Technology at the Tabletop Game - Synergy Or Discord?

by Hawke Robinson published 2020/03/16 13:06:51 GMT-7, last modified 2020-03-16T13:06:51-07:00
I am a huge advocate for technology. Look at my tech resume, and you will see what I mean. Technology is an extremely powerful tool to help improve the human experience, but at the tabletop game setting, it can be extremely detrimental if not used in very controlled ways. This article provides a few pointers on how to keep technology your friend in such settings, and the worst of the pitfalls to easily be avoided.

The Short Version For TLDR People :-)

Except for accessibility & strategic immersion enhancement, ongoing research is so far increasingly pointing toward the recommendation that participants should put away their devices to increase immersion and enjoyment of a non-technology-centered social tabletop game like RPGs. However, organizers may want to allow short "device use breaks" every 1-2 hours or so for those with more severe device "conditioning" experiencing "withdrawal-like" symptoms.

Further Research Is Needed

Further (and better) funded research is necessary to validate or refute these claims. The non-profit 501(c)3 RPG Research organization has indicated a desire to undertake a fully funded, publishable (with IRB oversight), research study on these topics, pending funding.

So if interested in helping fund further research to on these claims, please consider donating to the 501(c)3 non-profit RPG Research today!

Paypal One-time

Patreon Monthly

Medium Length Version For People With Attention Spans Above A Squirrel's :-)

With some limited conditions, in general:

  • For tabletop role-playing games specifically (but may apply to non-technology tabletop social games in general), having screens, especially increasingly conditioned people with devices like smart phones, at the table is detrimental to not only the device holder's immersion and enjoyment, but also all the other participants. Even when only using the devices directly in use of the game (but not required for the game).
  • Generally on a scale of 1-10 (10 highest immersion and enjoyment scores, 1 the lowest), one device screen lowers everyone's score by around 1 full point (+/- .25 points,) and for the device user on average 2-3 points (+/- .5 points). Multiple devices increase this effect (though with a decreasing effect with each subsequent device). So far this has been easily repeatable, and we hope to have more stringent lab and "in the wild" experiments pending funding.

Exceptions to the above:

  • Accessibility / adaptive issues.
  • Limited and very strategically controlled environmental immersion enhancements.

Additional Exception: Most of the research is focusing on non-VR/AR/PR devices in this context. For the limited research using AR/VR/PR in these settings, having very mixed results, nothing consistently statistically useful yet.

The Long Version For Those With Longer Attention Spans & Depth of Interest

I am a huge advocate for technology (and accessibility). Just take a look at my tech resume, and you will see what I mean about technology. :-)

But technology, like most powerful tools, can be a multi-edged weapon for defense or harm, including to self, intended or otherwise.

Technology is one of the two major reasons for my career and life successes in the face of a huge list of challenges to overcome, beating just about every statistical odd. The other boon is role-playing games.

Synergy or Discord?

What happens when technology and tabletop role-playing games (RPG) meet?

Technology is an extremely powerful tool to help improve the human experience, but at the tabletop game setting, as well as in general, it can be helpful or very detrimental if not used in very controlled ways.

This article provides a few pointers on how to keep technology your friend in such settings, and the worst of the pitfalls to easily be avoided.

Caveat About Statements In This Article

I love good, strong, multi-blinded, controlled, causally provable data. But that is often very expensive and difficult to find funding. Just remember correlation does not prove causality!

With somewhat limited resources, over the years, we've been able to perform a remarkable amount of research, but only the tiniest fraction that can be published, due to the the expenses (or politics) of the research publication process.

So, unfortunately some of the  core source research data referenced in this article can't be shared publicly beyond this less formal approach due to a lack of Institutional Review Board (IRB) or other release paperwork required by journals, and is instead based on internal community and business related market-style research to optimize the experiences of products and services delivery, which is summarized but can't be fully formally published without fear of legal repercussions from the thousands of formal, semi-formal, and informal participants summarized herein.

It is hoped in the near future that RPG Research will eventually receive sufficient funding to answer more effectively the questions and statements in this article, as well as the more than 200 (and growing) research questions in the queue. Some have been tested internally, and now we're waiting for more resources to test/re-test the results in better studies.

Wherever possible, theoretical and applied information is included as much as safely allowed, to explain why the repeated in-house research results make sense.

