Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Devil's Advocate: Ten Reasons that Board Games are Bad For You

10. Board games can be expensive

Not compared to video games, sure. And before you tell me all of the other things that cost more money than board games, take a look at how much money YOU have spent on board games in the last few years.

With the exception of some of the less interesting, ubiquitous, or older games, board games cost money. Modern board games cost $20 or $30, often more, and most people don't buy only one. And need I mention collectible card games?

If you need activities to fill your time, if you need entertainment, there are countless activities that you can do for free, or for a lot less money. Reading, writing, art, walking, gardening, volunteering, and talking are just a few examples.

9. Board games are anti-social

Again, not compared to video games. But playing a game means ignoring everyone else for the hour or two that the board game takes to play.

Board gaming is a world of its own; that's why you like it, right? Everything and everyone else gets ignored during that period. In fact, while the game has no inherent importance of its own, people playing board games tend to treat everything and everyone else as less important than the game they are playing.

However many people are playing a game, everyone else not playing the game just doesn't matter. Once the game starts, they are not invited. Compare this to so many other activities: watching a movie, having a conversation, or playing a friendly sport, and you see how board games are more exclusive than inclusive.

8. Board games encourage gambling

Strategy. Tactics. Hah. You play games to win. And all winning comes down to one of two things: bad sportsmanship or good luck.

We'll start with the easy ones: rolling around dice, picking cards. Shouts of glory and victory. Yay! Oh boy! Your lucky numbers came up! Woo hoo! That makes you what? A gambler. Right. You weren't playing for money, but whatever the reward for which you were playing - glory, excitement, prestige, self-satisfaction - winning through dice rolling or card picking is what I call gambling. Don't tell me that there's anything valuable about gambling, other than making a whole lot of other people into losers.

Now we'll talk Chess, and other "no luck" games. Winning at chess is as much a matter of luck or poor sportsmanship as in any other game. If your opponent is stronger than you, or equal to you, you win if your opponent makes a mistake. That's a matter of luck. If your opponent is worse than you, you win by taking advantage of your opponent's mistakes. In a friendly game, that's poor sportsmanship.

What do you learn from winning when your opponent makes a mistake, or from seeing your opponent about to make a mistake and not warning him or her? Whatever it is, I don't want it in my house.

7. Board games are sedentary

Ever notice how many overweight people show up at those board game conventions? Board games leads to fat. Fat leads to heart attacks. Heart attacks leads to suffering.

Keep trying to convince your fellow players that they should shower, groom themselves, look better, etc. Who do you think you're trying to kid? People who play board games want to sit on their butt. If they had enough energy to shower, they would exercise instead of playing games; it feels better, and you don't need other people to do it.

6. Board games require multiple people

Speaking of which, the number one reason people don't play board games is that it requires multiple people to play.

It's hard enough fitting time for something useless and trivial into one person's hectic life. Fitting it into more than one person's, and then ensuring that the this time overlaps exactly right and for the correct length is asking a lot. Whole families get wrecked trying to coordinate this. Whole lives stagnate for this.

Did you ever plan a board game meetup: "Are you free Monday at 7:00?" "No, how about Tuesday at 9:00?" "I can't Tuesday, I have to get up from the couch. How about Monday at 8:00?" "Monday night's no good. I have to find the remote control. How about Wednesday?" After ten hours of this conversation, the rest of these two people's lives might as well be written off. And try that with multiple people.

And I haven't even talked about the great "lure people into playing board games" phenomenon. You not only get to wreck a few hours of your own life with a useless, trivial activity, you get to wreck whole days, and then wreck other people's, as well.

5. Board games are restrictive

Board games really only teach one thing: following rules. Something we need so much more of in today's society. Board games are so severely restricted by rules, that anything that may be considered creative is disallowed: it's not in the rules.

Sorry, my mistake: board games also teach people how to whine about rules, twist rules to their advantage, break the spirit of the rules in favor of the letter, or vice versa, and argue about the rules.

