Getting Focus

While digression and kibbitzing has been a perennial complaint/joke/bugaboo around the gaming table, there was a point about two years ago when I’d gotten (I think) quite a bit better at keeping a game focused and moving things along — I think I owe a lot of that to my (then) habit of participating in convention gaming tables for Living campaigns (Star Wars, Greyhawk, and others) — simply put, when you’re at a convention and have put money down to play (or have a table full of people who have), and you’ve got 3.5 hours to get through 5 to 8 encounters in an enjoyable fashion, there’s a lot of incentive to focus.
Now, it’s an unspoken assumption that home tables are never as focused as Con games: it’s a larger group of people (at least some of the time), the setting for play is much more informal, there’s less of a time-crunch (you can always come back next session and pick up where you left off, right?), and of course you’re probably closer friends with your home group than the folks you randomly end up with at a convention table, so there’s going to be more visiting…
But I’m not sure if I buy that.

  • I (and the rest of the folks I game with regularly) are adults without a whole lot of free time — granted, when I hear most adult gamers lament that they never get to play Face-to-Face, it’s clear that our group of players schedules and plays more games than most, but that’s because we make a serious time commitment to play (more on that below), not becuase we actually have more time. As much as any player with 3.5 hours to play at a Con table, our time is at a premium.
  • Visiting. We do a lot of it, and I mean in general, not just while playing. More to the point, we do a lot of it in the same areas we play in — the family room becomes the gaming area simply by adding upside-down frisbees loaded with dice to the decor and scattering rule books around.
    • I’m not SURE if a change of locale (even a minor one) would help put people in a better mental space to play, but I think that the Need to Visit needs to be acknowledged among a group of gamers who are also friends. The fact is, if we’re scheduling a game to start a 4pm, and we BS until 8pm before we start playing, it obvious that we WANT to visit in an informal way, and that it’s going to be a lousy resultant game, regardless of what happens.
    • Possible solution — allocate some of the currently-slotted game-time as designated Visit Time — acknowledge that the visiting and kibbitzing will happen regardless, so SET A TIME to end it, concretely… maybe combining it’s conclusion with a physical move to The Place Where We Game and out of The Place Where We Visit, if that seems helpful or necessary.
    • Corollary: set a regular break (every two hours or something) where you leave The Place Where We Game to kibbitz and refuel for 20 or 30 minutes.
  • Many of the games I run are the sorts where you can (allegedly) get more done in 2.5 hours than you could in 10 hours in most mainstream systems, provided that’s what you’re doing: playing… getting things done… focusing. Maybe someone says something that reminds me of a story about my kid? Fine: I’ll make a note of it so I can bring it up during a break… something.
  • Maybe this is Social Contract stuff that needs to be set out prior to a new game starting (there will be Visit Time, Game Time, and regular breaks, so everyone gets booed and hissed for mixing activities and diluting both). Maybe it’s worth a try.
  • I have to wonder about group dynamics in this, and System… the OA game, for example, has identical composition to other games that have all kinds of focus issues… that’s a curiosity.

There should be a way to regain the kind of “Our Time Here is Precious” mindset that give’s us more in-character moments… whatever… just better payoff for the time spent, WITHOUT going back to regular Con Game participation to get myself in that 3.5 hour mindset (which in any case only works so far as the rest of the group has also done so).
There should be… Hmm.
Nothing more concrete to add here; I’m just thinking outloud.


