Board games, for me, are steeped in nostalgia.
They evoke memories of Christmases past, when all my relatives and I would huddle around the fireplace to compete in a nonchalant game of Yahtzee or Balderdash, the sound of our deep-bellied laughs and friendly chatter drowning out the hushed Christmas carols that softly emanated from the stereo.
The games were, to a certain degree, competitive, each team pursuing victory with a sort of light-hearted vengeance. Winners would receive “bragging rights” for the remainder of the night, and the younger children in the bunch always found it terribly amusing to not-so-politely remind Uncle Bob or Uncle John for the seventeenth time that “they lost!” But it was, overall, a friendly competition. We would laugh at one another’s mistakes and clap at one another’s triumphs. Rules were altered, personalized, or simply ignored to suit our fancies. Frustration was fleeting, quickly remedied by a bite of a frosted red-and-green cookie.
In theory, yes, we were there to play a game. But the true joy of the experience derived not from the game itself, rather from what the game entailed—from the company of family members, from the enchantment of the sputtering fire, from the ethereal glow of the Christmas tree. The games allowed us to retreat into a “fictional world,” a fictional world that together—through our mutual efforts and our shared presence—we had created. Remove the throngs of relatives, the cheerful noise, and the cozy atmosphere, and what would we have been left with? Nothing but a cold, lifeless board game.
On the flip side, in my experience, playing computer games has been a wholly solitary endeavor. Like every other preteen inhabiting the early millennium, I was a serious fanatic of The Sims during my middle school days. In the depths of a darkened basement, slouched over a computer for hours on end, I would become so engrossed in the game that I grew oblivious to the living world pulsating all around me. A competitive edge would irrevocably overtake me. The computer game was fun, undoubtedly, but the joy of the experience was shrouded in a sensation not unlike addiction. I invested all my emotions into the silly game: my character’s triumphs elicited in me an exhilarating surge of joy, while my character’s failures left me feeling profoundly disappointed. I played and played and played repeatedly, not fully satisfied until I achieved the success I so craved.
What’s more, the fictional world provided by The Sims was of a completely different breed than that of, say, Balderdash. Thanks to a group of suited men huddled around an executive table in some nameless firm somewhere, the fiction had been already crafted for me: all I had to do was dive into the computer screen and explore it. The graphics, the animation, the set of rules to which I was inextricably bound—the juxtaposition of these elements created a fanciful, fantastical virtual experience, an alternate universe as real as our own.
So, the question remains: which are better—computer games or board games? The answer is purely a matter of personal preference. The two game forms are so different as to defy comparison; it’s analogous to trying to compare apples to oranges. As we have just explored, board games and computer games provide completely different forms of pleasure for the participant. While board games can offer the nostalgic joy of good company and lifelong memories, computer games provide an addicting, ready-made escape into a computerized world.