Monday, 8 November 2010

Nablopomo and other aliens: Day 8

I wonder what the crossover is between players of video games and players of board games? I ask because I just saw this, and now I have a funny feeling in my tummy.

There are several Tomb Raider board games, and this one (Underworld) is apparently the highest rated on the peerless

I have always loved board games. Before my family got a computer, we had a big stack of board games which we'd cycle through several times a week. I am especially fond of Star Wars Monopoly (original trilogy, obviously), although many people now refuse to play it with me. Other favourites are Cluedo and pirate-themed classic Buccaneer.

The logical progression for me would have been to move on to games like Carcassonne, but my family eventually did get a computer, so I ended up playing Theme Park instead.

It's worth pointing out that board games and video games can offer the player things that the other cannot. Board games offer a sustained face-to-face interaction with other players which video games have yet (in my opinion) to achieve. And video games can tell a story and allow players to explore an imaginary world. It's also worth noting that video game versions of many board games lose much of their appeal. I find that Backgammon loses much of its tactile appeal on a screen, and the predictability of the AI opponents in Monopoly makes the computerised version a complete waste of time.

But there is a definite overlap in the things I love about the two media. In the right mindset, a board game can be just as immersive as a video game. Whilst there's no real video game equivalent to an FPS*, strategy games and RPGs have their roots firmly in the board game tradition.

I'm a little out of my area of expertise here, but I believe StarCraft is a spiritual descendent of table-top strategy games such as Warhammer...

And the modern RPG can be traced back to Dungeons and Dragons. There's a short article by Logan Westbrook on The Escapist on this very matter, if you're interested.

All that said, I still think games have yet to replicate the social aspect of board games. I find "versus" games such as beat 'em ups and racers can be a bit tiring for a prolonged period. And whereas I really enjoy long co-op games such as Gears of War or Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, sitting side-by side and staring at a screen isn't quite the same as sitting face-to-face and trying to out-strategize each other. And video games have yet to come up with an equivalent to personality-based board games such as Imaginif and Scruples.

And I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it's nice to turn off a screen and look at the face of another human being. No, honestly, it is. Its not that video games don't have their own take on social or strategic gaming, but there are some things which are best left in the messy world of dice, figurines and velvet drawstring bags. There's a lot to be said for the soft tactile noise of wood on leather, and the worn edges of a perfectly-weighted die.

*Oh wait. Apparently there is.


  1. Although board games do make for a more social experience than video games, it does come at the cost of convenience. To play a board game requires that the opponent or ally is in the same room as you and willing to play the same board game. With video games the other person(s) can be halfway across the world and often is, and if you're using the matchmaking function it's guaranteed that they want to play the same game that you do. Yes it is not as social (although can be made more so with the use of headsets) but it's a hell of a lot easier to find a match with a video game!

  2. All very true. I suppose on a larger scale you could argue that everything in life is a trade-off for someone else and that every decision we make is an implicit decision not to do something else.

    Your comment made me feel a little sad actually, although it shouldn't. Whereas it's great that the matchmaking function and online play enables instantaneous gaming with people across the globe, it's a symptom of our busy lives that that's often the first port of call for people.

    I generally prefer gaming alone, or playing co-pop with another person in the room. I find the personal interaction of sharing a space more fulfilling than doing so over an online space (though if I had more time I would play online more).

    What I mean is that gaming isn't my first choice for a social experience. I'd rather go out, have a meal or play a board game.

    It's all a question of time really. How nice to be able to a) play all the games I want, online and off, b) go out with friends c) stay in with friends and play board games all the times and d) learn/read everything I want to?


    Don't know if you're in England but the weather is very autumnal and the falling leaves are making me feel wistful.

  3. Working in finance often gives you the feeling that everything is a trade-off, and opportunity cost is a big part of that trade-off.

    I prefer to think of it the other way around. Playing online has enabled me to meet a bunch of people (admittedly only online so far) who I would never have met otherwise. Although a lot of our conversations revolves around the game itself we also tend to chat about various other topics from politics to religion to money and to do so in a open way that might not be possible face to face.

    And while most of the time I would prefer to be catching up with my real life friends, sometimes it's nice to be able to escape into a world where nobody knows the real you.

    PS. I'm in London but I work in one of the usual skyscrapers so alas all I know about is the rain and dark. Methinks your workplace or house must be in a far more relaxed setting than mine!

  4. I've come to think as almost eveything as a trade-off as well. Whereas my generation (and a few before) have had a wealth of opportunities and decisions - and the internet to tell us about them - it does mean that there are implicitly more things that we're deciding not to do. Not that those things weren't there before, just that we know about them and have (in theory) the opportunity to do them.

    The weight of decisions these days is heavier than ever before but (like you say) even that is a trade-off because it's only a sympton of having such an abundance of choice and opportunity.

    Online gaming is a social spere of its own, and although some (myself, possibly) finds that it can never quite compare with face-to-face interactions, it definitely has its advantages. Without a face or a (real) name or even in many cases a voice, a person can become their words and their ideas alone. That can be an amazing leveller, and you can have conversations online that you can't have anywhere else fo that reason.

    * * *

    I'm in leafy South West London, by the way. The rain takes approximately 4 seconds longer to get to my office on the first floor than it does to reach the top of a skyscraper, so that must explain the difference...

  5. Ah to live in the leafy suburbs rather than the concrete/steel/glass jungle that I am forced to endure...

  6. Oh Sean.

    That's what video games are for!

    When I get home from my leafy office this evening I'm going to travel through time and space to the last days of the Wild West.

    This is a perfectly healthy approach to modern life.


  7. Escapism is the answer? Today I travelled to Cuba and Russia but sadly it didn't make my life any healthier or happier. Although to be fair all the communists I killed in the game probably weren't happier for my being there either.

    So what is the purpose of our slaving away in the pursuit of things we don't actually care about?

    Note to self: Don't go out drinking, watch Good Will Hunting and then try and come up with intelligent commentary.