Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Distractions at the Gaming Table

I would likely be considered reactionary if I flat out said that personal electronic gadgets are turning us (Americans, anyway) into a society of perpetually distracted, inattentive douchebags. I am just as guilty of this as the next guy, though lately I have been trying to work on it.

My phone is often nearby during gaming sessions. I keep it silenced; it doesn't even vibrate. Sometimes the missus needs to send me a text or email during the game. She has had to call once or twice, though she seldom does. (She respects my game time, and I appreciate that infinitely) If I have to talk to her, I take the call in the other room. Sometimes, if the party is split, or I'm playing a non-combatant in a game where everyone else gets a half dozen or more attacks per round, I will browse Advanced Book Exchange for relevant gaming material to order. (A RIFTS supplement, the core rules to the edition of Shadowrun we might be switching to, etc.)I am always listening to the game, however, (I usually play a support character and I need to know who needs healed/doors hacked for them/whatever next round when I get my measly one or two actions) and I certainly don't bother the other players by sticking my phone in their face or showing them that I just ordered the book we need for super cheap-o.

We have players who have laptops. We have players who take smoke and pee breaks. We have a group dinner break (because M is a fantastic host and feeds our unruly lot!) during which we generally do not continue the game. (Though we frequently plot and scheme...or not.) Generally, de-focusing happens, but the group has a sort of rhythm whereby we drift back together and crack out a couple more hours of productive (?) gaming.

...until now.

We have recently admitted two new players into the game, several months after the "core" of the group finally stabilized after losing the members who could no longer regularly commit. One of the new players has an ipad (it's not actually an ipad, it's something ipad-like) that he brings to the gaming sessions. It annoys the shit out of me.

Now, the reason I have not yet made my displeasure known directly is because I figured that I didn't have room to talk, since I sometimes have my phone out to order books. But... my phone generally doesn't distract. The new guy is constantly showing those photo-shopped demotivational posters (you know what I'm talking about if you have spent any time on the internet, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, do yourself a favor and don't look it up. Seriously.) Sometimes he plays Youtube videos. He often uses them to start side conversations. Generally I gently redirect, asking if he can maybe save it until after the combat or until the dinner break. I guess the only reason I feel entitled to be irritated is that my phone is totally silent and doesn't involve my seeking anyone's attention. I am also the not the only player who has expressed displeasure. The GM and host sent out a kind email reminding everyone to keep focused.

I'm trying to give the benefit of the doubt. He probably doesn't realize how distracting it is. His old group (in another state, I believe) might have had different chemistry/etiquette. I'm sure it will work itself out one way or the other.

I might also mention that the other new player had his phone and checked it once or twice, but I found the more recent addition to the group to be a bit smoother in terms of integration into the flow of the game and the social dynamic.

Of course, I can be a cagey, xenophobic jerk sometimes, so maybe this is just my natural charm at work.

What about you, dear friends? What is the role of gadgetry in your gaming group? What is your group's tolerance for gizmos and for distraction in general? (Food breaks, smoking, using the little gamers' room, etc?)

I think next session I'm going to leave my phone in the bag and only check it during dinner break. (As I said before, we don't game during din-din.)


  1. In general our group doesn't bring too many gadgets to the table. Although cell phone are on vibrate just in case the wife needs something from the store or an emergency at home needs taken care of. But as a group if someone is texting or dicking around on their phone to please put it away. If they don't we ask them to go away.

  2. I think putting your phone away is a good start. I often run a loose, chatty game and at some point in the night someone will need to find a music or video clip or look something up on wikipedia or something. I find it useful to direct everyone's attention to the shiny new stimulus so that we all bask in the glory of whoever dug it up, then direct people back to the game. Most folks will follow me back around to the orcs n pie if they're given a chance to see what's on the pretty screen. It's when folks feel left out that it can bog down the game.

    But every group has to work this stuff out in its own way and you may just need to say at some point "Hey, if the game doesn't engage you enough to keep you off the internet, maybe my table isn't right for you." There are plenty of other things to try before that point though.

  3. I just send in random monsters if they get too distracted from the game for too long. I also have a "no cell phones at the table" rule from when I ran a game for a group consisting exclusively of teenagers a few years back, although I no longer enforce it because I only have one teenager in my game now, and she doesn't even have a cell phone.

  4. I'm one of those reactionaries that you mentioned at the outset. I truly believe that personal electronic gadgets are turning us into a society of perpetually distracted, inattentive douchebags. I understand I'm a minority. If the device is not part of the game, it should be put away is my personal view.

    Thankfully my group, while as "gadgeted" up as anybody's, is usually pretty engaged and rather understanding of my Luddism. Also, their game time is as precious as mine, so they monitor themselves and things rarely get out of hand. It really comes down to having some mutual respect and wanting to get the same things out of game night.

  5. I banned laptops and web browsing at the table. I got so sick of it. Show up to game or don't show up at all. Like you, I think that before, after or during dinner would be a good time to share, but at the table the computer/tablet should be off. I am cool with phones, though. People have wives and kids and what not and need to stay in touch.

  6. I DM two groups. In one of them no one uses any gadgets, although a couple are smokers and there are several breaks during the game. No big deal really. On the other group a couple of the guys use their laptops mostly to look upon PDFed books. I tend to have a short leash on the subject and generally we get distracted all at once, then we all get back to the game. The players collaborate too since we game sparsely and everyone wants to use that time well.

  7. Gabriel, I also am involved in two groups, my Traveller game that I run and the Sunday group where I so far only play. My Traveller group consists of three people, two of whom keep their characters on their laptop, and yet I find that my Traveller group is not distracted at all by the computers- table talk still happens, but the computers aren't used for looking at youtube stuff or demotivational posters or anything else. Of course, it might be an issue of three players playing a game where everyone has one attack per round and the system is mechanically simpler vs. a group with seven players (besides the GM) and combat that drags and is clunky. (Shadowrun 4th Edition and RIFTS)