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I’ve logged countless video game hours over the course of my life. Thousands in EverQuest, thousands in Counter-Strike, thousands in Bloodline Champions and then Battlerite. Not to mention the other thousands of hours spent on SNES, PSX, and N64 games throughout my childhood.
But as I enter my thirties, video games have lost their luster and I’ve become more drawn to board games. Some of that has to do with the golden age of board games that’s going on right now, but it also has to do with some of the fundamental differences that exist between board games and video games.
Here’s why I prefer to play board games over video games whenever possible.
1. Face-to-Face Social Dynamics
I can already hear some of you revving up to argue this point.
First, I’m not saying board games are always social affairs. Board games can be played alone, and in fact, some might even argue that games like Mage Knight and Gloomhaven are strictly better as solo games.
Second, I’m not saying video games can’t be social affairs. I’ve played enough multiplayer games—both PvE and PvP—to know that there are tons of player-to-player interactions to be had in video gaming. Throw in some Mumble or Discord and you can have a proper gaming party going.
But I am saying that the social experience when playing board games is qualitatively different than when you’re video gaming with voice chat, or even when you’re playing on LAN. There’s just something special about everyone sitting around a table and looking at each other than when everyone is on the couch staring at the TV or spread out and staring at their own laptops. The physical presence may be there, but the eye contact isn’t.
And I honestly believe that eye contact makes a huge difference when it comes to how quickly and how strongly a group of players can bond, and radically affects the social dynamics of a game played. It’s not just about being in the same proximity, but literally playing face-to-face. I’ve come to appreciate that so much more as I’ve grown older.
2. Unique Gameplay Dynamics
Many board games simply could not exist as video games.
Especially in the social deduction genre, where you need body language and eye contact in order to gain information from other players and arrive at meaningful conclusions. I’ve played Town of Salem—which is basically an online Mafia or Werewolf—and I hated it. Going just off of text chat, or even voice chat, takes away so much of what makes the game interesting in the first place.
And that’s not the only example. Can you imagine trying to play Cash N Guns over Skype? Yeah, that’s not going to work! Two Rooms and a Boom would be terrible even if it could be replicated online, for many of the same reasons. Half the fun in Telestrations is passing around the pads and drawing with everyone around, and I think it’d be impossible to capture that in video game form.
To be fair, there are many video games that wouldn’t work as board games either, and video games have features that board games could never offer, like interactive narratives. But those don’t interest me as much anymore, so personally this is my preference. (As for getting my narrative fix, I’m more than satisfied with movies and TV shows and books.)
3. Tactile Experience
In video games, you have three tactile experiences: the keyboard, the mouse, or the controller which may or may not rumble. All video games “feel” the same, if you get my drift. In board games, there are an infinite number of materials and component variations, and for me, that results in a tighter emotional connection to the game being played. (And the emotional experience is what makes board games great.)
It’s hard to explain, but surely you’ve felt it too? There’s a world of difference between dragging a stack of virtual Solitaire cards versus lifting and moving a physical stack of solid playing cards. I miss that tactile experience when I’m playing video games.
I will admit that video games are certainly less finicky than board games, given that the CPU can automate setup and gameplay calculations. When a board game becomes too complex, then yeah, I’ll find myself wishing it was a video game instead; but for the most part, I like simpler gameplay with high-quality components.
4. My Wrists, Eyes, and Spine
Thanks to heavy video gaming, I developed a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome in 2007. Overuse of mouse and keyboard can cause inflammation of the carpal tunnel and compression on the median nerve. It’s not fun when it happens. As far as I know, there’s practically zero risk of repetitive strain injury when playing board games—even in dexterity games.
I also spend 8+ hours a day in front of the computer, which can’t be avoided since I’m a writer and editor by trade. The idea of spending the rest of my leisure time staring at a screen makes my eyes crawl back into the depths of my skull. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Am I right, accountants, programmers, lawyers, IT specialists?
Plus, there’s the issue of posture: sitting in a computer chair all day has wreaked havoc on my back. Sure, I’m still sitting down when playing board games, but I go through many different positions and movements as I play, which can’t be said for when I’m playing video games.
5. No Hardware Upkeep
It’s been years since I’ve been able to play the latest video games at their intended graphics levels, and it sucks twice as much because I only have an iMac and MacBook Pro. Gone are the days where I had the energy to keep up with new hardware for PCs and consoles. I don’t have the desire or the funds to stay on the PC or console treadmills.
I just want to buy games and play them at their fullest without needing to invest in anything else, and once I buy a game I want to be able to play it for as long as I own it. Board games let me do that.
What about you? How do you feel about board games versus video games? Let me know in the comments below!