When I was 9 years old my father gave me a NES and like most kids my age I flipped out and played it every opportunity I had. Prior to that we had played Atari games quite a bit but this next generation gaming system had better graphics and we all fell in love with it. Our game collection grew for a few years, but my parents never upgraded us to a Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, etc. so my interest in video games waned with time. We did however continue to play card and board games. Although our collection was limited to the classics like Chess, Sorry!, Aggravation, Life, Risk and *shudders* …Monopoly we still had a lot of fun with them.
In my teenage years I played plenty of card and domino based games with my parents but my early 20s other responsibilities took priority and there wasn’t much time for gaming as a whole. A couple of years before I turned 30 I rediscovered the joy of gaming. A friend loaned me some “gateway” games (Carcassonne and Catan if memory severs) and before long I was hooked. Our collection steadily grew to what it is now (400+ games) taking over half our basement.
Tabletop games provide not only an immersive experience with challenges and strategic demands they provide an opportunity for community. What they have that video games don’t is they strip away the screen, the controllers, headsets and all the stuff that gets in the way of two or more people connecting over a shared task. In the last 3 years I’ve played more than 1,500 games with nearly 200 different people in 100+ different locations and in each and every case happiness was the pervasive emotion.
Sitting at a table with your peers, setting aside the stress of your everyday life and just focusing on the shared experience is such a cathartic experience. In the real world you may drive a cab, prepare food or program computers but when you sit down to play a game you become something entirely. You could be a train engineer during the westward expansion of the US, a king/queen in medieval times, a city planner, a Formula One driver or just an average joe surviving a zombie apocalypse.
“Big deal”, you might say, you can do that with video games! The difference is here you can look across the table and see friend or foe alike all experiencing the same thing without the humanity of it stripped away by electronics. You can look each other in the eyes, see one another’s smiles and either pat them on the back or tease them mercilessly for failing their saving roll. With physical games this communal environment enhances the experience and builds a bond.
Not long ago a friend of mine was sadly in a terrible accident and came out of it a quadriplegic with no movement bellow his chest and minimal control of his hands. Before the accident I would see him every Tuesday when I dropped off donations for Free Hot Soup and now that he’s back home I stop in to say hi and attempt to brighten his day. Today I showed up with some board games in the hopes I could break him out of his understandable funk. We played Codenames, Imaginiff, Dixit, Castle Panic and Forbidden Island. He was teasing and grinning the whole time and we discussed making it a regular Tuesday occurrence. I know he has a lot of challenges going forward but for a few hours he was just one of the guys playing games and laughing with friends.
When I got home I did a search in my Photos app for “Board Games” and found hundreds of pictures of smiling faces. That alone is enough reason for me to keep coming back to the table.