Old Dude Alert

I used Hangouts for the first time yesterday for a gaming thing. It was pretty cool! Some weirdness, though:

1. The tendency to talk over people, I assume due to lag. Are there any techniques people use to “pass the baton” as it were?

2. Jitter and audio drop-outs. I just figured out a few minutes ago that you can adjust the video quality settings. Does disabling HD improve the experience overall?

28 thoughts on “Old Dude Alert

  1. On the talking-over-people thing, one factor is that in face-to-face conversations people can use cues like who you’re looking at to direct the flow of conversation but that completely breaks down in a camera-and-screens setup. Being more explicit about verbally directing the flow, e.g. mentioning people by name more than you would need to in a face-to-face environment, can help. (It also makes it easier when you’re playing games that have that sort of thing baked in, e.g. when a GM is supposed to direct attention at specific players at specific times. Games that require freeflowing group discussions tend to be a little more awkward.)

  2. < ![CDATA[On the talking-over-people thing, one factor is that in face-to-face conversations people can use cues like who you're looking at to direct the flow of conversation but that completely breaks down in a camera-and-screens setup. Being more explicit about verbally directing the flow, e.g. mentioning people by name more than you would need to in a face-to-face environment, can help. (It also makes it easier when you're playing games that have that sort of thing baked in, e.g. when a GM is supposed to direct attention at specific players at specific times. Games that require freeflowing group discussions tend to be a little more awkward.)]]>

  3. Mark, cross-talk can be minimized by everyone using cameras. It’s much better that way anyhow, and it allows you to actually see body language. Also, it’s much better when the GM goes in order, say left to right, across the bottom of the screen, when the group is faced with making decisions.

    People with bad connections have reported increased stability and better sound by turning off their cameras. I don’t know if this actually helps, but it’s worth a try.

    Final advice is to let folks know that sometimes you need to leave the Hangout entirely, and re-join. It can do wonders for your connection, and it resets any apps that sometimes quit working on you.

  4. < ![CDATA[Mark, cross-talk can be minimized by everyone using cameras. It's much better that way anyhow, and it allows you to actually see body language. Also, it's much better when the GM goes in order, say left to right, across the bottom of the screen, when the group is faced with making decisions. People with bad connections have reported increased stability and better sound by turning off their cameras. I don't know if this actually helps, but it's worth a try. Final advice is to let folks know that sometimes you need to leave the Hangout entirely, and re-join. It can do wonders for your connection, and it resets any apps that sometimes quit working on you.]]>

  5. 1. Talking over each other: Calling on people by the GM is really helpful, having small groups is also preferred. With google hangouts, I’m not sure the order of people across the bottom is the same for all users necessarily, but if it is going from left to right would be a really neat tool.

    2. Connection: Disabling HD might help! I will have to check that out! I definitely have had MUCH better success with lag on horrible connections when I’ve turned off the videocameras, but you do lose that body language element. And I second Brian Wille that “Have you tried turning it off and on again” is seriously a helpful tactic when Hangouts is doing something funky.

    I will warn that in a few (large group) situations, nothing I could do could make the roll20 app to load for some users. In one case, I accidentally hit a time where they were doing maintenance on the site though, so can’t blame them for that (I was running a game for people in Japan at a crazy hour).

    Would love to hear other suggestions though! I wonder whether ViewScream (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rafaelchandler/viewscream-2nd-edition) has any advice to that end, as it is a Larpy space horror thing designed to be run exclusively online.

  6. < ![CDATA[1. Talking over each other: Calling on people by the GM is really helpful, having small groups is also preferred. With google hangouts, I'm not sure the order of people across the bottom is the same for all users necessarily, but if it is going from left to right would be a really neat tool. 2. Connection: Disabling HD might help! I will have to check that out! I definitely have had MUCH better success with lag on horrible connections when I've turned off the videocameras, but you do lose that body language element. And I second Brian Wille that "Have you tried turning it off and on again" is seriously a helpful tactic when Hangouts is doing something funky. I will warn that in a few (large group) situations, nothing I could do could make the roll20 app to load for some users. In one case, I accidentally hit a time where they were doing maintenance on the site though, so can't blame them for that (I was running a game for people in Japan at a crazy hour). Would love to hear other suggestions though! I wonder whether ViewScream (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rafaelchandler/viewscream-2nd-edition) has any advice to that end, as it is a Larpy space horror thing designed to be run exclusively online.]]>

  7. More details: There are four of us total, all using video. We’re in the planing stages of a possible campaign, so there was no external pressure (e.g., initiative) forcing us to take turns; it was all just chatting and brainstorming.

