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. 🙂

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