Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Having a Better Game - Crosstalk

 This is the first in what will be an irregular series.  The idea is tips to help make your gaming sessions better, every group has its own quirks and these will not fit everyone but I think are useful to at least consider and possibly try out if your group has these issues.


Every group has this problem, but successful ones either accept and embrace it or learn how to curb it.\
RPG gaming is a social experience and people handle social activities in different ways. Crosstalk is when players talk over each other and is a distraction and can keep people from being heard.
This tends to be far worse online than in person.
In person you can see everyone and rely on visual cues to know when someone is about to start talking or when they are getting ready to stop. People usually inhale just before they start to speak and this can be observed.  Also we often make physical gestures as part of our communication and speaker and audience alike can use those as part of the conversation - typically a tone setting under current.
Online you might have video chat but everyone is smaller and less clear. Your seeing less of them and they are less distinct so physical queues are harder to pick up on. Worse, if the camera shifts to the speaker rather than a gallery view. Also your doing other stuff online such as looking at character sheets, maps, gaming apps, rulebooks, etc and these all tend to take focus away from the camera view.  So its much harder to tell when someone is about to speak or whether they are done talking or just catching their breath.
Online also has a bit of lag and some people have low bandwidth or poor audio setups that exacerbate the problem.

Essentially online conversations tend to be less interactive and more like a series or exchange of short speeches. This has a very different tone and flavor.

How to Address This?

  • The larger the group the more it will happen, so manage group size.
  • Use Right of Way: If someone is talking dont interrupt unless you really have to and that generally should just be the GM. If you think they are done because they paused for breath or whatever apologize with a word once you realize and let them continue.
  • Dont Abuse Your Right of Way: While your talking no one else should be and they often have things to contribute as well.  So try to make your point quickly and dont hog the microphone.
  • Sidetalk: In person, side conversations can be whispered with some distraction but depending on seating it can allow for multiple conversations around the table or room. Online, this isn't an option as if one person can hear you clearly than everyone can.
  • When someone starts to talk over you they may not have realized you werent finished. Accept the apology and move on but be mindful that they had a thought they wanted to express or question they wanted to ask so give them the opportunity as soon as you can. One of the worst things you can do is be offended and go on a diatribe about it. If it happens often, discuss it later.
  • The GM is there to run all the NPCs, describe the world, and basically run the game. This includes steering conversations as well as plot and should be an effective and fair moderator. Sometimes part of this can be delegated to a party leader though, effective party leaders can keep the game pace moving.
  • Audio issues. Two people in the same room can create feedback as the microphones pick up both conversations and the people in the room seem to be talking twice. This can also happen with poor equipment (or set wrong) and if a player is not using headphones and the mic pics up the computer output and plays it back. These issues can be very annoying so fix them quickly. Headphones, directional mics, and good software (the latter is typically very expensive) can all resolve the issue.
  • Background noise: A/C, family, pets, even noise from the street can all be picked up and broadcast. Adjusting microphone sensitivity will help, but sometimes you need to use the mute button. Be mindful of the noise from your end. This gets worse the more people have it - like a roomful of whispering.
  • When its your turn to talk be ready. Pay attention to the combat or other activity and try to figure out what your going to do.  Sometimes things change right before its your turn and you have to adapt or even scrap your plan but most of the time you should be able to anticipate what your going to do.
  • Know the rules: The longer you have played the game the easier this is, also a bunch of house rules can confuse the issue but try to learn the relevant rules well enough that you know your options.  Sometimes others may offer a suggestion, welcome the help even if you opt not to take it. If their are modifiers like range or lighting penalties try to figure them pout in advance so no one is waiting on you to do the math. Its ok if you need help (try private messaging sometimes it will help) and everyone was new sometime. However players who wont learn the basic rules or never ready when its their turn can be a pain. Think of a game like a play or movie and how much more enjoyable it is when the action flows smoothly rather than actors constantly using exposition or forgetting their lines.
  • Talk in character and keep out of character talk to a minimum. This helps everyone be more immersed in the campaign and reduces crosstalk.  Though in character crosstalk is sometimes appropriate (like arguments, debate and interrupts such as "Watch out!"), out of character crosstalk rarely is.
  • Be Ready!  This was addressed in Know The Rules but beyond that you should pay attention and be ready for your turn, even if it came up early. For example two characters may be having a conversation and suddenly ask your input. Not paying attention can be just as rude online as it is in person and will also slow the game down as everyone waits for you to catch up.
  • Snacking:  Gaming is a social activity and often includes snacking. In person this can be a pizza break or bowl of chips but you should have food that can be shared. Online the kitchen is often close by and you may eat when not talking. Be mindful of the noise and use mute if your a noisy eater or have a sensitive mic. Also dont put that bag of chips next to the mic!

Not all of these will apply to your group and not all are as easily implemented. Plus even if everyone tries crosstalk WILL still happen, but if its dealt with gracefully and quickly your games should be better and more enjoyable.

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