Video Killed the Family Game Night

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.

Board Games

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.’”

Family Gaming

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.

  7 comments for “Video Killed the Family Game Night

  1. jleake33
    April 18, 2013 at 11:24 am

    I definitely miss having everyone sit around a table and pulling out games like Clue and Guess Who. I do agree with that children are learning more now from graphics rather than words. Along with what you said about how video games seem to have gained the stereotype of being seen as an “isolated activity,” I too feel that that is not always the case. Most of the people promoting that stereotype are in fact the ones who grew up having family game night and don’t realize the amount of interaction and learning tools that video games can have for people. Wii is probably the best then and now comparison to the board game. I do think that more games should become interactive so that when people think about playing a game, it’s not all about sitting in a room on the controller all day. Bring back family game night!

  2. Kip Casper
    April 18, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    I’ll just leave another supporting article here ( Playing video games as a parent (especially with a daughter) shows the same social benefit that a board game night would. You just have to find something to play locally instead of grabbing two televisions and shooting some Nazis. I’m glad more people are starting to realize this, and major credit is due for Norton-Meier trying something new with the family instead of holding onto tradition for the sake of it.

    Family game night grew stagnant and refused to evolve. Video games have gained a stereotype as an isolated activity because the industry and players are pushing for online. Fewer games, even ones like SSX that got their big break through local co-op, include it. Still, if families can sit together and have a cooperative gaming experience like any of the New Super Mario Brother titles, I don’t see how it can’t beat out the poorly designed board games that usually are played during family game nights.

    Seriously. Monopoly is literally the worst game ever. I challenge anybody to tell me it is worth playing, especially with a large group.

  3. April 28, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    And for a historical note, I feel it’s worth pointing out that home video game consoles were originally marketed as the highlight of family game night, perhaps most famously in Atari’s “Have You Played Atari Today?” campaign.

  4. jblocky
    January 28, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Family game night used to be a weekly occurrence for my family and I, but as we all got older, and busier, we sort of fell off the wagon. It just became more difficult to get us all together in the same room. Recently we’ve been trying to revive it whenever I’m home for break, and it’s been pretty successful. Regarding your claim that video games are isolated, I have to disagree. These days, I’m more likely to get my friends to play some Super Smash Brothers Melee, than some board game. Video games can be a very social event, especially with the popularity of multiplayer games. Titles such as Mario Kart, or Super Smash Brothers can end up dominating a social gathering. Even tournaments have been erected for such titles. Even if one is simply watching someone play a game, it can be more social than isolated, with that person asking questions about the game, or even holding a conversation with their friend while they’re playing. Overall, you can’t necessarily label video games as isolated events, when they are able to become social events.

  5. gsmith5
    January 29, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    While I don’t disagree with what you are saying about video games becoming more popular and becoming the new family game night I have to disagree about the fact that video games are pushing board games out. In fact, board game sales over the years as a whole thanks to new and interesting ideas. I know that I still play them with my family and actually enjoy playing with many of my friends as well. Even if we have a fun night playing something like Super Smash Brothers, the next night we could play clue or one of the many card games we know and love. Video games aren’t getting rid of board games; they are just living beside them.

  6. aicee
    January 30, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    As someone who grew up with both board games and video games, I really enjoyed thinking about both in terms I had never considered before. I had never thought to compare the two as different. Now that I have, I still think they share many similarities and agree with Norton-Mier that “the sentiment and social benefits seem to have remained the same” however after thinking about “benefit” differently I wondered if I could say that my experiences with the two resulted in the same benefits outside of the social aspect. When I was a child and the whole family got together for Thanksgiving, the holiday always turned into a huge, long, and drawn out family game night; it still does actually. While all the adults of the family would participate when the kids were all little, they play with us “kids” much less now. We still play whatever strikes us, whether that is Monopoly, Sorry, or Battleship or whether we feel like some Mario Party, Mario Kart, or Smash. I think I personally learned more from board games because part of gaming with my family is trash talk and bragging rights, while, when considering board games I learned how to both win and lose graciously (sort of). Another point is that there are many strategy based board games (I recently discovered Settlers of Catan) and less strategy based multiplayer video games that I would consider for game night (this is excluding many excellent games I realize, but please consider whether you would have played those games as a child). The argument that there can be at least a basic strategy to any game is completely valid, but I am thinking of games that are specifically categorized as strategy (like Smash [melee fighting] vs Risk [strategy]). Does anyone else feel the same?

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