UX & D&D have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in similar ways
Dungeons & Dragons and User Experience have always been social experiences to me. D&D and UX are multidisciplinary crafts, social and tactile, existing in the real world. Hands-on, in-person user interviews. Lunch with new clients. D&D games in our friends’ basement. We would even ::GASP:: share food!
The pandemic ended D&D and UX for me. Well, it didn’t END it, but it changed it drastically. The social element was gone. No longer could I have discussions with coworkers in the hallways of our office. No more basement D&D games with friends. No more socialization. And yet I consider my personal situation to be extremely fortunate.
We’ve all been affected by the pandemic in some way. We all still need to communicate (in this case, communicating UX and D&D), so we did what humans do best: We adapted to our new situation utilizing technology.
In our office, we already utilized many cloud-based tools which facilitated an easier transition to remote work: UXPin, FlowMapp, Jira and more. These decentralized tools allowed us to work together, apart. They were already part of our day-to-day. Quality of work did not suffer. What did suffer was collaboration.
Our team at the office did not already use any type of messaging or video service. This was new to us as a group (I’ve had experience working remote before). Zoom and Slack were new to many people in the group. There wasn’t much of a technical learning curve for these tools, but it was a strange (and sudden) transition. Not everyone started on the same skill level when transitioning to remote work.
Our D&D group has adapted in similar ways. We have shifted to online play using a VTT (Virtual Tabletop), Discord, Google Meet, Roll20 & Fantasy Grounds. I even took on learning some new software (Arkenforge) to create virtual D&D maps. Much like in the office, everyone has varying levels of exposure to these tools already and getting everyone on the same page is difficult.
This new way of life has some familiarities yet also stark differences. We are adapting. Everyone else is adapting, too.
Users, Old & New
Many online services, some of them smaller companies, were completely overwhelmed by the influx of users. Big name video conference software was taking a backseat to the easier to use, feature-lite little guys. Stock in these companies skyrocketed. Everyone was going remote.
While everyone in the office already had Microsoft Teams, we all started using Zoom. For everything. Meetings, stand-ups, socials, collaboration, key-notes… Zoom was everywhere. Zoom was basic. Zoom was Simple. Zoom was easy. It was… accessible to everyone. It placed everyone on the same technical battleground, no matter your skills. The biggest problem with Zoom? “Your mic is muted.”
Zoom filled a hole in our now-remote work environment. Easy face-to-face communication. So easy it was invisible. On the other hand, we are having problems with D&D.
On Roll20, video isn’t solid like it is with Zoom. Connections/Players drop frequently. Everyone is on a different technology level. Thousand dollar computers and hundred dollar Chromebooks. Remote in the office is working because everyone has access to the same technology. D&D is not working out because of the technology gap.
Will this gap close? Will companies make lighter software? What new tools will be developed to fill the holes we don’t yet know exist?