Electronic Gaming

Transcript of the podcast published October 26th, 2011.

Since I own an iPhone and recently an iPad I find that I look more and more at news on iOS- and Android games on Boardgamegeek, which are thankfully and regularly provided by Brad Cummings. Thinking about it I find that we are finally on a threshold which was long foreseen: the merging of board gaming and electronic gaming into something new. Finally we have devices which can recreate the social experience of board gaming – and that is playing with other players – increasingly well through electronic media. Somehow the computer or TV screen doesn’t seem like a barrier anymore – players are directly involved with the game via touchscreen, live voice messaging, movements and even objects that are manipulated to induce electronic game effects.

One of the main criticisms of pure electronic gaming – that it is mainly a visual and abstract affair for couch potatoes – is increasingly becoming untrue, which is shown by the immense success of the Wii or similar movement-translating gaming devices. Suddenly the players’ physical presence is really important, dexterity, stamina and fitness as well as cleverness directly translate into the gaming experience. The idea was there since the invention of the first paddle connected to the early Ataris and Nintendos, but only now has the technology reached a stability and ease of use that it is fast becoming widespread. I own a Wii myself, and I cannot say how much the clever little games of the Wii fit program have helped me to lose weight in a fun and engaging manner. In short: the haptic experience of gaming is increasingly present where it was absent before.

I am not a blind believer in electronic development and like you I enjoy most the direct company of friends while gaming. There is nothing that beats the mutual laughter and table talk. But the detractors of electronic gaming find that their arguments are losing ground.

Let’s look at the main criticisms of electronic gaming:

1)  Electronic games are too solitary

This used to be the case, but it is not anymore. One can probably say that most of today’s computer gaming is not –as it used to be – against AI’s but against live opponents, be it in a Massive Online Role Playing Game or a social game via Facebook or a mobile phone game via Bluetooth or internet. Granted – very often the experience is still abstract and limited to little chat windows, and some people use the anonymity apparent in these games to continue with their sad and mostly lonely life, but the technology to make the other player’s present also as people, be it via Skype or video conferencing, is basically there and is increasingly used. I don’t think it will be far away until we play online games where we see the other players as if they are sitting at our table, and in 3D.

2)  Board Games are haptic and Computer Games are not

This is increasingly untrue as well. Of course – right now nothing can beat a wargame or a roleplaying game with miniatures. But there are many physical aspects of games that are actually more annoying than a true joy. Keeping track of countless markers on tracks, shuffling hundreds of cards in a game of Arkham Horror, setting up hundreds of counters for a complicated wargame. Gamers become increasingly lazy with this kind of stuff and are actually happy if there are programs that take care of it. 18XX pro’s started already decades ago to use computer programs to keep track of the immense amounts of money changing hands in a typical game, I know players who refuse to play without these helper programs. Most players I know hate game upkeeping. And if you like miniatures, why not have miniatures AND electronic gaming? Many of you have seen the demo video which shows how real miniatures can be used on a tablet like-table where the computer keeps track of their stats. It will be increasingly easy to combine the aspects of gaming which are fun to handle while having the computer do the annoying stuff, like shuffling cards or keeping track. We all know that the future of gaming will lie in electronic gaming tables which can save thousands of games and set them up instantly.

3)  Computer games are different from board games

I think the lines increasingly blur. The first computer games were basically dexterity and reaction games but quickly tabletop gaming ideas were transported to the electronic world. In fact the most successful computer games like “Civilization” or “Star Craft” would be impossible without their boardgaming roots. Many modern computer games actually take their cues from board games, and the elegance of Euro design has had a huge influence on many types of games. I firmly believe that the attraction of board games lies in the fact that calculations aren’t hidden but that all elements of the game are clear to everybody.

Whatever may be your stance to electronic board gaming – and the fact you are listening to a podcast already shows that you are on the positive side – we live in interesting times that will see huge changes to the hobby and the delivery of games to a larger public. More about that next time!