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I regularly play in a game via real time chat. We all have tight schedules, and can only make a two-hour slot.

Recently I've been interested in the concept of aftercare techniques or other ways of getting feedback after a session (like stars and wishes also discussed in this Q&A). However, normally once the two hours is up at least one (if not all) of us has to log off.

I've taken to highlighting things I really enjoyed after a session that could be read at any point before the next session. However, I've not (until recently) been eliciting similar feedback (positive or negative) from other players in a structured way.

My main concerns are that because we play by chat any negative feedback is a) easier to interpret more harshly than it's intended (thankfully I've not had anything pressing to bring up) and b) going to hang about after being raised and even after being resolved, which might not be a good thing.

Reading the blog on the gauntlet it looks like using Stars and Wishes works best when given live - but we're already tightly scheduled so hanging about after a session (especially in the right frame of mind to absorb feedback) seems unlikely to happen.

This nerdist article says to leave it 24 hours, but that also seems difficult based on how we play and scheduling.

Should we be adapting aftercare/after-session feedback differently for our play by chat, or is there a different set of tools that work better?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You've emphasises "I've not had anything pressing to bring up" - does that mean others have? Have you encountered difficulties with that? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 21 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LioElbammalf I've been late to some sessions and they've been extremely understanding, but I don't know if it's the sort of thing we missed because we don't have something like this in place or it's not the sort of thing aftercare/feedback covers? Otherwise I don't know, but I have just asked them plainly if there are any improvements? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 21 at 13:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ if any question is System agnostic, THIS is one. No matter if you play Dungeon Crawlers, Dark Fantasy or destroy whole planets in the Grimdark future: such a question is not dependant on the system, but arguably depends on the social-contract of the group. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 21 at 15:58

2 Answers 2

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When I wrote the Stars and Wishes answer that is linked by the OP, I had also included some experience or this tool in online settings, but I will summarize:

  • Stars and Wishes are somewhat easy to implement in the last few minutes when starting to wind down and before closing the game, giving each player an opportunity to have a few kind parting words to the others.
  • Stars and Wishes also can be implemented as a dedicated channel in a play-by-chat system, allowing players to write their stars and wishes in the following days after the game. At times this has brought up better, more constructive suggestions for the game rather than in the heat of the moment when all were typing before parting ways.

Making it work?

There are several things that can make it easier to work with Stars and Wishes:

  • Make sure to have time! You could say 5 minutes before the round is up "Ok guys, time for the Stars of the evening!" or something similar, asking for every player to write their 2-3 sentences about what they loved in the session.
    • Warning of the impending end of the gametime is something some players often do anyway; using the call for stars and wishes might actually make that note of "dang, time's almost up!" a little less dreadful to some ears.
  • Make time in between! If you have a dedicated channel, you can have the comments accrue in the time between sessions.
    • This works really well in my main Play by Chat round. Though not everybody will remember to do it.
  • Make the wishes optional. A good wish is hard to formulate because it needs to be done in a very positive way, but just saying this was awesome! is easier.
    • The sad downside of making them optional is, that this feedback can become somewhat shallow.
  • In the alternative: train the others how it works by starting with good examples! If you bring in the Stars and Wishes system, start with "I loved XYZ, but would love to see more ABC", giving them a template. Maybe even repeat the template whenever you call for them!
    • People tend to pick up the pattern most easily when it is well patterned - and if you are careful with wishing for something in a positive manner (e.g. "more intercharacter play" or "seeing more of town"), it gives back to the GM what aspect of the game you like to see more of, without forcing it down the throat of the others. Remember that players might be wishing for opposite things, like more combat vs. more discussions with NPCs. If that happens: Don't be dissatisfied, it shows just where preferences lie! And maybe the GM can find a way to make both work.
  • If players are uncomfortable voicing their wishes publicly or are unfamiliar with how to word them in a positive manner ("It would be awesome to meet the necromancer!" instead of "No more zombies please"), the GM/host could offer a private communication channel for each player (possibly something like Personal Messages?), where the players can drop their wishes to them and only them. This more direct but confidential feedback channel has been used in my Play by Chat round at times to discuss player plans or problems with the GM/host.
    • As an example: When a player (as in person in the chat room) in my main chat round was making several other players uncomfortable with some actions, those feeling uncomfortable opted to discuss their feelings with the organizing player (if this wasn't a chat game, they'd be called the host) in private first. This actually lead us to adopt Lines and Veils as a step to try and make people more comfortable. After some repeat friction that one player left on a somewhat amicable note, and a little later we adopted the Stars and Wishes tool.
  • At times, in a similar manner, some discussions might be private and need a personal exchange channel between two players without prying eyes. This might mandate either Personal Messages or a GM moderated private channel to have a pair of extra eyes to help.
    • I have a player in that main game, with which I often discuss random ideas in PMs, at times also asking for specific assistance or offering them such, but also plotting things to add our preferred kind of drama (3a&b) to the game by deliberately creating some tension or pushing a certain angle.
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Aftercare and after-session feedback are two different things with different goals. Understanding that difference may be informative to your problem.

After-session feedback is exactly what it sounds like: people provide feedback after the session. It's about communicating how the session went, what went well, what didn't, and finding ways to improve.

Aftercare is something different. Aftercare is about helping participants move back into their normal headdpaces. It is not about soliciting feedback or improving future sessions. It is focused on the emotional needs of all participants. Aftercare is important when role-playing challenging topics, or when people are very engaged with their roleplaying.

To answer the question in your title, yes aftercare through text is different. Observation is probably the most important skill for aftercare, and it'd difficult to detect emotional states by text. You are best being explicit. Ask each individual how they are feeling, whether they need any support, etc. Your strategies are also different. Much of aftercare is accomplished through personal interaction. It can be hard to leverage your relationship through text, but if your relationship works that way normally perhaps the difficulty is minimal.

Although not a part of your question explicitly, I disagree strongly with the recommendation to wait 24 hours before engaging in aftercare. If your game is emotional enough that aftercare is warranted, you can't wait that long. In 24 hours people have already been trying and failing to readjust. You should be reaching out to them soon after reading game. Odds are the support will be needed sooner, rather than later.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I wonder if the recommendation for waiting 24 hours stems from the same confusion between the care and feedback sides? Thinking now, aftercare is much less relevant (as far as I can tell) to our group than general feedback \$\endgroup\$ Feb 21 at 14:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Aftercare (outside of Play by Chat) is also needed for very intense, physically or mentally challenging kinds of roleplaying (or preparation thereof) - e.g. in LARP with a lot of status play, where characters might have to kowtow before others or after very rigorous sessions of combat training. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Feb 21 at 21:51

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