I don’t know if this is a shared, universal experience but I played a lot of board games when I was younger. More specifically, I was forced to play a lot of board games when I was younger. My mom was very anti-electronics and wanted my younger sister and I to participate in social activities that didn’t involve us staring at a TV and/or computer screen all day. Looking back on this, I was interested in seeing how our society’s view of board games has evolved since the introduction of video games.
There is a coined term for the familial social activity associated with board games: the Family Game Night. Family Game Nights are encouraged, wholesome social activities that promote family bonding and ensure safe, appropriate activities across generations. In their article titled, “False prophets: exploring hybrid board/video games,” Regan L. Mandryk and Diego S. Marana conducted a study that explored “the space between board games and video games.”
We, society, tend to think of video games as a solitary activity. If an individual is playing an electronic game, whether it is on the computer or through a console, we tend to think that he or she is participating in this activity alone. In contrast, if a individual is playing a board game, we recognize that he or she is playing with a group of individuals and is therefore being social.
In their study, Mandryk and Marana used the board game Clue as an example of a “hybrid board game.” In this specific game, individuals are required to have at least two other individuals present in order to play. Additionally, the game play requires direct social interaction in the form of asking each other questions. The study found that these features are not unique to Clue, or any other classic board game, and may be recreated elsewhere. Although social interactions such as those described during Clue game play are often neglected in game with individual, tabletop display, they can be found in “hybrid board/video games” with “custom sensor interfaces.” So playing a game alone may be frowned upon, but playing a Wii game in which you and your family are sharing a “public display” creates a social environment similar to that of a board game.
Although these video games have filled in the space where board games use to occupy, there may be something missing. Although the family, or whatever group, are playing the same game with the same rules, are they really getting the same experience if they are all just looking at a screen? Do multi-player video games successfully foster the same sort of social environment that was previously supplied by family game nights? Lori Norton-Meier writes about this in her article “Join the video-game literary club: A reluctant mother tries to join the ‘flow.’”
Norton-Meier refers to her husband and children’s infatuation with video games as the “literacy game club,” (428) an exclusive organization to which she has yet to gain admission. For her, a woman who grew up with “sitting around the table playing Trivial Pursuit, Scattegories, Monopology and Risk” (429) she questions whether or not she can make the transition “from the kitchen table to gathering around the television set” (429).
In addition to her social observations, Norton Meier also argues that the current generation is attuned to graphics before words. She makes the observation that children are inclined to play first, read second which supplies a vastly different experience from those rule-based board games. However, despite this argument and the obvious differences in mediums, she feels the experiences generated are generally the same. As a result of the differences, video games allow for learning experiences across the generations. The effects of these games have prompted new dinner table conversations and, therefore have had a lasting affect that never occurred during normal Family Game Nights. So, although the popularity of video games may have surpassed that of the classic board games of our past, the sentiment and social benefits seem to have remained the same.