Playing with Youngers: Moving Right Along

“Let’s not ring the gong THIS time.”

This is part of the Playing with Youngers series. It takes little context to enjoy on its own.

I run games for kids. I run them online. There are troubles that come with these two facts.

One, they’re kids. Things come up. For example:

*Student raises hand*
Me: Yes?
Student: I gotta got to the bathroom, I’ll be right back.
Me: All good, just go right ahead. What is YOUR action, student 2?

Or

*Student raises hand*
Me: Yes, what’s your action?
Student: I’m going to send you a private message. It’s about the game.
Me: All good, just go right ahead. What is YOUR action, student 2?

Things that just bog down the game, you know?

And in a class with two kids, it’s fine. I’m happy to be that present with students in smaller classes, even through the minor inconveniences of etiquette. But…

Two, it’s online. There’s one voice channel. There can be five kids on at a time (one class has six!). These minor “bog downs” add up. Time starts ticking. One student gets bored. Another decides to do something… rash. Things start to spiral out purely by lingering on the wrong things. It’s about focus, from individuals and the group. And they’re kids.

Problem

So let’s pitch a scenario: the group enters a “crossroads scene.”

GM: You come to a clearing in the jungle. You hear pig sounds in one direction, gruff talking in another, and the sound of pickaxes coming from a cave. What do you do?
Player 1: I go towards the pig sounds.
Player 2: Oh! I go towards the talking.
Player 3: Me? I wanna see the pickaxes. There might be gold!
Players 4 & 5 wait patiently with hands raised.

Here’s just another place where time can get away from us. Imagine that we, the collective GM, want to maintain the choice of three different things to investigate, but it would be too much to run all three encounters at one time. What to do?

Polls

I’ve been using polls as of late. Two kinds: closed and open. First, I’ll show you a closed poll.

GM: You come to a clearing in the jungle. You hear pig sounds in one direction, gruff talking in another, and the sound of pickaxes coming from a cave. What do you do? I’m going to type options 1, 2, and 3 as “pig sounds”, “gruff talking”, and “pickaxes” in the chat. Vote 1, 2, or 3 for which one you want to do first.
*Type, type, type. Players can talk it out if they want.*
GM: Alright, “pig sounds” it is. You move through the brush and find a large hog stuck in a vine trap. What do you do?

Now, the scenario is reduced in scope. There’s a specific thing to react to and a specific problem to address. Great!

It reminds me of choose your own adventure games. Limited (but hopefully flavorful) options. I guess this is the Parsely game version of that. Or like Cairn: “Use binary “so, A or B?” responses when their intentions are vague (or convoluted in this case).”

Here’s an open poll:

GM: The Lost Boys want to play a game with you to prove you’re not pirates. If you win, the Lost Boys will trust you. Otherwise, you’re pirates (see this scenario play out here too). What game do you want to play with them?
*Players start thinking aloud, suggesting games they think they could win. GM is typing these suggestions as a list. Some suggestions are repeats and consolidated.*
GM: Alright here are the choices. Vote!
1) Tug of war
2) Jumping contest
3) Shell game

The players get a choice, they’re invited to contribute to an open-ended problem, players that want to speak are heard, little time is wasted keeping track of plans verbally instead opting for a visual representation.

One more

This falls in the “how to keep things moving in a Zoom call” category. Use it for your online games.

No cold calls.

As a teacher, I’m used to giving cold calls, that is looking directly at someone and saying “what do YOU do?” It works well in-person, adding a tense and dramatic flair to the game. You feel like you’re there, because you are.

But online?
GM: Player 1, what do YOU do?
*Player 1, mid-bite, reaches for the unmute button. Misses. Finally does it.*
Player 1: What’s happening? Could you repeat that?

Nope, nope, nope.

Instead, I leverage the school-training these kids have. Raise your hand or emote a hand raise (a great Zoom feature). I call on players who want to act instead of those who wait. It encourages players to be proactive. And when a player who hasn’t been as active raises their hand, I’m calling on them for sure. Multiple hand raises?

GM: Okay, I see three hands raised. Let’s go Beau, Chris, and then Dallas. Beau, what do you do?

Moving right along.

Is there a less juvenile way to do this for adults? Or even younger players? Maybe. But the clarity of conversation in a single voice channel is worth it. No awkwardly interrupting someone else! 🙂

Happy gaming!

Things have been slow around here, but only in favor of what you can’t YET see! Adventure Hour! is being filled with juicy tables and receiving critical feedback to improve its creation. Expect it to go live early November at the latest. Become a part of the Patreon to receive more thorough updates.

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