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.