Sunday, January 13, 2008

Boardgaming in an electronic age

It's been reported that reading for pleasure is in steep decline, with some even wondering if it's terminal . Newspaper circulation is in free fall. While more books than ever are being published, fewer are being read. Magazines of all stripes are under stress, but general interest magazines are under the most of all.
The primary culprit seems to be television. The advent of the Internet provided some hope that the written word would stage a comeback, but the runaway success of sites such as YouTube and MySpace suggest that even the Internet will become more TV-like. Can reading survive? No one suggests that we're facing a Fahrenheit 411 world where books will be banned and the wall-TV will be the only media, but many suspect that it will become an "elite" activity.
Boardgames are like books in many ways, but perhaps the most important is that boardgames, like books, interact with the reader's mind in a way that seems qualitatively different than television and video games. Although video games do have interactive aspects to them, they seem to be interactive in a physical sense, much like a sporting game like football or tennis, rather than an intellectual interaction.
Playing BattleLore and having your knights battle the giant spider engages the imagination is a completely different way than having the same scene play out in World of Warcraft.
In many ways we're in a golden age of boardgaming. On BoardgameGeek there are several thousand games listed in the database. Sid Sackson's Gamut of Games in 1969 listed 217 games in what was a comprehensive list by the world's foremost expert on boardgames at the time. The physical quality of the games have never been better and game designers have advanced the state of the art to give us some very creative products indeed.
But even mediocre computer and video games sell many times more copies than even the most popular manual boardgames. I suspect a survey of any random city bus would net a few video gamers, whereas most boardgamers have to work pretty hard to develop a stable of regular playing partners.
Like books, manual boardgames seem unlikely to disappear, but current trends suggest that it's turning into an "elite" activity. preferred by the better educated and more upscale.
There's little sense in shedding tears over massive social changes. There are implications for fans of such games, however. To the extent that gaming becomes an elite activity there will be a premium placed on quality and aficionados will have to work hard to develop connections so they can find like-minded individuals. This is the kind of thing that makes sites like BoardgameGeek and WebGrognards invaluable.

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