Octopus's Garden

Issue Ninety-Two

11th December 2020

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HELLO, good evening and welcome to Octopus's Garden, the subzeen with its very own Railway Rivals openings. It is a subzeen to Douglas Kent's Eternal Sunshine. It's produced by Peter Sullivan peter@burdonvale.co.uk. It's also available on the web at: http://www.burdonvale.co.uk/octopus/.


It's almost Christmas time. You know what would be a great Christmas present - both for yourself, and to the four dudes patiently waiting for this game-start? Sign up for the last place now! Not only can we a get a game-start for the new year, if everything goes to schedule, you have a one-in-five chance of getting a win in a Railway Rivals game for your Christmas present NEXT year!

Railway Rivals Map "B" (London and Liverpool): John David Galt, Mark Firth, Hank Alme, Bob Blanchett. (One needed)

Map is at http://www.burdonvale.co.uk/octopus/rr-b.pdf

To get on the waiting list, e-mail me, and (if you aren't already) join the Eternal Sunshine mailing list at https://mailchi.mp/45376bbd05df/eternalsunshine

EDITORIAL - Virtually Getting There

So 2020 was the year that both my main interests - board gaming and science fiction - discovered the virtual convention as the solution to the question "How do we get together when we can't get together?" With vaccines just beginning to come through now, and the process of getting enough of the whole population vaccinated likely to take longer than it should or could, virtual conventions are likely to be just as important in 2021, for much of the year at least.

Inevitably, virtual conventions for both games and science fiction have tried different ways of becoming virtual, in the usual mixture of learning best practice from other conventions' early attempts, and having competing visions of what makes a "good" convention in the first place, both virtually and in meat-space. There has been a certain amount of coalescence around core technologies. Zoom has dominating the video-conferencing sphere (with the previous 800-pound gorilla in this area, Skype, coming nowhere - probably even behind in-house rival Microsoft Teams). In the text-based persistent group chat arena, there are multiple solutions champing at the bit with free (as in "free beer") solutions, all with very similar feature sets. But the one that seems to have gained the most traction is Discord. I like to feel that this is due to its comparatively benign monetisation policy:

I feel that both games and SF cons fairly quickly adapted to replicating the "hard" side of conventions - playing games, running panels, doing presentations and so on. What was harder to crack was the "soft" side of conventions - the social space, which is probably at least as important as the stated purpose of the convention to a lot of attendees. This was not so much a technical problem - Zoom works well and, critically, is easy even for numpties like me to install on a laptop as long as it has a built-in webcam and microphone/speakers. But the process of "curating" the social space has taken some getting used to. "Meat-space" conventions have long ago solved the problem of getting attendees together outside of the formal programme. Virtual conventions are still feeling their way on this - although some have done so more successfully than others. I'd like to give a shout-out here to the science fiction con Punctuation in November, which really tried to move the state of the art forwards in terms of "social spaces," and was, I feel, largely successful in doing so.

I'd also like to plead the case of virtual conventions going forwards. For 2020 they have been, and for (much of) 2021 they are likely to be, the only option. But, for some things, they actually work better than the meat-space conventions that they currently substitute for. They are much cheaper to run and attend. They are much more accessible for those who can't travel, whether for financial or accessibility/disability reasons. And they can bend space and time in ways that meat-space conventions can't. At Punctuation con, I woke up on the Saturday morning to find that the Australians were still having a drinking session in the "virtual bar." My initial thought was "that's a bit clichéd, guys" - until I realised that it was already the evening for them!<>/p>

In other words, the virtual conventions may have started out as a necessity - perceived even by their organisers as a very second-place option compared to "the real thing." But, in the coming years, it has the potential to add another dimension of activity, both for the games hobby and science fiction. An annual schedule of virtual events, running alongside (and sometimes crossing over with) the non-virtual events once we get them back, opens up a whole new opportunity for us all to do what we love - whether it's gaming, discussing science fiction, or just trying to beat the Aussies in a drinking competition!

That was Octopus's Garden #92, Startling Press production number 388.

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