Everything stated is "best effort" based on all currently available research publicly and privately.

Quick Background Overview

Skip this section if you already know about me and RPG Research's background.

RPG Research https://www.rpgresearch.com has a performed a lot of research on this topic over decades.

As some of you may know, I've been involved with role-playing games since about 1977, and with technology since 1979 as a software developer, system build technician, systems & network administrator, information security specialist, published computer scientist, and eventually executive, including consultant working with up to Fortune 500 and other International companies. And I have been researching the effects of role-playing games since 1983, using them in educational settings since 1985, and in therapeutic settings since 2004. In 2004 is when the RPG Research Project was formed, and more formal research began to develop through this shared international community research platform.

On and off over the years, studies were performed about using or even just having technology in relation to role-paying games in all four RPG formats: tabletop (RPG or TRPG), live-action (LRPG and larps), electronic (ERPG including audio and computer-based), and hybrids (HRPG including solo adventure books and modules, and many other RPG variants). (See the RPG Model).

The Issues

 Technology can be a huge boon to many. It can help with accessibility issues for many populations.

Also, using technology to create, backup, store, analyze, and retrieve data is extremely helpful and efficient when used correctly.

However, having a screen at the table, small or large, whether projected or solid, is show to have measurable neurological impact (CITATION) on attention, focus, learning, memory retention, immersion, etc. There does seem to be some cohort effect potentially indicated (further research needed), between generations that "grew up" with the technologies and those that did not, but even those most comfortable with the technology still showed, though less, statistically relevant detrimental impact to enjoyment and immersion scores. However, some of the difference may be related to the conditioning responses we saw in these populations, that started to score lower and lower the longer their access to the devices was sustained! More research needed on this as well.

There are mixed results with Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), & Persistent Reality (PR) technologies used in the tabletop game context, but that is outside the scope of this article, and current data is too contradictory and evolving for a useful summary at this stage.

These statements are accounting for removable of technical glitches. When including the frequent technical glitches associated with these technologies, the scores plummet dramatically, though there is some significant cohort effect.

<DRAFT>

The Applicable Theories & Considerations

Neuroscience and Cognitive Neuropsychology, especially related to learning, attention, immersion, etc.

Immersion and Flow State acrcording to Mihalyi -

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs considerations - Environmental, homeostasis, safety, anxiety, etc. With taken into account, and still shows...

Different populations, demographics, known neurotypes, known mental health considerations, etc. and still shows -...

Group dynamics at play that impact results, such as more simplist Tuckman's theories  on small group formation and communication. Forming & Storming impact on immersion, differences show up here as well.

The Effects

Consistently, in-house repeatable research is showing that even ONE device in use at the table, or even just sitting on the table and running (even just in vibration mode), significantly reduces immersion and enjoyment scores for everyone at the table. (CITATION)

A number of different assessment techniques and tools have been used over this decades long period, but the results appear to be approximately about the same even across disparate instruments, though with larger margins of error for the methods missing validity and reliability scoring.

Some example instruments used include (but not limited to):

This reduction of scores not only lowers immersion and enjoyment scores for the participant with the device, no matter how much they are only using it for the game (even worse if using distractedly for other tasks), it also lowers the scores for all other participants at the table. For the device holder on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 best experience, one the least immerse/worse experience), the device holder usually scored 2-3 points lower than controls, while the other players scored on average 1-2 points lower than controls. Adding additional devices lowered scores even more, and/or if devices used outside of the direct purpose of the game. This is not a "bad DM you can't keep their attention" issue. This is a Central Nervous System, conditioned response, cognitive neuropsychology of learning issue. These are considered interference factors to taking in, processing, retraining, and recalling stimuli, data, and information. There are methods to use tech to enhance the experience, but they have to be performed in a very context-driven and specific way, and ANY technical glitches will have a significant impact on over all participant immersion and enjoyment scores. So, the overall recommendation, short of the aforementioned controlled appllication, and/or accessibility issues, is to put all devices on "stun", and put them in pockets or bags out of site. And to only access them during scheduled breaks. unfortunately this also has a problem for those so severely conditioned, they seem to experience almost withdrawal like symptoms of edginess, distraction, etc., but this _can_ be overcome by a well run game as long as the device screens are out of site.

