People bored by board games? Board games better than computer games?

Loony Hiker (Pat), over at Successful Teaching, recently posted her regret that people don’t play board games any more.

I’m not so sure this is true. I think there’s been a resurgence in board games, especially since the Settlers of Catan was released in 1995. The problem with so many of the classic board games that Loony Hiker mentions is the game-play becomes very predictable after you’ve played a few times (Cluedo, Snakes & Ladders, Sorry, Parcheesi, Mousetrap), or playing one of these games (Risk, Monopoly) takes up too much time (4-6 hours or more). Settlers of Catan is a multiplayer game that has been called “the killer app of board games” and which has sold over 15 million copies worldwide since its release.

It has also spawned a number of similar games. Such has been its influence that Hasbro, the makers of both Risk and Monopoly have had to relaunch these games with revised rules so the game time is not as long. I suppose people just don’t have the time to play the classic versions of these games.

It may be different where Pat lives (the US?), but board games do seem to be alive and kicking in Europe at least. Apart from the classic board games mentioned above, there is a thriving face-to-face role-playing game and trading card game culture in many countries. In Barcelona, where I live and work, for example, this is the case with many of the students I teach, and there are many shops that specialise in these types of games.

Loony Hiker is also disappointed that today’s students seem to prefer computer games and says that “many of the technology based games seem to isolate the students and keep them from interacting with others.”

I completely disagree with this statement. So many of today’s computer games have an online element to them allowing people to play with other people. I also know that most computer gamers play with other people (their friends, family members), and the idea of the isolated teenage gamer playing in his bedroom does not accurately reflect the typical gamer of today.

Loony Hiker continues: “Even if they play online games, they are missing out on seeing facial expressions and body language which are very important in learning communication skills.”

Again, I disagree. Apart from the social aspect of playing games mentioned above, there is a very healthy culture “outside the game”, with a whole host of websites, forums, blogs, etc. where gamers share information and cheats, walkthroughs, etc. Talking about games is also a very popular activity for young people to do with friends, and the idea that the gamers are a non-communicative bunch is highly inaccurate.

I also take issue with the idea that playing games does not help with the learning of interpersonal skills. Loony Hiker mentions this “is an important job skill needed in the adult world” and she implies that because they are not learned by people playing computer games, “many people are looking for jobs without these skills.”

I get the feeling here that Loony Hiker’s experience of what people do when they play computer games is just as outdated as her experience of the current board game world. Presumably, she hasn’t heard of World of Warcraft (with an estimated 20 million players playing monthly subscriptions) or the countless other MMORPGS (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), where players have to work together in large groups (usually referred to as guilds).

The players forming part of these guilds organise themselves and have to regularly meet at the same time and place to undertake a coordinated raid or perform a complex in-game quest. The image below shows a 120-strong guild meeting in preparation for a raid (screenshot thanks to Patrick Lozano ).

World of Warcraft Raid

World of Warcraft Raid

Behind each one of these characters is a person sitting at a computer. And they could be anywhere in the world. Loony Hiker also implies in her post that playing board games is better than playing computer games as far as critical thinking skills are concerned. There is now plenty of evidence (here and here and here and here and here and here, etc.) that the skills learnt by playing games such as WoW are exactly the type of  skills required by 21st Century business.

If I had kids, I’d put away that family board game and sign them up for World of Warcraft accounts if they showed a flicker of interest.

Posted on September 27, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks for giving me food for thought. I’m so glad that people are playing more games there in Europe than they are here in the US. I’m heard of WoW but I haven’t heard it talked up as much here as you say it is there. I have also been on things like second life but avatars still don’t seem to make up for real life. I still think that by reading blogs, websites, joining in on forums does not replace the face to face interactions. Maybe if it could be done as synchronous interactions with webcams, it would be better. I appreciate the links to more information too.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Pat – I don’t think people think that Second Life will replace face-to-face classes, but when distance learning is the only or preferred choice of study, for me it offers a more humanistic experience than any flat web alternative for synchronous communication – the rich visuals and the fact that it is a 3D space mean there’s a sense of place that you just don’t get any other way (at least for the moment) – even when you have webcams and can see the people you are talking to. I prefer Second Life. It will be interesting to see what develops though.

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