a traditional convention -- buffets, bars, conversation, argument, high-fives, sleep deprivation, &c. -- is hard to replicate, though.  Events like these can have success, particularly if they are aided and abetted by dread diseases, but I see them as having no chance of really even denting live conventions.  Perhaps that was obvious to everybody long before, but it really sunk in to me as I watched the response to these and other similar events over recent weeks.

Historical Wargaming Is Doing Just Fine In Its Cul-de-sac

Not everyone in these games was my age or older.  In fact, while I didn't pass out a survey, I'd have to say I was more or less middle of the pack.  Players came from all over -- two from England -- and several both during and after expressed their pleasure in knowing something like what was on offer was available.  What's more, YouTube viewership was up and on-line comments have been uniformly positive, with the notable exception of the two spammers who proffered links to pornography.

Two folks who have watched previous videos have gone on to build their own TTS mods and offer them to others.  As Doug Miller has often said, there'll be more than enough gaming to see me off this planet and some left behind for others.

Seeing People Enjoy Each Other's Company Is Rewarding

From the comfort of their homes, folks who had never met one another spent hours learning systems and learning games and a whole bunch of them had never encountered either the games or TTS before.  Before too terribly long, they were moving troops about and even trash-talking one another a bit.  That's something to be encouraged.

Very glad I did it and I sincerely hope those who participated or watched enjoyed it.

See you all for Wednesday Night Warfare.

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