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Why We Ask Players to Play Only One Character at Once

I realize that players are supposed to have a minimum of two characters, one OOC and one in-game. Given that private messages and p-mail do not show up in logs or directly disrupt any on-going game, why do you ask for no OOC commentary sent to in-game characters?

They do disrupt an ongoing game, though. They're interruptive to the thought processes of the players playing and the GM running the game. The cambots may not record it, but it definitely affects people's concentration, to the detriment of the game.

The OOC character is used for non-game things. Sitting and shooting the breeze, or scheduling games, or talking about new characters, or whatever, should be done with the OOC character. It keeps the IC character from being polluted in other people's mental images by OOC activities. As an example, Lou's Starfall Realm character, Carroll, shouldn't appear to know about computers or the operation of the MUCK. Lou or Lou_Admin knows that.

Have you seen Bob's example of this? What he wrote is exactly what we're trying to prevent in an on-going game:

"If we start tonight's session with:

Lord Bothwell strides into the room in a foul mood. Throwing back a tankard from the barrel near the door, he slams the empty cup to the table, shaking everything nearby. "CHRIST'S WOUNDS!" he shouts, "-traffic did suck today! Night's curse on the wanker who tried to pass me on the exit ramp!"'s gonna twist my brain a bit..."

Why are you being so anal about having only one window at a time open when in a game? Come on, it's not that big a deal. After all, I just leave windows open where I'm idling in.

It's a shame you think asking for this basic courtesy to others is anal. However, leaving other non-game-related windows open splits your focus, and that's rude to the other players. Think about it... what if you were in a face-to-face game with me and a bunch of other folks... but I insisted on reading a book during game time, unless someone was speaking directly to me? Wouldn't you rightly consider that rather rude?

It's okay, no one can tell when I'm doing that anyway. I'm really good at doing two things at once so no one notices.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but has it ever occurred to you that your friends might just be too polite to tell you the truth? ;-)

Unfortunately, I hear all the time of folks that believe they're able to game in two places at once, and invariably when they ask me how they're doing I don't know how to politely tell them they're just bad at it -- they're slow to react in game, monosyllabic, and/or missing obvious cues and clues. It's terribly frustrating for the people that are trying to concentrate on one game at a time, and to offer interesting clues and concepts.

I know of two people (neither of whom I bother trying to game with any longer) who both proudly told me how good they were at gaming in two places at once. A friend of mine once left a (formerly intense) three-way conversation with them, because he noticed the other two players had started gaming elsewhere in mid-conversation. According to him their response times lagged more and more, until it was over fifteen minutes for either of them to reply. He noted that at that point he got tired of waiting and just wandered off.

The really sad part is that neither player ever noticed my friend leaving! If they missed that obvious a clue to something being terribly wrong with their gaming style, then I'm afraid they don't have a leg to stand on in regards to their assertion that they can unnoticeably game in more than one place at a time.

I myself have had the horribly unpleasant experience of waiting half an hour for one unprepared GM to get his act together and type out a scene-setting pose. So no, you aren't hiding what you're doing. People can tell. Don't play in two places at once. It's disrespectful and damn rude to your friends.

Hey, I can only sit and stare at the screen for so long until I have something to do, or seconds are going to just creep by in ages. That, and I'm usually not doing anything in the other windows -- just idling. I normally have about three or four else-mu*'s open.

But if you're just idling... aren't you just staring at those windows as well? Why not think about the game itself? And if you're doing nothing in the other windows, why have them open at all?

But I don't want to be bored. I hate being bored!

So do all your friends who're waiting for replies, I'm sure. ;-)

Less flippantly, so do I, believe me. I also know it took me a while to teach myself how to concentrate fully on one thing at a time -- we're taught all through our lives how to do several things poorly and all at once, but we get very little training in focusing on one thing so that we do it well.

It's been quite satisfying to learn how to do this, however. I know I've figured out major plot-points in more than one game because I thought about the game during the times I was waiting for folks to type, rather than mentally wandering off to half-heartedly do something else as well.

Hey, I do think about things in the game. But when the game's just creeping along, or I've been in front of the monitor too long, I just have to get up, move around the room a little or something, while waiting for someone to type in a pose.

That's reasonable... I get up and move around too sometimes. I warn my fellow players first, of course, but I sometimes need to get up and go get a drink, use the restroom, whatever... but why have other windows open for that? If there's only one window open, wouldn't it be easier to concentrate on just one?

You do have a point: I have to wonder what it is that's hitching people up sometimes -- I'd like to poke them to speed 'em up. I've been pretty frustrated in some of my gaming sessions, until things got organized.

Exactly. That's why I hate it when folks have other windows open. Think about it carefully... let's say you're in a game and you have other windows open. Someone says something in the game. Because you've got other windows open, you don't immediately notice the new thing that just popped up on your game-screen. Once you notice it, you have to read it, think about it, get back into character, consider what your character's response is, and then type it in -- whereas if you'd been concentrating on the game you'd have noticed it at once, and you'd already be thinking like your character.