Anything learned in the board game stays in the board game. Being a master of Puerto Rico doesn't lead you to be a better person, teach you how to earn a living, or even help you run a shipping business.

4. Board games are competitive, and in a bad way

Board games grew out of an era when competition made sense. Today, activities based solely on competition are a relic of a bygone era. Many psychologists and social workers today will tell you that competition brings out the worst in people.

We bring people together in order to bring them joy, and we end up with a fierce fight to win at any means possible, followed by a whole bunch of "losers" and one hated "winner". How many children do you know who have cried at board games? Thrown pieces, thrown the board, hit other kids? Is that the right environment for children? They don't get enough of that elsewhere?

Competitive games don't let you achieve your full potential. Even a skilled player will lose to a more skilled one. How is that a useful lesson? Both players have achieved a lot, but one is a winner and one is a loser. Isn't there room for more than one winner in this world? How do you feel about being called a loser after you worked hard and did well?

In today's world, what we need are cooperative activities. Cooperative activities still require good behavior and teach social skills, but the end result is something productive and shared by all the participants. Each person can feel good about his or her contribution. Rather than a board game's rules teaching you when you can act or not act, the players learn the free-flowing communication that is so necessary everywhere else in life.

3. Board games lead to arguments

Or fights. Or the dissolution of friendships. Sometimes, even violence or murder. How many of you have never fought during a board game? How many of you have never fought as a result of a board game? One hand? Two hands?

Deep discussions about philosophy, politics, economics, and so on; if kept civil, at least they can lead to something positive. What do you get when you break up a friendship over a board game? A pile of cardboard and wooden bits.

2. Board games discourage real communication

Whether it's the people who can't talk while they are thinking about which wrong move to play, or the people who obsessively tell everyone what to do, board games are not hotbeds of real communication.

You don't open up in a board game to talk about your feelings or your future. You talk about rules and movements. You tell people to keep their grubby paws off the game before they've washed them. Or you tell people to shut up and take their turn, already.

1. Board games are a waste of time

It's not that they don't teach anything, it's that a) the same lessons can be learned more efficiently elsewhere, and b) there are other more important lessons to learn, too.

You've heard about how a board game can teach this, or a board game can teach that. The vast majority of board games are retreads of games that we've already played before. The lessons were learned five hundred games ago. You're not playing games to learn any lessons. You're playing them because you're lazy and you want to beat up other people who haven't yet learned the lessons that you've learned.

It's like rereading the same books, over and over, and then buying the next book in the series where the only thing that has changed is the name and occupation of the bad guy.

Meanwhile, there are so many other important lessons to be learned and tasks to accomplish. There are poor people to clothe, house, and feed, lonely people who need company, wars that need solutions, better and more effieicnt ways of doing everything, and a whole world to clean up.

You graduated board games a long time ago. Move on.


(That was harder than it looked.)


Michael Langford said...

Great way to schedule when you can play boardgames http://doodle.ch

It emails the person who fills out the options for playtime. He then forwards it to those he would like to play with, they click a link (no login!) and fill out when they can do it. Voila, you have a time to play!

Anonymous said...

Hmm... not many responses. Did you hit too close to home, or is everyone just at Essen?

Yehuda Berlinger said...

I've just about given up trying to figure out why some articles get comments and some don't.

I have written other articles that argue against all of these points. But I tried to be fair.


Pawnstar said...


I've just about given up trying to figure out why some articles get comments and some don't.

When I read this article last week I was about to present a counterpoint when I realised exactly what you were trying to say. I then considered offering up which parts of the article were like me, but declined because I thought most gamers would be thinking that anyway and if I need to say it then it's a sign I have a more deep-seated problem than most.

Now I've read your comment above I thought I better reassure you by stating you're not the only one and (at least in the case of this poster) the reasons not to post often outweigh the reasons to post. Additionally, a lack of posts should not be taken as an indication of the quality of your publications - this was a particular pleasure to read (but then you knew that anyway).

Anonymous said...

what he said. ;)