By Aneel Henry
8 cans of Red Bull, 10 cookies, 6 treaties and 2 broken friendships later the game of risk ends in world domination. The winner runs around the table in a sort of victory ritual, hooting in excitement and beating his hands on his chest to clearly display his newly earned alpha male status.
I’m sure that most who have ever played an extended board game (like Risk or Monopoly) have witnessed a natural phenomenon much like the one I just described. The victory against the opponent, the conquering of the planet, and the complete and utter genocide committed upon all who stand in the victors way culminate in an immense rush of accomplishment and ecstasy for the victor. This degree of emotional investment is critical in creating a successful game. It is not the map design, or the quality of the pieces, or the rolling of die that makes board games like Risk fun. It is the intense competition that springs from direct person-to-person relations that make Risk and Monopoly universally appealing.
Unlike board games, console and online games are not direct interactions with other human beings but interpersonal competition reproduced through a medium (the TV or computer screen). Although this competition can be just as intense, it is much harder for a video game to produce the level of personal interaction achieved while playing a board game. Many companies have tried and succeeded in stimulating personalized competition with inventions like Xbox live, and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). These games link each unique avatar directly to a person, thereby stimulating intense competition that admittedly has the capacity to equal or surpass that of board games.
Despite attempts at recreating the intimacy of board games, I feel video games have not captured the universal human spirit of competition. Although many love video games, there is a large percentage of the population that finds the medium through which the competition is stimulated (TV, PC, etc) too confusing or not engaging enough to capture their attention. There is no equivalent to a board game. In a video game, it is impossible to fully personalize an opponent to the degree a board game achieves. There is nothing like watching the excitement melt off of your opponents face as your army wipes him off the map. Or just watching a player truly debate over the best strategy to win, concentrating so hard that you can practically see the gears turning in his/her head. Although video games, to some extent, have captured the competitive spirit of a select group of people, they have not been able to emotionally engage the player as board games have successfully done.