Skype

Apr 27 2009

A few weeks ago, my role-playing group tried to add a virtual player.

Wait. Back up. One of our regular players went off to college. Worse, she’s one of the best role-players in the group. I pined for her.

For those of you unfamiliar with tabletop role-playing: A bunch of friends sit around a table. One of them lays out a situation, while the others pretend to be people in that situation, and narrate their reactions to the situation.

So, physical presence is important. A simple phone call won’t suffice. Moreover, we play with miniatures laid out on a wet-erase mat to illustrate everyones’ physical placement in the scene (especially relative to the occasional nasty monster). You need to see.

So we decided to try setting up a Skype webcam-based video conference call with her. I brought my laptop, connected to Skype, and placed the laptop on a few books. She came online, I called, she accepted, and after a bit of fiddling with audio and video settings, her head filled the screen.

I was worried. Had been in the weeks leading up to it, and was while I set this up at our table. It’s undoubtedly just my prejudice, but when I think “free videoconferencing,” I think of jerky footage, stuttering audio, and a dropped call every ten minutes. Webcams still kinda suck, my geeky side declaims, and audio/video quality over a college network tends to sound and look like RealVideo streams from 1999. And if we had a mediocre experience, we’d soldier on through the session rather than drop one of our best players. I grit my teeth and prepared to wrestle with technology.

It worked perfectly.

Besides the aforementioned technology issues (especially when we switched laptops, and the second laptop had a microphone worse than mine), we played normally. The technology mainly faded into the background, and we just talked and narrated and had fun.

Of course, it wasn’t exactly like having her in the room. Humans just aren’t used to talking to a flat screen that’s filled with a smiling human head, and she couldn’t pick out everything we said.

This is now simply part of how we play; if you’re physically not there, you can always call in via Skype. And with the second laptop (and a better microphone, hopefully), we can add another distant player.

The technology works.

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