</DRAFT>

References

The Short Version For TLDR People :-)

Except for accessibility & strategic immersion enhancement, ongoing research is so far increasingly pointing toward the recommendation that participants should put away their devices to increase immersion and enjoyment of a non-technology-centered social tabletop game like RPGs. However, organizers may want to allow short "device use breaks" every 1-2 hours or so for those with more severe device "conditioning" experiencing "withdrawal-like" symptoms.

Further Research Is Needed

Further (and better) funded research is necessary to validate or refute these claims. The non-profit 501(c)3 RPG Research organization has indicated a desire to undertake a fully funded, publishable (with IRB oversight), research study on these topics, pending funding.

So if interested in helping fund further research to on these claims, please consider donating to the 501(c)3 non-profit RPG Research today!

Paypal One-time

Patreon Monthly

Medium Length Version For People With Attention Spans Above A Squirrel's :-)

With some limited conditions, in general:

  • For tabletop role-playing games specifically (but may apply to non-technology tabletop social games in general), having screens, especially increasingly conditioned people with devices like smart phones, at the table is detrimental to not only the device holder's immersion and enjoyment, but also all the other participants. Even when only using the devices directly in use of the game (but not required for the game).
  • Generally on a scale of 1-10 (10 highest immersion and enjoyment scores, 1 the lowest), one device screen lowers everyone's score by around 1 full point (+/- .25 points,) and for the device user on average 2-3 points (+/- .5 points). Multiple devices increase this effect (though with a decreasing effect with each subsequent device). So far this has been easily repeatable, and we hope to have more stringent lab and "in the wild" experiments pending funding.

Exceptions to the above:

  • Accessibility / adaptive issues.
  • Limited and very strategically controlled environmental immersion enhancements.

Additional Exception: Most of the research is focusing on non-VR/AR/PR devices in this context. For the limited research using AR/VR/PR in these settings, having very mixed results, nothing consistently statistically useful yet.

The Long Version For Those With Longer Attention Spans & Depth of Interest

I am a huge advocate for technology (and accessibility). Just take a look at my tech resume, and you will see what I mean about technology. :-)

But technology, like most powerful tools, can be a multi-edged weapon for defense or harm, including to self, intended or otherwise.

Technology is one of the two major reasons for my career and life successes in the face of a huge list of challenges to overcome, beating just about every statistical odd. The other boon is role-playing games.

Synergy or Discord?

What happens when technology and tabletop role-playing games (RPG) meet?

Technology is an extremely powerful tool to help improve the human experience, but at the tabletop game setting, as well as in general, it can be helpful or very detrimental if not used in very controlled ways.

This article provides a few pointers on how to keep technology your friend in such settings, and the worst of the pitfalls to easily be avoided.

Caveat About Statements In This Article

I love good, strong, multi-blinded, controlled, causally provable data. But that is often very expensive and difficult to find funding. Just remember correlation does not prove causality!

With somewhat limited resources, over the years, we've been able to perform a remarkable amount of research, but only the tiniest fraction that can be published, due to the the expenses (or politics) of the research publication process.

So, unfortunately some of the  core source research data referenced in this article can't be shared publicly beyond this less formal approach due to a lack of Institutional Review Board (IRB) or other release paperwork required by journals, and is instead based on internal community and business related market-style research to optimize the experiences of products and services delivery, which is summarized but can't be fully formally published without fear of legal repercussions from the thousands of formal, semi-formal, and informal participants summarized herein.

It is hoped in the near future that RPG Research will eventually receive sufficient funding to answer more effectively the questions and statements in this article, as well as the more than 200 (and growing) research questions in the queue. Some have been tested internally, and now we're waiting for more resources to test/re-test the results in better studies.

Wherever possible, theoretical and applied information is included as much as safely allowed, to explain why the repeated in-house research results make sense.

Everything stated is "best effort" based on all currently available research publicly and privately.

Quick Background Overview

Skip this section if you already know about me and RPG Research's background.

RPG Research https://www.rpgresearch.com has a performed a lot of research on this topic over decades.

