There has been a full range of reactions among gamers about the various stay-at-home orders around the planet. For gamers who always played online, the pandemic may have seemed like a blessing. Now, their players were home. No more meshing schedules to play. There really was nothing else to do. For tabletop players who convene at their homes or local game shops, the pandemic was a serious disruption. Would they wait it out or convert to online methods to play? And when the pandemic is over, will they abandon the electronic world and go back to flesh-and-blood dice rolling?
The tabletop gaming world was literally turned upsidedown by the pandemic. This article is going to ask the games creators and fans to explore:
- What effect the pandemic will have on game settings going forward. Will people stay online, got back to the table, or mix it up?
- How the pandemic drove new gamemasters and players into the Star Trek Adventures fold during the pandemic.
- The reasons people choose to play online or around the table.
- The future.
I have gamemastered campaigns online for over 20 years. Fortunately, the Internet became a household thing by the time my friends grew up and moved around the world. Some of my pals ditched the game once we went online. Others chose to stick with it. For those who persevered, we continued our stories initially on PBeM. Later on, we used message boards before discovering WhatsApp and finally landing on Discord.
Surprisingly, I now have the desire to roll into a gaming shop and play Star Trek Adventures. This is for two reasons. 1) Human interaction. 2) To support small businesses that have suffered the worst this year.
So I decided I wanted to hear from others how they feel about gaming and the pandemic. First, I ran an informal poll on the Star Trek Adventures Facebook page to take a pulse check. I asked:
“HOW MANY OF YOU WILL USE ONLINE PLATFORMS TO PLAY STA GOING FORWARD AFTER THE PANDEMIC?”
This planted the seed for a great conversation among creators and fans.
Will your game setting change or stay the same after Covid-19 goes away?
STA game designer Nathan Dowdell admits, “Online gaming doesn’t scratch quite the same itch as face-to-face gaming does. It’s a close substitute if you can’t get in-person games, but it’s not the same thing.”
Chris Nicolls says, “I think online leads to more chance of people backing out of a game and doesn’t really have the same feeling of camaraderie as IRL games do.”
“I’ve also started a slightly different style of game that I only intend on running online, and probably wouldn’t have tried if we were all still sat around a table,” Matt Day from the United Kingdom said. “Personally, I found that once I stopped trying to directly replace the table experience, and instead embrace the tools available to me in ways that enhanced other aspects of the game, I’ve actually fallen into some practices that I will now have to transition back to the in-person environment.”
To Matt’s point, there has been an explosion of STA on formats like Roll20 and Discord. New technology, like Majel, has altered the landscape of play on Discord. And easy-to-use battle grids have reset the stage of play for many gamemasters.
Klo Utley from Austin, Texas, explained the effect of the pandemic on his group. “My primary gaming group has been playing D&D together in person on Monday nights for about 3 years. Since the pandemic started, we’ve gone online and added a second game night on Wednesdays. I’m grateful for the ability to still play and spend time with my friends, but I do miss the in-person aspect of RPGs. As soon as we can, we’re planning to resume in-person gaming. By that time, the Eberron D&D game I’m running will probably be concluding and I can introduce the group to STA.”
“I’ve really learned that online games can actually feel the same as in-person gaming when you’ve got a good group to begin with,” said Troy Mepyans, STA adventures writer. “It’s not the location, it’s the chemistry that makes the game.”
For some people, the pandemic was the opportunity to form new groups to play for the first time.
For example, Greg Littlejohn from Chicago, Illinois, used the shelter-in-place order to make for more family time. It wasn’t easy to introduce the game system to his three kids. “I have three sons, twin boys who are twenty and another who is 17,” Greg explains. “We played and watched a lot of Trek in the spring and summer but, for some reason, the game just didn’t take root with them. It helped us pass time but it wasn’t clicking. Finally, after watching some DS9 they all agreed that they had been looking at the world of Trek the wrong way. Being a “Boy Scout” wasn’t all bad. They realized that even Boy Scouts aren’t all perfect but it was about trying to live up to that ideal. We are three game days in and it’s been awesome to see them develop their characters!”
Matt Day, quoted above, explained how the pandemic affected his gaming. “I have experienced a range of situations online. I’ve found generally that my in-person games have struggled to transition and in some cases stopped entirely, while new, specifically online games have thrived.”
One reason I think STA took off so well in 2020 is due to the hopeful message of Star Trek.
Unlike a lot of dystopian movies or the constant shadow of death in Star Wars, Trek has long drawn people to its stories due to its positive tone for the future of humanity. While we sit amidst a bed of social unrest, Star Trek promises a better future where the problems of today have been solved in the ‘morrow.
“I was first introduced to STA early in the year (just pre-pandemic) but my interest in all areas of the game intensified during the pandemic,” gamer Stephen Near from Hamilton, Ontario said. “It might’ve coincided with my finding all Trek franchises on Netflix and the need to watch something hopeful.”
Having players walk away feeling like their characters have made a positive contribution to society is a big plus. Not all RPGs are designed to do this. Thank goodness we have STA.
How has the pandemic affected the future of games like Star Trek Adventures?
“I’ve noticed more people talking about the game online and playing it online,” said Jim Johnson, Project Manager for Star Trek Adventures RPG. “Sounds like there are a lot more people who want to play the game than GM it, but I imagine that’s true for any game. I don’t know if we have any lessons learned as such. We’re working on developing more virtual tabletop (VTT) support for a variety of platforms.”
When asked if he felt the pandemic changed the world of tabletop gaming he responded. “Somewhat? I hope we’ll see more options for good VTT platforms with useful functions and features. I can’t wait to get back to rolling dice on a table with friends, but I also appreciate the game experiences I’ve made virtually.”
I want to give a big thank you to the tried and true creators, GMs, and players who refused to let 2020 suck us in like a gravimetric distortion. You remodulated your warp fields, sent more power to the impulse engines, and blasted ahead to keep gaming alive in new and ingenious ways. I think more fan content got produced in 2020 than in any other year.
I am ready to get back to the table, but the pandemic allowed me the opportunity to run the STA campaign I was promising my friends in town. I tried joining several online groups to get more STA experience but they all fizzled out. I love Roll20 and do not find Discord to work very well. Otherwise, I think I will try to do a mix of both online and tabletop going forward. Thank you to the community.