  1. Excellent points there, to which I replied, but I’m posting my reply here as well simply because it clarifies a lot of my meandering post above.
    All kinds of thoughts:
    1. I think for the most part, we (Margie and I at least, and I think most of the rest of our gaming circle) game to socialize, not the other way around.
    Absolutely. One of my main thoughts while banging my post out was simply to acknowledge that we want to socialize and get caught up on the goings on of our friends and simply plan for it… set aside some time for it, so we get that Need met (heh).
    It’s a bit like dealing with food (in any setting) — if we don’t set aside time for a meal (and remember that there will *be* a meal), we’ll just graze all night (well, more than normal), which isn’t a great eating habit and tends to get buffalo wing sauce on your pants.
    Thus, for me, as a player (as a GM can be something quite different, I acknowledge), the incentive to crack down and play, dammit is less than it might be for some. (As a GM, it can be really frustrating to be ready to go, to be in game mode, and have everyone else hanging out casually and chit-chatting. Do I contradict myself? I role-play multitudes ?)
    Mmm. I would say the motivation for me is somewhat different — if I do a lot of prep (and we all know I do far less prep than… pretty much anyone), it doesn’t really bother me if we don’t get around to using it — I mean, if we don’t move forward at all, then all I’ve done is get things ready for the next game.
    However, I do feel a certain obligation when GMing to provide the entertainment for the evening — when we chat our way entirely out of a night of gaming, I feel responsible for being a poor activity organizer (especially since, as I will note below, I’m usually a leading cause of the chit-chat).
    Doyce?s suggestion of moving from the Chat Area to the Game Area might have some merit.
    I don’t think of it as a solution so much as a signal — simply to say “okay, we’re going to try to focus on this other activity for awhile”, it’s also something I think would work well as a cue for me.
    A game where the characters are not acting together ? in the same room, or at least to the same ends ? is going to have more chit-chat.
    Some day, I hope to run a session (not a whole game, just a session), where people just don’t want to leave the room because they want to know what’s going to happen next… to the other people playing. I want everyone’s story to be so interesting to (or involved with) everyone playing that everyone’s engaged all the way through.
    That would be neat.
    In a similar vein, a game without a strong goal for the players ? either for the session or group of sessions or the campaign itself ? will tend to produce digressions, as folks let their attention wander.
    Mmm. Dunno. On the one hand, I wanted to say “But Bibliophage didn’t have any kind of goal for the campaign, and we focused just fine” except that it did; I forget that it did because I didn’t create it — to me, that was a very versatile-prep (not to say freeform) game, with no kind of agenda — reading through it later, it reads like the most heavily plotted thing I’ve run in ages.
    Hmm. There may be an answer there. I’d thank the system for the help, except it didn’t help much at all with the last Sorcerer session. Hrm.
    Doyce mentions the OA game as an example of one where we stayed focused. Part of that was the very clear direction for each character, each session, and the campaign as a whole. It gave the players both something relatively clear to do with their characters and made it easier to pop back in to the game if digressions popped us out.
    I’ll take credit for the direction on sessions and campaign, but not characters, that was an investment by the players. I think also that the very clear and strong setting really helped people get back into character after a digression. Vague game = vague gamers? Hmm.
    The GM has to set an example.
    … which is really where I was going with my post. I have led people into a nasty bit of wilderness, I blame myself fully for it, and I’m basically brainstorming ways to help me lead (my games, at least) back out of it.
    Because, yeah, we all want to socialize, but at the same time we do make a significant commitment of time (both to play, GM, prep… the whole 9), and I think that when adult kids make that kind of commitment, we really ought to have something… well, something come of it — maybe I’m selfish, because we have this amazing group of people to game with, and sometimes I think I’m taking it all for granted. (Especially when I read emails and forum posts almost every day from smart, funny, entertaining gamers who, for lack of luck or timing or time or location, just can’t game (or are forced to game via mediums that I’ve long found unplayable).)
    [I] am almost as likely to crack wise and digress and chit-chat as the players.
    Heh. Well, for my part, I’m far, FAR beyond “almost”. Maybe the whole post is guilt-based. Probably not ‘maybe’.
    (Interestingly, Margie is much better than I am at maintaining focus as a GM. I ought not be surprised, but ?)
    Same thing with Jackie — I (and this is going to sound funny, given how Necropolis ran) always enjoy having her GM, because she just rockets through the BS and gets to the stuff that’s happening.
    I think that, to reduce digressions and lack of focus, rather than looking for ways to stop it ? quashing the symptoms ? we should be looking more at why it happens, and the extent to which we can affect those root causes.
    Exactly. Most of my original post amounts to making guesses about this — the lion’s share of those guesses amount to this:
    “I think we all really like hanging out and are good friends and enjoy each other’s company, and our desire to visit and socialize is leaking into situations where it’s more distracting, simply because we’re trying to force it out entirely — that’s impossible, so we should embrace it and make as much time for it as we need to, so that one thing doesn’t have feel the need to ‘push in’ on the other as much.”
    Or something.

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