Thursday, 2 April 2020

The extraordinary, everyday technology that's making the lockdown bearable

Last night, a small group of my friends tried a virtual games night for the first time. The template was very helpfully set for me by a lunchtime social that a colleague ran last week. The key elements are:
  • Video conference so that we can see each other and the game screen.
  • Third-party hosted game that is already designed to be shared out onto participants' devices.
It was a very fun and relaxed evening, and a welcome diversion from being stuck at home indefinitely. What struck me afterwards was the sheer amount of computing power needed to make all this work. This could not have worked - or at least not as effectively - in any previous time period.
Because the game and the video conferencing platforms were both "in the cloud", it's impossible to say how much raw power they each provided. But I can say with certainty that we used a minimum of thirteen computing devices to power the games of five players, excluding all of the internet infrastructure that connected us together:
  • Each player played on their own phone (5).
  • Each household had a tablet or laptop to use for the video conferencing / screen sharing (3).
  • The game was hosted and screenshared from my home PC, but since I didn't fancy sitting at my desk all evening, I controlled it via remote desktop from an old laptop (2).
  • The game was supplied / licensed via Steam but required a third-party service ( to play (2).
  • Video conferencing and screensharing was via Webex [*], who are offering free personal accounts at the moment. (1)
It's easy to take all this for granted, but it's a fascinating reminder of the technological sophistication of the modern world.
Having tried it once, we'll definitely be doing it again soon, and will be looking to increase the complexity of the games as well. I'm happy to receive recommendations in the comments below :-)
[*] Other conferencing services are available; the most visible at the moment seems to be Zoom, but I am not confident that they have addressed all of their security and privacy faults yet.
A version of this article was originally published on my company internal blog.

No comments: