Board Games vs. Video Games

Memorial weekend has slipped by. My folks were visiting from out of town. They asked the usual questions about what I do, and only time will tell if my answers were more satisfying than usual. (I’m think that analogies to retail businesses help.)

We did not play video games.

Given my occupation, why is that the case? Because I don’t currently own any video games that would do a better job of bringing us together (and creating time/space to chat) than old-fashioned, non-digital Scrabble or Blokus. So we played Blokus.

I know that my family is not alone. And it’s clear that many developers have identified the opportunity to fill this specific need. That said, I wonder how many developers are asking themselves the simple question: how is the party game I’m creating significantly better than a traditional board game?

Locally-played video games have a big disadvantage over board games — players are staring in the same direction (at the TV) rather than across a board at each other. And board games create opportunities for conversation by their very nature, while most video games are designed to engage people in such a way as to eliminate the possibility of meaningful conversation. (Compare playing Scrabble to the stereotypical “collection of mini-games” party video game. While one Scrabble player thinks about her move, the other three can speak freely. But when all four people are playing mini-games, they’re more constantly engaged in the gameplay, but their conversations with one another are shallower.)

Is this inherently a problem? I don’t think so, no. There’s definitely a place for party games that put play before conversation. And of course, there’s something to be said for the spoken and unspoken communication that takes place during a session of Wii Tennis. But I can’t help thinking that an important audience is currently being under-served, and that games like Buzz are just the tip of the iceberg.

So what’s below the tip? I’m not sure. Games that turn the TV into an important (but not sole) component of play could be a start. Games that make you need and/or want to look at the people you’re playing with. Maybe these games would involve proprietary peripherals, and maybe not. Maybe they’d create and enhance (as opposed to minimize) downtime, and maybe not.

Maybe I shouldn’t pontificate at two in the morning. Maybe not. ๐Ÿ™‚

12 responses to “Board Games vs. Video Games

  1. I feel uneasy with the assumption that “an important audience is currently being under-served,” because it presumes that a large audience would really rather be playing digital games instead of board games, if the appropriate digital games were made. Within the entire space of a person’s entertainment and social needs, such games would really just occupy the intersection of two different sets, not the union. While you’ve got some good ideas about how a game in that intersection might play, I don’t feel anyone’s being “under-served” by not having digital games designed to fulfill the role of board games when there are already so many great board games available.

    Perhaps I’m too idealistic in hoping that people would play more board games ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I feel uneasy with the assumption that “an important audience is currently being under-served,” because it presumes that a large audience would really rather be playing digital games instead of board games

    Fair point. I didn’t actually mean to imply that the audience for board games has an inherent preference for digital, if available to them. Let me recast as “a large audience may be interested in playing local, communication-friendly, ‘party’ digital games, and not necessarily instead of board games. But they don’t have many options right now.”

  3. Interesting take on board games vs video games. I enjoy playing board games, especially more complicated ones like Risk, Axis & Allies, etc. However, my wife and young children aren\’t as interested in them. Yet with Mario Party and the soon to be released Carcassonne, we\’re able to play board games on our TV together. Digital board games are also much easier to learn to play, setup, and are faster to play through. Mario Party is a huge favorite in our house with everyone gathering around the TV competing, laughing, and talking trash =)

    The advent of Xbox Live enables me to play with my friends in games like Catan that require more than two warm bodies to play. I’m even enjoyed playing Catan in ranked matches with rando m folks, something I rarely do in retail games.

    I’d love to see more XBLA board games that translate to local play and online play well. Monopoly, Risk, and Axis & Allies to name a few. Keep the great games coming, looking forward to Carcassonne and Bomberman Live at the moment ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. While playing Guitar Hero with a group at a friends house, I definitely noticed that the two people playing guitar were glued to the set but everyone else was chatting, looking at them, cracking jokes, encouraging, and just caryying on while waiting for their turns…

  5. Yup, Guitar Hero is a good party game. Everyone can get into the music and everyone wants to encourage, tease, or compete against the current player(s). Guitar Hero makes you want to look at the person who is playing…

  6. First, I love Blokus. Brilliant game. And I’d love to see a digital version on XBLA so I could play with my friends and relatives across the country. (Which is one major advantage of digital board games.)

    I understand that having the focus of the game placed on the TV *may* create more shallow interaction. However, I don’t think that is always the case. Games like Scene It, and You Don’t Know Jack (where is the XBLA version of that BTW?) work very well as a monitor focused game that still spurs interesting interaction and conversation. And the medium (watching/interacting with images on the screen) actually makes the game more fun. But these games also understand the need to add the requist time between turns or activities to allow the participants to talk, joke, interact, and generally enjoy their time with the game.

    And not being able to lose the pieces of a digital game is highly under-rated!

    LunarDuality @

  7. Oh, and I forgot to say…adding camera support in the game along with the voice chat can really boost the value in digital board games on XBLA. Brings back that face to face feel if done correctly. (I think I saw some screenshots of Chess with a nice camera implementation.)

    LunarDuality @

  8. Board games create reasons for the social interaction between the players. Video games in the main, are twitch games which create a 1-1 relationship with the screen – look away and you die.

    Great social games should encourage talking, co-operation, competition and provide a framework for players to engage with each other.

  9. Thanks for the post. I’m glad this is out there. Video games can be fun but board games bring something that video games cannot provide. Hopefully the younger generations can learn to appreciate that.

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  11. It is not my intention to give you an excuse to game all day. You know as well as I do that anything in excess is unhealthy. This is merely an informative article meant to disprove some of the stereotypical statements pointed at gamers.
    Now that we’ve got that out of the way,
    let’s have some fun !

  12. I really appreciate the kind of impact playing video games do to me and my buddies! Well maybe we don’t play as much as others do but it’s like enough for us to bond together.

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