That may be only a minute or three of wasted time... but multiply those three minutes of lost time by five players, over five hours... and it adds up -- that becomes seventy-five minutes of wasted time -- an hour and a quarter of gaming time stolen from the players -- completely gone!

That means of the original five hours you had scheduled to play... you're now down to only three and a bit. And that's assuming each person only wastes three minutes an hour. It's far more likely that more time than that is being wasted by flipping through windows and having to take extra time to remember what's going on in-game.

But how are open windows that are basically "collecting dust" distracting?

Having windows open that are related to the game isn't a problem. I've been in games where I had my browser open with a related game log, another with a map, and another with a list of NPCs I needed to have handy, along with the MU* client where the actual gaming was occurring. But having non-game-related windows open is a distraction, if only as you flip back and forth across them all. If they're truly just collecting dust -- why are they open at all?

I really don't know. But you're right, I do have to wonder why folks are so quiet, so long... and then give such short replies after long silences.

I don't know why someone would want to be so rude to their fellow players as to ignore them during a game, but I'm hoping it's mostly just that they've never given it any thought. If you do the math, you can see what a terrible waste of time it is to not pay attention in-game.

As far as monosyllabic replies only to direct questions, I'd have to say those aren't really gaming, in its fullest sense. It's a form of participation, but it mostly just 'takes' from the game and the other players. It does nothing to help the game become fuller and richer for all involved. My thought is, if you're in a game, why not try to participate more? Why not try to ask some questions? -maybe even to contribute to the storyline? In my experience, GMs love inquisitive players!

As I said before, it took me a while to train myself to focus JUST on the game... but you can do it, with a bit of practice, and I assure you -- it makes the game far richer. And more exciting too -- fast-paced games with deep backgrounds are much more fun!

Well, I'll tell you, I'd give a patch of skin to speed things up some times.

Then make things happen.

I don't know how. People are just... being slow. It's not the game speed, but the speed of response.

As a GM, I would suggest always that you first politely warn your players that you'll be speeding up the game. Then I would start simply doing so. If, at some point in the game, no one says anything within two or three minutes (easy to check with the wa command), then continue on. Don't let folks retroactively say they've done something either -- be very firm about that, and include that proviso in your initial warning. People will learn pretty darned quickly to pay attention -- especially if there's a combat on!

That's just rude though.

So is ignoring the game you're purportedly playing in. Especially since by saying they'll be there, every player has ostensibly agreed to actually pay attention and play the game!

Yes, but this game is about their contribution. If they're not contributing, then it's basically just me telling a story. I can't do that during combat; people are going to get Pissed Off.

My point is simply that you should do your best to let your fellow players know you are serious about GMing, and committed to running the best game you can. Under those circumstances it is only basic courtesy for them to also be committed to participating fully in your game.

In a sense, you're offering your players one of three options: 1) pay attention, which they've theoretically already agreed to do by joining the game, 2) have the game go on without them, with full knowledge that their character may lose out on important information -- or even get injured or killed -- or 3) leave the game, since if they can't be bothered to pay attention, they obviously don't really want to play.

It's easy to pay attention once you decide to do so. Paying attention shows you care.

Yes, but I don't want to piss people off.

Unpleasant though it may sound, one of the most stark tenets of leadership is that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. Furthermore, the other players won't be pissed off if they're paying attention -- they'll only be annoyed if they're not paying attention, and got caught.

Think about it -- what you (or any good player) wants is dedicated fellow-players who're willing to pay attention. Your focused attention, your intelligent contributions to the game -- that's the most priceless and valuable commodity anyone can offer in an on-line game. Don't sell yourself short by struggling to game with people that can't be bothered to return the favor.

I'm just not seeing any opportunity to do this, or any points when I can just leave them behind. They're constantly being asked what to do, or going over things. I don't know when to go, 'No, you lost your turn to speak.'

Well, let's try a simple example. Let's say the character Vane and my female character are playing in your game -- you're the GM. You have Basel, an NPC, ask my female character a question. I don't type in any reply... and two minutes pass in silence.

So you type in, "(OOC) Hello? Are you typing?"

I still don't reply -- not even to type in a hasty "(OOC) typing!" comment. So, after about three total minutes of waiting for me, you have the NPC do the following:

Basel studies the silent woman curiously, then shrugs as she doesn't reply after several minutes. He turns to look at Vane, the elf, and asks the question of him instead.

Yeah, but when I start doing things like that, I'm going to get cranky.

Yes, I quite understand that, and I really can't blame you. Good GMing is not always easy -- it's hard work that takes effort and concentration! Having players that can't even be bothered to be polite enough to pay attention would piss me off too.

