Posted by: markfender | October 1, 2014

Online Gaming

More and more gamers are playing online.

ArsMagicaRPGCoverAnd that’s cool. With Google Hangouts, Roll20, and other management software, we’ve finally reached an age where it’s far more possible than ever before to recreate the experience of in-person games at a distance. But maybe there’s already a game uniquely suited to the online medium that we’ve been ignoring.

So many of the online tools we have available are about shoehorning a certain type of game into the online space. Battlemaps and things are fine, but they’re only needed for certain types of games. And for “talky” games you need the ability to talk to one another. These are obvious. But I think there’s a unique subset of game that already works great online – the spreadsheet game.

Ars Magica is the only example I can think of in particular. There are games that work better with spreadsheets when making characters, but I think Ars Magica is particularly suited to the form because of the way it handles time. As the seasons pass, each mage needs to account for their time spent. There is aging to worry about, lab treatises to write, and experiments to conduct and these all take time. And all of this work enriches the covenant, the group of mages gathered in one place. Writing a new book about Creo Ignem enhances the covenant as a whole. Likewise, administration of the covenant itself benefits everyone. And, the best way to track all of this stuff is a spreadsheet (Seriously, I don’t want to keep track of the Lab Totals needed on a sheet of paper. An automated field is so much handier).

Yeah, Ars Magica is pretty much a “talky” game and that’s fine. We’ve got the tools for online play to make that work. But it seems to me that a Dropbox or Google Docs master spreadsheet to keep track of all the paperwork also works pretty well online to keep the seasonal activity in a central location. Everyone can see what everyone else is doing and how successful they’ve been at it without necessarily having to have everyone in the same room together (Bonus: Your boss will think you’re updating a spreadsheet when you’re really gaming).

I’m sure someone has already created the spreadsheets necessary to manage this game (I haven’t looked. This is more of a thought experiment than a call for players). And every book adds new management systems that a spreadsheet can handle with aplomb. It’s more about deciding which systems to use and making sure you’ve got a centrally located place for the paperwork needed to manage those systems. And those tools have existed for years. I think we’re missing a unique type of game that’s more suited to the online space than most others. I’m sure there’s groups already doing this. But it’s weird to me that we’re continually reaching for some magical internet technology to make gaming better when, in one particular case, those issues have already been solved. And, yet, we just don’t play it.

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