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Author Topic: [PTA] Food, food, food  (Read 7592 times)
TonyLB
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« on: February 22, 2006, 07:41:51 AM »

So we played PTA last night (the penultimate session in our very successful Bountiful season).  But the game, as such, isn't what I want to talk about.

Sydney had to reschedule from our normal wednesday to a tuesday, which since I'd done the exact same thing the session before, I could hardly begrudge him.  But, tuesday is normally the night when my wife and I invite all and sundry over to our house for an open dinner.  The practice has been languishing (free food, and nobody's willing to show up?  Something's strange about our modern life) and I wasn't really thrilled with leaving it all in Liz's hands twice in so short a span.  So I recommended that we combine the two:  Folks would show up, we'd feed them, then we could game.  Since it looked to be our shortest episode (a mere 2+1+1 of screen presence across three players) I figured we could spare the time.

Still, it was a change of venue (Eric's house to mine) and a change of schedule (because of eating) so I wanted to make it worth people's while.  I offered dim sum.  I started prep-work on sunday and cooked (on and off) through until tuesday, with everything coming together at seven o'clock ... serious quantities of five separate dim sum concoctions, all hitting the table within five minutes of each other ('cept for those boiled beef dumplings ... I need to give them more lead-time next time).

So first off, yay me!  I can cook!  But, more importantly, what did this do to the social setting of the evening, and thereby to the gaming?

Well, first, it created a sizable buffer against people's arrival time mattering to the game (or, indeed, to the meal).  Eric arrived substantially early, which meant that we got to chat while I lunged wildly from one side of the kitchen to the other.  He wisely talked to me through the pass-through.  I suspect he'd have accepted protective clothing if I'd offered.  Jen arrived right on time, so she got to see the meal coming out mere moments after she came in the door.  And Sydney arrived a little late, but that just meant that he didn't get the dumplings while they were hot.  His loss, not ours.

By the time we were slowing down on being able to eat, people were also slowing down on their "catch up with each other" talk.  I don't know whether this is a happy coincidence, or whether it's actually a natural outgrowth of preparing our ritual space.  Has anyone else had other experiences like this, so that we can compare notes?  I'd love to get a sense of whether people will naturally taper down their out-of-game chatter in anticipation of the beginning of the game.

Liz had a good sense that we were getting ready to go, so we cleared dishes and she shuffled the kids upstairs, and suddenly we were there, bang!, ready to game.

A quick word about finger-food:  The choice of meal (accidentally) had a big impact, I think, on how easily we transitioned into the game.  I have traditionally gone with pizza for such events, which is easy to make and fun to eat, but bad, bad, bad for gaming for the following reasons:

  • It gets people messy ... their hands, their clothes, the space around their plate, etc.  This means that the pizza lingers, literally and metaphorically, when the gaming begins.
  • It is a grazing food:  people eat a bit of it, then an hour later they're thinking "Hey, I'd love another slice of pizza!" and so they get up and get one, and suddenly you have pizza and gaming happening at the same time.
  • Personally, I only have one pizza pan, which means (since two pizzas is a minimum with a decent-sized group) that I can not have the whole meal come out piping hot at the very beginning.

Dim sum, by comparison, rocked out for gaming, because it had all the opposite qualities:

  • It is self-contained finger-food.  Even if you're not using chop-sticks, it goes from kitchen to taste-buds and stomach with a minimum of impact in between.  When we cleared the plates we didn't even need to wipe the table:  it was immediately ready to game.
  • It is a gorging food:  people eat and eat and eat, and an hour later they're thinking "Oh God, I shouldn't have eaten so much dim sum, but it's just so much better when it's hot."
  • As mentioned, I timed the dishes so they all emerged at once.  I was able to get two steamers, four burners and my oven running in parallel.

So I'm fascinated to hear what people's experiences with finger-food vs. mess-food are.  For instance, I loved Kat's With Great Chili at Dreamation, but I wouldn't even dream of serving chili to people in preparation for a game.  I even think about the difference between doritos (comparatively mess-free) and cheetos (coat your fingers, your dice, your game-books, etc. with cheese dust).  Has anyone tried those wonderful victorian finger foods that you can practically eat wearing white gloves?  The finger sandwiches and the like?  Or, rather, does anyone know modernized versions of such finger-foods that would be filling to super-size-trained appetites, and appealing to mac-and-cheese palates?

Once the game started, I continued to see the effect of our having gotten into things in a more space-setting manner.  People didn't get up ... like, seriously ... there was one bath-room and talking break, and other than that people sat in their seats and paid rapt attention.  I know from past experience that without some sort of preparation of my body and mind I do not have the stamina to sit in one place for hours.  So that was, to me, a big deal.

I thought that we were a little bit more relaxed and open than we'd been in past sessions, but that's really hard to measure.