As some of you may know, I've been involved with role-playing games since about 1977, and with technology since 1979 as a software developer, system build technician, systems & network administrator, information security specialist, published computer scientist, and eventually executive, including consultant working with up to Fortune 500 and other International companies. And I have been researching the effects of role-playing games since 1983, using them in educational settings since 1985, and in therapeutic settings since 2004. In 2004 is when the RPG Research Project was formed, and more formal research began to develop through this shared international community research platform.

On and off over the years, studies were performed about using or even just having technology in relation to role-paying games in all four RPG formats: tabletop (RPG or TRPG), live-action (LRPG and larps), electronic (ERPG including audio and computer-based), and hybrids (HRPG including solo adventure books and modules, and many other RPG variants). (See the RPG Model).

The Issues

 Technology can be a huge boon to many. It can help with accessibility issues for many populations.

Also, using technology to create, backup, store, analyze, and retrieve data is extremely helpful and efficient when used correctly.

However, having a screen at the table, small or large, whether projected or solid, is show to have measurable neurological impact (CITATION) on attention, focus, learning, memory retention, immersion, etc. There does seem to be some cohort effect potentially indicated (further research needed), between generations that "grew up" with the technologies and those that did not, but even those most comfortable with the technology still showed, though less, statistically relevant detrimental impact to enjoyment and immersion scores. However, some of the difference may be related to the conditioning responses we saw in these populations, that started to score lower and lower the longer their access to the devices was sustained! More research needed on this as well.

There are mixed results with Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), & Persistent Reality (PR) technologies used in the tabletop game context, but that is outside the scope of this article, and current data is too contradictory and evolving for a useful summary at this stage.

These statements are accounting for removable of technical glitches. When including the frequent technical glitches associated with these technologies, the scores plummet dramatically, though there is some significant cohort effect.

<DRAFT>

The Applicable Theories & Considerations

Neuroscience and Cognitive Neuropsychology, especially related to learning, attention, immersion, etc.

Immersion and Flow State acrcording to Mihalyi -

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs considerations - Environmental, homeostasis, safety, anxiety, etc. With taken into account, and still shows...

Different populations, demographics, known neurotypes, known mental health considerations, etc. and still shows -...

Group dynamics at play that impact results, such as more simplist Tuckman's theories  on small group formation and communication. Forming & Storming impact on immersion, differences show up here as well.

The Effects

Consistently, in-house repeatable research is showing that even ONE device in use at the table, or even just sitting on the table and running (even just in vibration mode), significantly reduces immersion and enjoyment scores for everyone at the table. (CITATION)

A number of different assessment techniques and tools have been used over this decades long period, but the results appear to be approximately about the same even across disparate instruments, though with larger margins of error for the methods missing validity and reliability scoring.

Some example instruments used include (but not limited to):

This reduction of scores not only lowers immersion and enjoyment scores for the participant with the device, no matter how much they are only using it for the game (even worse if using distractedly for other tasks), it also lowers the scores for all other participants at the table. For the device holder on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 best experience, one the least immerse/worse experience), the device holder usually scored 2-3 points lower than controls, while the other players scored on average 1-2 points lower than controls. Adding additional devices lowered scores even more, and/or if devices used outside of the direct purpose of the game. This is not a "bad DM you can't keep their attention" issue. This is a Central Nervous System, conditioned response, cognitive neuropsychology of learning issue. These are considered interference factors to taking in, processing, retraining, and recalling stimuli, data, and information. There are methods to use tech to enhance the experience, but they have to be performed in a very context-driven and specific way, and ANY technical glitches will have a significant impact on over all participant immersion and enjoyment scores. So, the overall recommendation, short of the aforementioned controlled appllication, and/or accessibility issues, is to put all devices on "stun", and put them in pockets or bags out of site. And to only access them during scheduled breaks. unfortunately this also has a problem for those so severely conditioned, they seem to experience almost withdrawal like symptoms of edginess, distraction, etc., but this _can_ be overcome by a well run game as long as the device screens are out of site.

</DRAFT>

References

Recent article disputing disruption of devices -

Cognitive Neuropsychology references on interference -

Article on RPGs and Learning -

Articles on RPG Optimization -

Immersion & Flow Video -

Immersion & Flow articles -

Immersion & Flow book -

Assessment tools -

Smartphone Dependency Treatment - https://www.psychguides.com/behavioral-disorders/smart-phone-addiction/

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