Distractions: Phones and Tablets

All posts, RSS Feed

Using a tablet or phone at the table can be a great help in keeping track of character sheets, looking up rules, and checking the setting. “What was that NPC called again?” is a frequently asked question in games with many NPCs. Unlike a laptop, tablets don’t put a barrier between players, and they do not take up as much room.

Even so, when we started using them extensively, one thing we noticed was that for all its advantages, using a phone or tablet during play can also offers an easy distraction. It is easy to dismiss players who use their phone or tablet to play candy crush, post on social media — or even simply to read the news — during a session as rude.

And let’s not beat around the bush, it is rude.

However such behavior, especially by those who aren’t normally addicted to their phones, might very well be an indication of different problem. Are you sure everyone is getting their fair share of play time, and that all players have something meaningful to do?

The most common cause of distraction is if the action has moved to a smaller group of players. Sometimes that is necessary — the party rogue may be scouting ahead, or two party members may have an emotional scene trying to resolve their love triangle with an NPC. Those things deserve screen time, and simply don’t have a place for everyone in the party.

Other times, the “rude” player might have a point: the party scientist attending a conference on quantum mechanics doesn’t need to play out three separate lectures and a conference dinner where they meet an interesting NPC. Skip over the lectures and just have them meet the NPC so play can return to the group.

Overall, if a player has to spend half the session sitting quietly while other players gets all the play time and they can do nothing, it should be no surprise they grab their phone and do something else.

While boredom isn’t the only possible cause of players being distracted by their phone at the table, it is one of the common ones. And it can often be rectified by properly managing play time. When in doubt, talk to each other.

By openly discussing the situation before or after a gaming session, you give everyone at the table an opportunity to weigh in on the situation. Maybe the player looking at their phone all the time has a concern or feels left out, and by giving them an opportunity to say so, you can clear the air.

Nobody comes to the game session to play on their phone. Give everyone a chance to play the game, and the phone will take back its rightful place — face-down on the table, as a device to enhance the game, instead of distracting from it!

As always, you can visit this week’s changelog for a detailed listing of changes and to discuss the blog post.

And stay tuned, because next week we will be talking more on Non-Player Characters and how RPGpad helps you with them.