Overall, I think that a meal aimed specifically for preparing people for gaming is a really, really useful technique.  I fully intend to continue refining it.  I'd love to hear from other people who have done similar things (or suffered measurably from the lack, though that's so much the default that it may be hard to measure) and also, of course, to hear from Sydney and Eric, who were there and no doubt have their own opinions.
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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2006, 09:28:56 AM »

My regular group has an ancient tradition of rotating the cooking duties.  We start at 7PM and the food is typically served at 6:30, so eating often continues into the first few minutes of the game.  The food varies depending on the time, skill, and proclivities of the chef, but is usually a one-pot meal of some kind, supplemented with bread or rice.  Most of our group consists of vegetarians, and the food is generally pretty good to great. 

I think sharing food is important, and it's never been a problem, but we've had minor issues.  Sometimes the order gets muddled, or somebody forgets and has to order pizza.  Obviously the host assumes an undue burden in cleanup that we've never effectively addressed (we did play a game that used cards we wrote, and along with "villain escapes!" and "They'll back down!" we had "You wash the dishes tonight!")  Also, the compacted eating schedule sometimes leads to an unsatisfying meal or a delayed game.  In terms of food choices, I've never noticed a difference between burrito, chili, pasta, or whatever in terms of the play experience following consumption.

We traditionally break a couple of hours in for something tasty, like a pie, and some chatter and feedback.  I'm going to think about how and what we eat more carefully based on your post, Tony!
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2006, 09:44:22 AM »

Two methods, lately:

1) The art of dining out.
I've been increasingly playing out, in MacDonalds or coffeeshop or even a restaurant. Obviously that mitigates the food problem and sets it's own pace. For the kind of group I'm running with the local teenagers here it's OK to go get yourself a hamburger or a drink or whatever during the game, so in practice we play, eat, play and eat each on our own schedule. If it's a more proper restaurant, we order and eat first, then have the extented "coffee" phase of playing afterwards.

2) Food as social situation.
When we don't go out, it's time to make something to eat. Usually we shop, cook and eat first, then start the game. The point here is mainly that the teens seem to have time on their hands, so we might as well go the long route. It's pretty close to your usual dinner night as regards eating during play etc., namely meaning that we eat and clean up, then play.

Thus, while eating is important for the social situation, it has zero impact on our play. I think Tony's method of manipulating the play space via food would be too much of a bother for me; I'd hate the idea of having to cook for the whole crew, instead of waiting for them to arrive and cooking with them. Especially as the natural order of things is for the youngsters to cook and oldsters to pay ;) Thus, while I find the distinction between different foods Tony proffered interesting, they've had no impact on our play experiences. Much more important has been whether we play in a fast-food place or a restaurant or a coffee shop.
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Glendower
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My name is Jon.


« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2006, 12:06:58 PM »

A few times I've taken the opportunity to try to add culturally appropriate meals to go with our gaming.  So if the group is heading to somewhere exotic in game, once in a while I'll try something interesting instead of the usual Spaghetti or Stew (one pot meals are pretty much staples in our game). 

It's been hit and miss, the West African Groundnut Stew grossed out a few people (peanut sauce and meat?  Madness!), but the Danish Bagt Kartoffelrand was a big hit (think potato patties with melted cheese on top). 

Food components are picked up day of, and the cost is split equally.

It helps that one of the players really enjoys cooking, and can puzzle out the recipes I bring over, fresh from the Internet. 

As for the social activity, it's a ritual for us.  We eat, we clean up, we play.  I like the idea of finger food, we use veggies and dip and popcorn for after meal snacking.  It follows the same mindset of the Dim Sum, easy to eat, not messy (very little butter on the popcorn) and with the opportunity to graze. 

I find that it's a little easier to game after a full meal.  You're full, comfortable, and ready for something to feed the mind. 

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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2006, 07:08:03 PM »

Tony's an unusually good and energetic cook, and I've shamelessly exploited his pizza-production talent for some time -- but yeah, dim sum or similar is logistically better for gaming. "Let's all cook together, then game" is probably asking too big a commitment for most groups on a regular basis, frankly -- scheduling is enough of a bitch already -- although it's probably ideal. And now I personally am disposed to think, next time I host something, "hey, I don't have to drive anywhere! I can use the time to cook something easy!"
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jrs
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« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2006, 07:40:41 AM »

Food and gaming definitely -- I like to cook; I like to cook for other people, particularly when they are appreciative. We usually game at my place on either Saturday or Sunday afternoon and a mid-day meal is required.  I use it as an excuse to cook a big vat of something.  Some form of stew or casserole (e.g., lasagna) works best.  I prepare it in the morning or sometimes the night before.  If I cook, we usually eat first, but sometimes the gaming starts before the eating is done. 

If I don't cook, we order pizza.  Since the pizza is delivered, we usually start gaming before it arrives and then break at least a short time to get the table organized for food.  (Oh, I guess I should mention, eating and gaming take place at the same table.)  I have not noticed any difference between "finger-food", i.e., pizza, and other types of meals  Pizza is not terribly messy as long as plates and napkins are at hand. 

