This article originally appeared on EngagedFamilyGaming.com, a website dedicated to providing families with the information they need to make informed gaming decisions. We’re happy to be regularly crossposting articles from Engaged Family Gaming. In this post, Ben Foster explains the virtues of games unplugged.
Have you ever walked into a living room with no television in it? It’s a little weird, right? I mean, statistically speaking the average American household has more television sets than people living there (according to a 2010 Nielsen report). It’s kind of a crazy statistic, but not one that surprises me.
What’s weird about walking into a living room without one isn’t just the lack of the TV itself. It’s that the entire rest of the room changes: the orientation of the furniture, the focus of the room, the feel of the place. In a traditional TV-set living room, the furniture serves the function; all the seating is arranged so that its occupants can face the all-powerful screen. In a TV-less room, that requirement is out the window.
Most traditionally, that means all the seating faces inwards, promoting conversation, socialization, and face-to-face interaction with the other occupants. So what does all this talk of living room furniture have to do with gaming? Well, it’s precisely the reason that my family’s Wii is gathering dust while our board game collection grows.
When our family sets up to play a board game, we are typically gathered around the dining room table, face to face. There’s an implied level of socialization there that, no matter how “party” your video game is, just seems to be lacking with that medium. By facing your opponents (or teammates, in a cooperative game) you are experiencing a social connection that a TV screen cannot replicate.
The pacing of board and card games also tends to lend itself to more discussion, and many games are designed with the intent of encouraging conversations. For some of those games, the social aspect is secondary, like a trading mechanic that is part of a game, but not essential, and for others the social aspect is one of the core gameplay mechanics.
So is it only socially that board games are winning us over? Depending on your perspective, no.
Quintin Smith had a fascinating article on Kotaku several years back (you can read it here) where he touches on the “interference” of technology into the creative process, or what he calls “lossless game design.” He states that, due to the numbers of creators that are needed in a large video game production, the end product is rarely what the creator imagined in their initial designs. For a board game designer, however, the steps from idea to working prototype are far fewer, and the end product less diluted along the way.
We live in a bit of a board game Renaissance. While technology may “burden” the video game creation process, it has been a boon for the board gamers. The rise of online communities such as BoardGameGeek.com has given a platform for discussion and critique of games, as well as providing visibility to those truly innovative or streamlined games that may not have found it to gamer’s tables 30 years ago.
In addition, those communities and other social media platforms have given creators broad access to a pool of play-testers to help them truly refine their gameplay. Print-and-play distribution over the internet has made it even easier to put games in players’ hands. All of this has contributed to a higher quality and far more accessible market of games that families can bring to the game table.
Now all of this is not to say that video games have no place in our toolkit. There are plenty of skills that video games can help teach, and they provide a level of immersion that few board games could ever match. Additionally, video games tend to allow to quick scaling to number of players—an option that becomes more difficult at the tabletop.
Based on what I’ve seen on social media, it seems the Family Game Night is making a comeback, even among my “non-gamer” friends. There are so many skills that board games teach our kids (A topic we’ll continue to explore in detail through future articles on EFG). We’re excited to see families leveraging that as a way to interact with their kids on a social level, and we hope you are too. And if the occasional game night is gathered around the TV? So be it—it’s still parents engaging with their kids in a shared activity. And really, that’s first and foremost what it is all about.