Bruno Citoni examines why Tabletop Simulator is the perfect synthesis of traditional and digital – connecting friends in the aftermath of isolation.
For a number of reasons, including and despite the pandemic we find ourselves amidst, the tabletop gaming biz is booming. If on the one hand not having access to other people to play with would seem to put a damper on things, on the other the increased time spent indoors, coupled with the digitalisation of much of our daily routines, led to the need of some good old analogue entertainment.
Not being immune to fads myself, I have bought over £500 worth of games in the past six months. I recently got my 96-year- old Italian grandma to play Ticket to Ride: Europe (I destroyed her). My extended family got so deep into a case of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective that long buried family feuds resurfaced over which shifty lawyer we should interrogate next.
The truth is though, despite just saying how people were looking for analogue entertainment, I personally only got into tabletop games because of Tabletop Simulator, or TTS for cool kids who like acronyms.
Sometime last year, probably spurred by the frustration of repeatedly getting caught exiting a vent like a chump, I first looked into TTS to play some basic card games with my estranged pals. In it, cards can be shuffled, pieces can be moved, tables can be flipped like tantrum throwing toddlers. TTS is essentially a digital playground more than what we normally recognise as a videogame. Kind internet strangers have coded and released digital versions of roughly every single tabletop game ever made to be played on TTS.
"Kind internet strangers have coded and released digital versions of roughly every single tabletop game ever made to be played on TTS".
Controls are admittedly a bit fiddly, and it does take a few times to get the grasps of how to manipulate objects given the deceptively large range of actions that one is required to perform during a game (“Alexa, how do you pick a card and place it face up under a deck?”).
Despite this, fast forward a few weeks and for Christmas I had bought/forced to buy TTS for most of my friends and in the peak of dismalness that befitted a severely dismal year, we ended up having a game of Neapolitan Tombola throughout Hogmanay, embellished by authentic folk Neapolitan music. We also played some actually good games.
I am aware this is not how people usually enjoy their tabletop gaming. Most people prefer the analogue feel of sitting in a room having to interact with real people, especially for role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and the likes. However, with the pandemic hitting all indoor social gatherings TTS became the only way to keep tabletop gaming alive.
"However, with the pandemic hitting all indoor social gatherings TTS became the only way to keep tabletop gaming alive".
Now, despite having watched Peep Show repeatedly for the past 10 years, I have never been into role-playing because of the cringe. Plus, I don’t really care for strangers, so being able to play online, with my pre-existing friends, made when I was still young, naive and unfazed, was a blessing for me. So, while it certainly took off because of it being the only feasible way to play games with larger groups during the past year and a half, I don’t see TTS losing its appeal when and if this pandemic is finally going to be over, at least for me.
Competing products have already started popping up in the past year. These, however, lack a TTS player base that is so fundamental in both creating near infinite content to play and providing a trove of random people to play them with.
Ultimately, I can see digital playgrounds remaining popular because organising game nights with several people regularly was already enough of a struggle pre-pandemic, or so I am told. Mix in the fact that the world is getting smaller, with people travelling and moving much more than previous generations, breaking bonds and playing in groups and you see why TTS is here to stay.
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