I never really thought of a meal as an element of game preparation.  I know that based on our gaming schedule, I need a meal immediately before hand and so it began.  I simply consider it good hosting -- if I'm going to have people in my home for four or more hours, they will be fed at some point.  We also have a diabetic in our group and making sure she is comfortable is important to me. 

Julie
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Glendower
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My name is Jon.


« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2006, 08:19:12 AM »

We also have a diabetic in our group and making sure she is comfortable is important to me. 

I'm the diabetic of my group, and having something onhand to ensure sugar levels aren't too low is important.  But this applies to everyone.  If you're sitting around and socializing, food and drink are essential to keep people hydrated, healthy, and happy.

Someone who is hungry, diabetic or no, is usually irritable, having trouble focusing, or falling asleep at the table.  That doesn't promote good play.  We used to have a "your problem" policy of people bringing their own food, or eating beforehand.  We quickly realized that the takeout we individually splurged on those evenings was way more expensive than all of us chipping in on pizza. 

We then realized that having a small fund set aside for game dinners was cheaper than ordering pizza.  Not to mention healthier.  We'd toss around a few emails with dinner ideas, then settle on whatever our cook player was jazzed with.  I'm not sure how hard it is to schedule, I mean, we all gotta eat, right?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2006, 09:06:33 AM »

I never really thought of a meal as an element of game preparation.

Yeah.  I've only started thinking of it that way, myself.  I also think of cleaning the house as game prep.

So, like, my list of things for a Dogs game can be "Create Town, mop floors, pre-heat oven," and so on.  Then I can look back afterwards and say "Man, I spent so much time creating the town that I didn't mop the floor, and people were distracted by that.  That was the wrong way for me to prioritize my time in game prep."

But it's basically just the Lumpley Principle, isn't it?  The things that you do playing the game are the system.  The things that you do to prepare for having people over to play the game are the game-prep.
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2006, 09:33:06 AM »

Fond memories!

Our NY gaming group did this every session for about three years.  It was kinda born from going out and buying dinner for those that didn't have time to eat before gaming and got blended into not being able to afford to go out so often anymore.

These days Lisa and I think of food prep as so integral to our gaming experience that we named the site where we arrange our sessions "Dinner & RPGs".  I love it when gamers come over and I can just shout from the gaming table "Dinner's in the kitchen!  Help yourselves!"

And cleaning the house?  Yeah.  Having people over to my house to game is about the only thing that keeps me cleaning at all.

Rock on Tony, thanks for sharing.

-Eric
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Eric Sedlacek
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TheCzech


« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2006, 11:57:48 AM »

I also think of cleaning the house as game prep.

It always has been for me.

I do think the meal setup did contribute to the smoothness of play afterwards, but was that the primary factor? I don't know. 
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Callan S.
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« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2006, 01:54:26 AM »

I don't know if this applies (is this thread more about rituals?), but I've recently been put onto low GI bread. The slow energy release really helps concentration at work. Many foods give you a spike of energy, but then leave you flat shortly afterward. I've really appreciate the difference a continual flow of energy makes. But I have no idea about the properties of dim sum in relation to energy release.
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Glendower
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My name is Jon.


« Reply #11 on: February 24, 2006, 07:23:07 AM »

This is the truth.  Eating garbage like candy and chips will put players to sleep after an initial burst of hyperactivity.  Fruits and vegetables, lightly salted popcorn, that's the way to go.  Your colon will thank you.

In addition, what Dim Sum allows is the constant intake of small amounts of food.  This way the energy release is constant throughout the session, rather than a big rush followed by a big crash.  This is basic diabetic diet, I eat 6 small meals a days instead of 3 normal meals.  Spreads out the intake.

I treat an RPG the same I'd treat a night in front of the Tube watching the big game.  Constant refreshments, availability of food, comfortable surroundings, and friends to enjoy it with.

I don't know if this applies (is this thread more about rituals?), but I've recently been put onto low GI bread. The slow energy release really helps concentration at work. Many foods give you a spike of energy, but then leave you flat shortly afterward. I've really appreciate the difference a continual flow of energy makes. But I have no idea about the properties of dim sum in relation to energy release.
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Meguey
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« Reply #12 on: February 24, 2006, 01:33:52 PM »

Quote
By the time we were slowing down on being able to eat, people were also slowing down on their "catch up with each other" talk.  I don't know whether this is a happy coincidence, or whether it's actually a natural outgrowth of preparing our ritual space.  Has anyone else had other experiences like this, so that we can compare notes?  I'd love to get a sense of whether people will naturally taper down their out-of-game chatter in anticipation of the beginning of the game.

Absolutely. After decades of gaming and decades of ritual work, I feel safe in asserting that this is totally real in both settings. There is an awareness that we are all here for a purpose other than shmoozing, and after a bit (usually about 15 mins, easily 45 mins if there's food involved or if you are waiting for someone/thing), people are ready to get to it. If whoever is leading misses the cue, it is socially awkward, and generally takes another round of chat until folks get over the nervousness of the first mis-cue. Don't miss the second expectant pause, or people start finding other things to do because they figure you're not ready and they don't want to be the one who looks impatient.
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