Finding Time: Google+ Saved my (Gaming) Life

I self-identify as a gamer more readily and/or instinctively than any other social sub-caste, up to and including “parent.” Good or bad, that’s the way it is.

(To be fair, I’ve been dropping dice on various flat surfaces and expressing their results as bloody narrative for something like 32 years, which is four times longer than I’ve logged as a shaper of innocent human larvae, so maybe that’s okay.)

The thing is, if you consider that randomaverage (which is effectively the oldest blog I have) has no other purpose than to provide a space upon which I can scratch my game-related sanskrit, and you disregard the stuff I’ve written about EVE (which while voluminous was basically a paid gig), it becomes glaringly obvious that despite my well-documented interests, I haven’t been doing a lot of gaming recently.

(Recently: the last three years.)

2010 was essentially the last great gaming hurrah around Casa Testerman — a drought whose origin can be directly tied to the arrival of my son, and with Child3 just arrived, it would be fair to assume another third of a decade wandering the non-gaming wasteland.

And yet.

2013 has, instead, seen the first green shoots of gaming life pushing up through the smothering mulch of diapers and dried formula that lies deep and crisp and even out to the edge of my personal horizon.

How can this be?

Some of it – a precious and important part – lies with the fact I’ve been able to start gaming with my daughter, but (so far, at least) that’s an unreliable and infrequent event, thanks to school and the mountains of homework we both have to deal with every week.

But aside from that, in the last fifteen weeks I’ve played in a dozen game sessions, which is the most proper gaming I’ve managed in the last three years, and the most time I’ve spent playing and not-GMing in… I think, ever.

The reason: Google+ Hangouts.

MMOs aside (and, really, they aren’t relevant to this discussion), I’ve never enjoyed much success with online gaming; things like play-by-post or play-by-email games just move too slowly to hold my interest for more than a few weeks. I tried out a Heroquest game via IRC text chat at one point, but even then the glacial pace was an issue – it was simply compressed into six-hour sessions instead of stretched over a month. Voice chat by itself never grabbed me – too much going on, and no way to easily sort out what was happening.

But Hangouts? Voice, video, dice rollers, shared maps/images… all available nigh-instantly, in one place, via a technological platform so simple my parents use it as a regular means of keeping in touch with their grandkids. I and the other players might as well be in the same room, with the added convenience that we aren’t — there’s no travel time, no room cleaning, no packing and carrying of game books, and your entire personal library of stuff remains immediately at hand because you haven’t gone anywhere. More than any other game sessions I’ve played, nearly 100% of the time you’ve allocated to playing is spent playing, instead of Getting There or Waiting For The Last Guy To Get There.

I think about how hard this all would have been as little as three years ago…

Screw jetpacks. THIS is the future.
Screw jetpacks. THIS is the future.

Now, I’m not a hermit – I don’t hate the idea of gathering together for gaming, nor do I even hate people (much).

But gathering is hard. Schedule a game session for even a modest 3 hours and you’re locked in for (at best) an hour on either side where (thanks to travel time, packing, prep, and the niceties of modern hygiene practice) you are essentially unavailable for any other purpose. As a parent who’d very much like his spouse to keep talking to him on a nigh-daily basis, that’s very nearly a non-starter right there.

But three hours when you don’t have to go anywhere and (in moments of need) can step away to help your understanding and supportive spouse for a few minutes? That’s good stuff.

This is all aided by the degree to which Google+ ties into the rest of the Google ecosystem. Schedule the event in your calendar and you (and your other players) get an emailed reminder at the right time, with a link to click on that will automagically open the hangout in a new window – no muss, no fuss. Pop an earpiece in or on, and you’re at the table. Better yet, wrap up, close the window, and you’re home. A three hour game session largely free of distraction, with the entirety of your home within easy reach, that starts and ended within minutes of the scheduled time and drops you right back into your family’s orbit? Nearly perfect, and no more disruptive to your home life than a long phone call. (I know I’ve spent more time providing long distance tech support to my family members, without forewarning, and didn’t feel nearly as good when the conversation wrapped up.)

“I have to get out.”

I’ve gotten excited about G+ gaming to the point where I’ve tried to set up regular gaming sessions on Google+ with people I actually know and see locally, because (a) I like playing with them and (b) even though they’re here, sitting down at the same table with them isn’t any easier just because we share a zip code – and it won’t be for at least another couple years (just for me, ignoring anyone else’s situation).

This desire to invite local friends to an online game led to an interesting conversation that exposed a fascinating misconception from one of my friends. I was talking about the game I was potentially planning, and asked if he’d be interested in joining. He replied:

“I really need to get out of my house and go meet with people to game.”

I asked if that was because of some technological problem.

“No. It’s that gaming is how I get out and see people. I don’t have the same opportunity you have to visit with interesting people at social events all the time.”

I laughed.

Loudly.

Because crying would have been awkward.

It should be obvious from what I’ve already written, but in case it’s not: I don’t find G+ useful because I’ve already had my fill of face to face contact. I enjoy G+ because it’s the best and often only regular option I have right now to have a conversation that doesn’t involve toilet training or homework assignments, without become completely unavailable as a husband or parent for five or six hours.

“I Don’t Know How You Do It.”

So this is my life right now:

  • Three kids: Infant, 2 year old, 8 year old
  • Two dogs
  • A marriage of which I’m rather fond
  • Full-time job
  • MFA program (writing workshop, directed reading, thesis, et cetera)
  • Part-time technical support for a forum
  • Guest speaker at a writer’s conference
  • Kickstarter project
  • Writing

And yet I fit in:

  • A regular weekly gaming session
  • A regular weekly writing workshop unrelated to the MFA (also online)

The reason it’s possible is:

  • My wife, who is awesome and supportive
  • Google+, which handles scheduling, reminders, play space, logs, dice rolling, voice, video, map sharing, doc sharing, and asynchronous communication between sessions, all via a platform that is low tech enough for nearly everyone I know

So… there you go. I don’t have a fancy wrap-up. Truth be told, I’ve been meaning to write this post for nearly a month, but I haven’t been able to find time. Funny and sad, when you think about it.

But I made time, because I think this is something more adult gamers need to know is out there. I’ve said before that I’m spending more time on Google+, because it’s the best online space for people who share your passion, and this is part of that.┬áIf you’re ones of those gamers who, if you’re honest, is really someone who used to be a gamer, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the Google+ communities and see what’s out there.


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