Well, I don't know if they're not paying attention, or if they're just slow. So I really don't have the right to bitch.

If they've got a good reason for being slow, they'll give it. If they're having trouble with their connection, that'll show up when they abruptly connect, then disconnect. If you're ever not sure as to what really happened, and you feel it's important to know for sure, ask Lou the next day to check on the machine log. Just don't do that unless you have a compelling reason to do so... it's a pain to do. Let's face it -- any player that repeatedly and consistently claims that problem, for weeks at a time, is someone you might want to have a serious talk with -- about either figuring out if they really want to stay in your game, or upgrading their machine connection.

Someone could just be slow to type/react ICly. They don't need a 'reason' for that.

I'm in one game where one of the players tends to type long, expressive, multi-paragraph 'dissertations' on his character's thoughts, actions, and motivations. He's slow to react ICly, and we all know it. However, we all know it because it was discussed ahead of time, and everyone agreed his results were well worth the wait.

This is the most important thing to remember -- if there's going to be a problem, discuss it ahead of time. That's the best way to handle potentially contentious issues in a game -- to bring them out in the open and figure out a solution together.

Yes, but this creeps up badly during combat. I have one player that's idled for over ten minutes several times, though a few of those have apparently been for legitimate reasons. That is very annoying in turn-based combats.

If I'm in a game and I have to leave the keyboard for any reason, for any length of time... I always type in ::afks. That way people know not to ask my character questions for the few seconds or minutes I'm gone -- and that way those few seconds/minutes aren't (in effect) stolen unwillingly from the other players.

Think about it this way -- you are giving your players your valuable time and effort. The least they can do is be there when you do so! Someone that can't even be bothered to do that... probably doesn't belong in your game anyway. Make it a standard practice that your player must say when he's leaving his machine -- and make sure he knows that if he doesn't, and you're all in combat, his character will quite likely get hurt!

He does when he gets back. Not when he's leaving. Combat is slow enough. Ah, I'm bitching too much.

If these people aren't interested enough to stay present and play in your game, or to have the utterly basic courtesy to let you know when they're leaving the 'table' -- why do you want them in the game? Why do you want them, in effect, wasting your time? Bitching is too much only when you don't DO something about it.

But isn't that a little harsh? I really don't want to bring this game to a screeching halt.

No, it's not harsh at all, nor will it bring the game to a screeching halt if you don't allow whining from manipulative players to steal your limited, valuable scheduled game time. It's simple -- everyone gets three chances.

First you say, "Guys, I'm implementing a new rule, so we can all enjoy the game more. From now on, if you're going to leave the keyboard for any reason whatsoever, could you please let us know?"

If someone forgets to do this (a not-unreasonable occurrence, since this is new to them), then on the second time you explain further, as necessary: "Guys, the reason I'm asking everyone to announce when they'll be afk (away from keyboard) is so the game will progress more smoothly. If we know when folks are afk, then we'll know not to wait on them."

Should someone forget again, as has been known to happen, then you give a polite, third, and final warning: "Guys, we all know why we want to give each other the courtesy of saying when we'll be afk. I'm afraid from now on if someone doesn't say when they'll be gone, we're going to be assuming they're actually still there, and the game will continue on, around their character. This includes combat. Characters can and will get hurt in such situations, I'm afraid, if their players aren't paying attention and haven't announced they'll be afk. I just wanted to be fair and let you all know ahead of time."

Then you actually do what you've said you'll do. Don't waffle, don't let yourself be talked out of it -- DO it. If you do not, you've just taught yourself and your players that you cannot be trusted to keep your promises. It may sound harsh... but if you can't be trusted to actually do what you say you'll do, then why should your players respect you?

Well, okay. It's just... well, I just feel a little mean hitting someone that's not there to hit back. Or someone that could be having connection problems, or whatever.

The important thing is to let people know ahead of time that the rules have changed. Hitting them without warning is indeed mean. However, enforcing the rules you politely and thoroughly warned them about ahead of time is not. In fact, not paying attention to you is, to my way of seeing it, far more 'mean' and far more lacking in basic common courtesy.

Furthermore, as stated above, connection problems show up in the game, and don't usually happen to the same player consistently, week after week. Smart players warn others ahead of time if there's a thunderstorm where they are, or if they're having connection problems.

The solution to almost any in-game problem is thoughtful, reasonable communication between everyone involved. Warn people if things are going to change, or if rules have been added or subtracted, or if you're going to need more explanation time, or whatever. It doesn't matter if you're the GM or the player -- always let people know what's up, what's going to be happening. Don't take them by surprise. That's what OOC communication is for -- to make the IC gaming run more smoothly and enjoyably for all.

Good luck, and happy gaming!

More potential solutions to gaming issues.

Last modified: 2002-Mar-27 21:27:04

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