  8. < ![CDATA[More details: There are four of us total, all using video. We're in the planing stages of a possible campaign, so there was no external pressure (e.g., initiative) forcing us to take turns; it was all just chatting and brainstorming.]]>

  9. Oh! I didn’t realize it was your first time ever! Yeah, it definitely has its quirks/issues. But I hope you’ll enjoy all it offers enough to that the issues become less bothersome. Some of this has already been said, but:

    1.) Talking over is a thing that happens. It still happens in my long-running groups sometimes and we do our little shuffle back a forth to make sure each person has their say. Or we help each other restate what was missed if there was lag. Knowing that it happens to everyone and acknowledging that it’s a little awkward though helps smooth the ripple and make it no big deal. It’s not that different from things that can happen in person (everyone talking at once or not clearly hearing what someone said) – it’s just that it tend to be a little more halting on Hangouts. 

    The most helpful thing I’ve found? Is to just shrug and relax, understand that it’s a quirk of the medium, get things straightened out, and move on. 

    I’m not against managing techniques (so if there’s one you want to try I am totally down!), but the ones I’ve heard of or experienced bring their own problems and aren’t perfect. For example, if the solution is something more technical, it can fail when the tech gets buggy. If the solution is to raise your hand, someone checking the document might not see it. Some people like to have everyone muted unless they are speaking, but personally I kinda hate this – it feels less human to me and makes me feel like I’m speaking into a void and then I can’t hear the delightful laughter or reactions to what gets said that makes me feel like I am doing this thing I like with friends. 

    That said, all is not chaos. 🙂 Playing with the same group over time helps because we learn some of each other’s quirks or ways of speaking. And roleplaying out scenes is much more structured than a chat or brainstorming session. There tends to be more deliberate turn taking or I say something and wait for your reply. Or we’re not all in the same scene together, lowering the variables. Or the GM can go around one-by-one asking what we do or say. Or he can be like, “hold up, let’s hear what x has to say.”

    One simple, useful technique when you have a non-urgent thing to do or say but don’t want to interrupt the current thing is to flag it in the chat sidebar. As in, “I have a scene idea for when this scene is over.” Or “I want to talk to x when she steps outside the tavern.” I say non-urgent because not everyone is focused on the chat sidebar all of the time. It can also be a gentle reminder if a scene is taking too long that yes: there is other interesting stuff afoot. 😉

    Also! This is next-level stuff, but being more deliberate with the limited body language in view of the camera and being more transparent with your narrative can help a ton with people knowing how to react to you or interpret what you say which also lowers confusion. It can feel a little weird at first, but it’s an act of generosity because some subtleties are lost over Hangouts and being clearer makes the experience more fun for everyone. For example, if I’m (delightedly) frustrated by a turn of events, I might normally tap my fingers on the table. You can’t see that but I want you to know that you did something that affected me, so I might draw my body language in closer – wringing my hands or clenching my hands where the camera can see. Or if you flirted with my character, I might outright say, “I am blushing hard” because if I just look down at my feet to indicate shyness, you’re not going to be able to see the whole thing. You might wonder – is her character being shy or is Rachel just bored and looking at her cat? This doesn’t have to be over-the-top but making slight modifications or clarifications in communication can make for a richer experience.

    2. Yes, it can. If my set up is lagging on a given night, I get rid of as many extra things going on as possible. That said, it’s pretty much a given that someone will have technical difficulties on any given night. In my experience, it can be annoying but it rarely kills the whole session. Jumping out of and back into the Hangout, restarting the computer, going audio-only if things are really bad, temporarily muting someone, and fussing with settings solve most of the problems I’ve seen people experience. Try not to sweat too much – it’ll happen to everyone and most likely be okay. 🙂

    In exchange for these gripes we generally don’t have to worry about being stuck in traffic, feeling too tired to go out, cleaning the house, bad weather, or other physical space problems that sometimes cancel or delay a game. 🙂

