15
Oct

Choosing Chairs

Is seating affecting your gameplay? We game sitting on mismatched dining room chairs, folding chairs in Mom’s basement, on the thin carpeted floors of apartments, on benches in coffee shops, and everywhere in between. The lucky ones might even have customized gaming chairs like these or these. The environment in which you play table-top roleplaying games has an impact of which you may not be aware. If you’re seeing issues at the table, try adjustments to the IRL adventuring arena. Sometimes, swapping seating may benefit more than just your backside.

 

ENTERTAINMENT ENVIRONMENT ERGONOMICS

Ergonomics has been officially studied since the mid-1800’s, so there’s plenty of evidence to support the concept that your seating arrangements in a work, school, or play environment strongly affect how you feel within that setting, both physically and mentally. It stands to reason that a game-player distracted by lower back pain and poor lighting will not be able to concentrate on their character or their adventure as well as one who is comfortable.

But not too comfortable! Lounging in the loving embrace of a soft couch corner is likely to lull one to sleep just as their turn comes up – especially if you play late at night. So, what’s the right formula?

OTTOMAN OBSERVATIONS

The answer is that it varies by the needs of your gaming group and the game itself. The first step is to observe your group to determine if there are any problems. If everyone starts falling asleep an hour in to the dungeon-crawl, for example, look around at the play area. Can you switch from comfy couches to straight-backed chairs or stools? Sitting upright may help increase focus and prevent dozing off. What about the lighting? Is it dim? Can you add more lamps, open blinds, switch rooms, or even change the schedule to play when there’s more daylight? Listen to the ambient noise in the room. Is there a droning fan or air-conditioner pumping white noise into the air and sending the guy playing the barbarian off to dreamland? Try to kill white noise or other distractions. Consider an inspiring soundtrack to get his blood pumping.

Conversely, if you find your group to be distracted, rubbing their shoulders, squeezing neck muscles, or standing up to stretch in the middle of a dramatic dialogue, you may have a seating situation that needs a comfort correction. Are the chairs too hard, too low, too tall, or in need of upholstery padding? Is the gaming table the wrong height or too far away? Craning your neck to look down at a battle map on the floor or up at a projection can take its toll after a few hours. Is the play area crowded with books and accessories? Are players seated too close together and brushing elbows – this can be especially uncomfortable if everyone is trying to avoid bothering the people next to them as they will subconsciously tense up to prevent unintentional contact. Is there a spot in the storyline where you can schedule a break so that people can stand up and walk around a bit? Most ergonomic studies recommend a short reprieve from sitting every 30 minutes to an hour. You can build breaks like this into your adventures as you prepare them and they’re notably important for younger kids with lots of energy, older gamers who get sore from sitting, and anyone with medical issues that cause pain from being stationary for too long.

ADJUSTING AN ATMOSPHERE

Fixing ergonomic problems isn’t the only thing to think about. Don’t forget that you can use your game-room to help you set the scene and tell the story. Use candles, lanterns, or the glow of a fireplace to establish a dark and mysterious setting while you read the introduction to your newest horror-mystery. Then, when it’s time to read stats and character sheets, turn up the house lights to prevent eye-strain. Take a page from LARP games. Move from the table-and-chairs to a backyard firepit to roleplay a camp scene. Switch to standing at the kitchen bar while your party convinces the tavern keeper to give up his rumors. Crank down the AC a few degrees for the ice-caverns or plug in the air freshener for the scenario in the Elysian fields. Just remember to do it all in moderation.

Once you start to observe your gaming environment, you can use it to your adventurous advantage. Don’t be afraid to make changes and try new layouts. As both audience and actors, roleplayers should treat their seats more as set-pieces than simple sofas and stools.

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