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The Ancestors Of Video Games

Believe it or not but there are times when I like to actively step away from my console and indulge myself another form of gaming.  Board games or the ancestors of video games, have been around since Ancient Egyptian times but with video games becoming ever more popular and many gamers opting to play board games on their consoles, should we be concerned that they will eventually become a thing of the past?

Or are they still a contender in the current games market?

I’d like to think that they still have a place in our lives and despite opting to spend the majority of my free time playing video games, I always enjoy playing a good board game! They might be considered old fashioned by some people but unlike cassette tapes, they haven’t faded out of existence just yet and I hope they never do.

I’m not only a big fan of board games, I also love card games and table top RPGs – I like to think of myself as an all encompassing gamer!

Bora. Bora

My competitive nature is one of the main reasons I enjoy traditional gaming but I also like the social aspect of them. Board games are a fantastic way to bridge the gap between me and my non video gaming friends.

In the back of my mind, I find myself thinking “Maybe, just maybe, if they like this, I can coerce them into playing a video game with me one day?!”

A social activity they may be, but let’s not forget that video games can be social too, the main difference is you’re in a room with people instead of playing via a headset, rolling dice instead of holding a controller and able to mock your friends and lord it over them in person when you inevitably win the game. That last reason alone is totally worth it!

Zombies!!! – The “!!!” is important.

There’s also the fact that there’s more positive social interaction within the realm of board games. If I play a game online and communicate via a headset or in game chat room I have no idea who I’m talking to and people often put on a persona that doesn’t resemble the real them. So, in essence, I am playing a game with strangers, becoming less of a social game and a little bit creepy. That and often online games have a habit of spawning a lot unwarranted abuse, pointless argument and annoying background hissing.

Some people like to call them “bored games” but they’re not all boring! Granted there are hundreds of rubbish ones but the same goes for video games, many of them are incredibly imaginative, they tell stories that you wouldn’t necessarily come across in the video game industry, making them a gold mine of possibility. Imagine it and it probably exists! If it doesn’t then creating your own is easier than you think.

You might have an amazing story but if you want to turn it into a video game and you lack the artistic ability, the programming experience or don’t know anyone with those skills who could help then you need to start networking with the right people or study. It’s going to take a long time and is a lot of hassle, so perhaps it’s best left to the pros. However, in ‘analog’ gaming you can gather a pen and paper, some scissors, maybe a dice or two and quickly come up with a game mechanic – well, depending on the complexity of the game as some take years to implement rules and write – but the point is, you can execute a board game idea quickly, bringing it to life much faster than a video game and have a working prototype within a day.

Oh yes, there’s even am Ankh-Morpork game! 

The fact that anyone can build their own brings me to accessibility, there are hundreds of family friendly titles or games for the less skilled player but this doesn’t mean they are all soft edged and insultingly easy like accessible video games (or let’s face it, kids games) because some are impressively detailed, realistic and extremely unsuitable for kids.

There’s also the joy of playing something which is more like the creators original idea.

For other mediums (especially video games) original concepts are adapted and ripped apart, re-written and transformed to appeal to a mass audience and fit in neatly with the existing norms of the industry, which let’s face is, is controlled by money.

Most board game creators, and table top RPG writers are lucky if they make any money at all and this is a testament to the fact that their games are made for the love of it – something rare – something video games used to be before the need for making money took over. Board games are such a niche market, as such you can come across titles which seem obscure and specific and the best part is, they’re not dumbed down for their target audience.

In a way, indie gaming has a similar appeal because anyone can potentially create their own apps and mobile games with a little programming knowledge but there’s no doubt that to make a board game, any age or skill ability can do so without any experience and this is more exciting to me because it transports me to childhood. That hallowed time when I spent my days drawing, playing make believe games and something as simple as a cardboard box could be a form of transportation or a house or a flying carpet… The imagination of a child, that playful inventiveness and mind full of pure ideas is lost as we grow up and we forget how to use our imagination. Playing a home made board game or being part of a table top RPG is a great way to re-learn how to create your own entertainment and captures that same level of pure, creative play.

Carcassonne 

A year ago I had my first experience of a table top role playing game and since then I have played a handful of one off games and been part of one for nearly a year. What I’ve learnt is that although the medium is different, it’s still gaming. I don’t come away feeling as though I could have better spent my time playing video games. That fundamental gaming element is still there but instead of playing a ready made character I’m forced to create my own and not from a set of pre-existing skins. There’s also no good or evil moral options. I am able to choose exactly what I want to do and I’m not restricted by dialogue options. Unlike RPG video games, I become my character fully and the freedom you feel is exhilarating. One of the biggest criticisms of video game RPGs is the fact that there’s not enough autonomous action, moral choice, social consequence or environmental interaction and in the table top equivalents you don’t have any of those issues.

Your character, your rules – well… the Games Masters rules. 

There’s an undeniable charm in playing board games, something that their computer generated counterparts just don’t possess – certain titles have charm, sure, but as a whole when you compare the two, board games win and if you think about it, much has been borrowed from board games – you wouldn’t have the notion of XP, hit points, potions, boss fights… basically, without board games there wouldn’t even be video games.

I’m not intending to sway everyone to give board games a go because ultimately I know they have a negative connotation in that they remind people of spending time with their families and loved ones but it’s an inherent part of growing up.

Board games trained us to be the gamers we are today, surely we owe them the courtesy of visiting a games store once in a while (a proper one, with towering dusty shelves and that unmistakable musty smell). Live up to your namesake, be a “gamer”. There’s more to the word “game” than you think.

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