  10. < ![CDATA[Oh! I didn't realize it was your first time ever! Yeah, it definitely has its quirks/issues. But I hope you’ll enjoy all it offers enough to that the issues become less bothersome. Some of this has already been said, but:
    1.) Talking over is a thing that happens. It still happens in my long-running groups sometimes and we do our little shuffle back a forth to make sure each person has their say. Or we help each other restate what was missed if there was lag. Knowing that it happens to everyone and acknowledging that it’s a little awkward though helps smooth the ripple and make it no big deal. It’s not that different from things that can happen in person (everyone talking at once or not clearly hearing what someone said) – it’s just that it tend to be a little more halting on Hangouts. 
    The most helpful thing I’ve found? Is to just shrug and relax, understand that it’s a quirk of the medium, get things straightened out, and move on. 
    I’m not against managing techniques (so if there’s one you want to try I am totally down!), but the ones I’ve heard of or experienced bring their own problems and aren’t perfect. For example, if the solution is something more technical, it can fail when the tech gets buggy. If the solution is to raise your hand, someone checking the document might not see it. Some people like to have everyone muted unless they are speaking, but personally I kinda hate this – it feels less human to me and makes me feel like I’m speaking into a void and then I can’t hear the delightful laughter or reactions to what gets said that makes me feel like I am doing this thing I like with friends. 
    That said, all is not chaos. 🙂 Playing with the same group over time helps because we learn some of each other’s quirks or ways of speaking. And roleplaying out scenes is much more structured than a chat or brainstorming session. There tends to be more deliberate turn taking or I say something and wait for your reply. Or we’re not all in the same scene together, lowering the variables. Or the GM can go around one-by-one asking what we do or say. Or he can be like, “hold up, let’s hear what x has to say.”
    One simple, useful technique when you have a non-urgent thing to do or say but don’t want to interrupt the current thing is to flag it in the chat sidebar. As in, “I have a scene idea for when this scene is over.” Or “I want to talk to x when she steps outside the tavern.” I say non-urgent because not everyone is focused on the chat sidebar all of the time. It can also be a gentle reminder if a scene is taking too long that yes: there is other interesting stuff afoot. 😉
    Also! This is next-level stuff, but being more deliberate with the limited body language in view of the camera and being more transparent with your narrative can help a ton with people knowing how to react to you or interpret what you say which also lowers confusion. It can feel a little weird at first, but it’s an act of generosity because some subtleties are lost over Hangouts and being clearer makes the experience more fun for everyone. For example, if I’m (delightedly) frustrated by a turn of events, I might normally tap my fingers on the table. You can’t see that but I want you to know that you did something that affected me, so I might draw my body language in closer – wringing my hands or clenching my hands where the camera can see. Or if you flirted with my character, I might outright say, “I am blushing hard” because if I just look down at my feet to indicate shyness, you’re not going to be able to see the whole thing. You might wonder – is her character being shy or is Rachel just bored and looking at her cat? This doesn’t have to be over-the-top but making slight modifications or clarifications in communication can make for a richer experience.
    2. Yes, it can. If my set up is lagging on a given night, I get rid of as many extra things going on as possible. That said, it’s pretty much a given that someone will have technical difficulties on any given night. In my experience, it can be annoying but it rarely kills the whole session. Jumping out of and back into the Hangout, restarting the computer, going audio-only if things are really bad, temporarily muting someone, and fussing with settings solve most of the problems I’ve seen people experience. Try not to sweat too much – it’ll happen to everyone and most likely be okay. 🙂
    In exchange for these gripes we generally don’t have to worry about being stuck in traffic, feeling too tired to go out, cleaning the house, bad weather, or other physical space problems that sometimes cancel or delay a game. :)]]>

  11. Great advice, Rachel E.S. Walton . I caught myself  occasionally talking over people just with verbal “Yes, I like that” sort of talk. I blame most of that on the freeform brainstorminess of that session. I don’t (or, at least, haven’t caught myself) doing that during Swords Without Master games.

    Looking forward to the next session.

  12. < ![CDATA[Great advice, Rachel E.S. Walton . I caught myself  occasionally talking over people just with verbal "Yes, I like that" sort of talk. I blame most of that on the freeform brainstorminess of that session. I don't (or, at least, haven't caught myself) doing that during Swords Without Master games. Looking forward to the next session.]]>