Paul Leone is a high school art teacher at a public school in Massapequa, NY with a huge passion for tabletop games. Similarly to many people, Paul originally got an OKIOCAM to assist with his teaching. However, he was able to find an additional use for it — creating an immersive and engaging tabletop gaming experience for his friends.
I recently had the chance to have a chat with Paul over Zoom to discuss OKIOCAM, his love of tabletop games, how he’s continuing to have fun playing them with friends despite the global pandemic, the shortcomings of virtual tabletop games, and more.
Like many other passionate teachers looking to create an engaging virtual learning experience for their students, Paul first sought out OKIOCAM as a teaching aid. After his old document camera kicked the bucket, Paul and the school’s Director of Fine and Performing Arts eyed up potential replacements. They settled on OKIOCAM, and right off the bat, Paul was impressed. He explains to me that “pretty much the first day I used it, I Tweeted about it because I thought it was cool”. Since then, every art teacher in the entire district has been given an OKIOCAM.
The beginnings of a lifelong passion
Our conversation quickly turns to tabletop games. Paul tells me how his first introduction to them came around the age of 12 with the fantasy adventure board game HeroQuest. Immediately hooked by the fantasy roleplaying genre, he also went on to play and enjoy DragonQuest and DragonStrike. Talking to me about the recently crowdfunded remake of HeroQuest, Paul’s excitement is impossible to ignore.
On a trip to a local comic book store with his brother and father, Paul noticed the shelves displaying Dungeons and Dragons books. Intrigued by the belief that they would be similar to the tabletop games he was regularly playing, and then a Freshman in high school, Paul saved up enough money to purchase one. The one that took Paul’s eye was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition. He immediately fell in love with the series and began playing them almost religiously with his friends.
Just because you’re a grown-up doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!
Even years later as adults, Paul and his friends would still get together at his house every Sunday and play from around 10 AM to 4 PM. A normal Sunday gaming session would have roughly 12 people — so many that Paul needed to put together two separate dining tables to accommodate all the players! Paul’s the Dungeon Master among his friend group. If you were to take a tour around his house, this would be immediately obvious. He has thousands of miniatures that he uses to create an exciting gaming experience for his friends. Although he’d rather not think about it, Paul estimates his entire gaming collection (including miniatures, rare board games, RPG books, and more) to be worth between 50 to 60 thousand dollars.
When Paul’s best friend Andy moved to Virginia several years ago, they needed to find a way for them to continue playing together. Andy would join the game virtually via Google Meet and Paul would live stream the board and the miniatures to him using his phone as a makeshift document camera. However, the shortest amount of time that Paul and his friends would spend playing would be about four hours. Not being able to make and receive calls for four hours minimum started to annoy those around Paul who would be trying to reach him. It simply wasn’t a feasible solution to the problem.
Coronavirus & a creative idea
Fast forward to 2020. Paul is regularly using his OKIOCAM in the classroom with his students, but COVID-19 is a constant concern. Talking to me about how his school was dealing with COVID-19 at the time, Paul tells me how he’d take his OKIOCAM and other teaching materials home with him because they were never sure when there would be another case of the infectious disease within the school, forcing the whole school to close down and convert entirely to virtual learning.
After talking to the students at the school’s gaming club about how OKIOCAM could be used to play tabletop games virtually, Paul had the idea to use it with his friends over the weekend. While technically school property, he tells me how one day he picked up the camera and said to himself “well, might as well just do this!”. He’s been hosting his games virtually using OKIOCAM ever since, with most of his friends tuning in virtually rather than in-person. Several of those who frequent Paul’s games on the regular are significantly more at-risk of COVID-19 complications than most. For those people, Paul’s games have been truly appreciated as they’ve provided a much-needed escape from the monotony of quarantine life.
By using his OKIOCAM, Paul is able to provide those joining his game virtually with a genuinely immersive and highly enjoyable experience. He’s able to adjust his OKIOCAM’s arm and 360-degree camera into whichever position he desires, giving him absolute creative freedom over his friends’ gaming experiences.
No comparison to the real McCoy
I asked Paul about his experience and opinion on virtual tabletop games. Virtual tabletop games are video games that make it possible to play conventional tabletop games on a computer, and other than the Dungeon Master’s book, without any of the equipment normally required. There are several popular options out there, but according to Paul, none of them are a suitable replacement for the real (even if it’s presented virtually) thing. Discussing virtual tabletop games, he tells me how it’s difficult to get excited about “a flat grid with a circle representing your character”. Paul also laments over the fact that all the virtual tabletop games he’s tried are annoyingly complex, requiring users to memorize lots of keyboard shortcuts. In Paul’s opinion, these virtual tabletop games are no replacement for the real deal. He tells me there’s no substitute for three-dimensional characters interacting with each other on a real-life beautiful game board. “When you put a big dragon on the map, the kid in everyone is like ‘this is so cool!’” Paul exclaims excitedly.
Some parting words
As our conversation winds down — I talked with Paul after he’d spent all day teaching virtually, so I was conscious of not taking up too much of his time, he tells me that “OKIOCAM has definitely made my teaching and my hobby much better than it’s ever been. It’s had a good impact on both my professional and social life”. This was truly amazing to hear. The fact that Paul, his students, and his friends have benefited so greatly from OKIOCAM is something that fills the entire OKIOLABS team with immense pride and great happiness.
If you want to hear more from Paul, you can check him out on Twitter @LeoneMassapequa.