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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

When it All Falls Apart

I’m gonna discuss something that, while it’s not specific to online gaming (such as Fantasy Grounds or Roll20), I’d wager it’s far more common in that milieu than at the table IRL.

Recently a large contingent of our gaming group fell out.  There was no argument over rules, no disagreement about the distribution of virtual wealth, or discrepancy regarding the allocation of XP.  As seems to happen at some regular interval, there was a self-culling.  It always happens the same way (or seems to).

First, one player decides to bail.  A very pleasant email is sent to the group notifying the rest of us of his/her intent.  That is usually followed by a short period of mourning, and then well-wishing email replies are sent.  That would be fine if it were the end, but it’s not.  Soon after, as other players have time to cogitate upon the change, one or two others decide that it would be a good idea to leave the game as well.  Another few emails are exchanged, well wishes sent, and farewells fare well.  No one is really pissed off over anything tangible here, but those who remain begin to huddle.  They plan.

The group email is reformatted to include only the survivors.  A new conversation begins.

Usually in these situations, there is a core.  The group has a few players who have been gaming together (in this examination that means it was over long distance) for some substantial period of time.  These folks consider themselves friends, and perhaps they are, either IRL or simply online.  Friends don’t need to have shared meatspace in order to feel a bond, or so I believe.  Others may disagree, but they would be wrong.

In any event, the first thing that happens is that the core reaffirms its solidarity.  “We’re gonna keep playing, right”, says one.
“Absolutely!”, the others confirm in unison.  
“Now we have some flexibility.  Maybe we should change rulesets, play something new?”, asks one.
“Sure,” the others agree.  
“Who wants to run this time?  I’m a bit burned out, but will keep going if no one else wants to have a go,” says the DM of the now crippled game.
“I can run,” says one.
“So can I,” chimes in the other.”  
Plans are laid.  Email threads are exchanged.  Decisions are decided upon.  Gaming continues in short order, the new campaign of 1 DM and 2 players has begun.

Characters are rolled, a few games happen, and then sometime shortly thereafter someone usually volunteers to locate a few new players, some fresh flesh and blood for the adventure mill.  For online games, it’s as simple as posting across some social media, or checking the online forums for the Virtual Tabletop you happen to use.  Most have a LFG, or Looking for Game section where you can advertise and recruit a few new players.

In my experience, this ‘turnover’ seems to occur every year or so.  It’s rare that adding any player to the core group results in a new permanent bond.  Folks come and go, some depart having left a lasting impression and others pass without a trace.  I find it both wonderful and mystifying, and mostly somewhat dissatisfying and a bit sad.  Each time I’m reminded that there are things that the internet cannot do, and building a long-term, lasting, cohesive bond of friendship is not its strong suit.  I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, in fact it has for me, but not in the same way that time spent in the company of others IRL manages to accomplish (and on a more consistent basis).

As always, I year for those long-gone but not forgotten days of my youth, where we were friends at school, friends on the playground, at the mall, at the movies...and always at the game table.  No one quietly slipped away behind a curtain of email, and certainly no one dropped off the face of the earth without a trace.  We didn’t need to find new players.  We knew exactly how many pizzas to order, and that Mike wouldn’t eat pizza ‘cause he was some sort of freak who didn’t like pizza.  

Man I miss pizza.  And Mike.

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