I’ve wanted to talk about video games on the Chronicle for quite a while. I spend a lot of time playing them, definitely more than I spend playing board games. Why do I play more video games than board games you ask? Well, video games for me are a way of spending time with and bonding with people that I don’t (or can’t) see as often as I’d like. While board games are the same thing, but it has that additional element (and NECESSITY – which is the hard part) of face-to-face interaction that lets you play off of each other in addition to playing with each other. Given a choice between playing Board Games or Video Games with the same people, I’d choose board games every time, but that’s simply not an option for most people. Anyway. I’m not claiming to be an expert on what I’m going to talk about today, but I’ve played more games (both board and video) than the majority of people I know. I feel that qualifies me to express my feelings on the not always perfect transference of Board Games into the Video Game world.
I wasn’t sure where to begin with the problems. So instead, I’m just going to mention some of the various board games that I’ve played in video game form. Then sum my ideas up at the end.
Monopoly. A board game for sadists with too much time on their hands. A game where the grimaces on the faces of your opponents is the best part of buying a hotel. Need to trade somebody for that third Yellow property? Maybe they’ll take an impromptu back massage as the final bit of the deal that gives you that card. That’s what I like about playing Monopoly, and unfortunately, none of that stuff translates to a video game version. There’s no blood, sweat or tears in the video game because it’s hard to get invested in the goings-on when there’s nobody you can look hatefully in the eye while you throw 1400 fun-munnies (Boardwalk with 3 Houses) at them from across the table. So much of this game’s real power comes from the human interaction (even if that interaction usually leans towards hatred and frustration), but the video game version doesn’t have that. Nooooow… that might not be such a bad thing. If you’re the pure numbers, statistical analysis, investment gamer – then the video version of Monopoly is probably better for you. But I don’t see it that way. I want to crush my enemies. See them driven before me. Hear the lamentations of their women. That is what is best in life.
Chess. Chess is a game that in my opinion works for the argument but not for the point I want to end on. It works wonderfully as a video game because even in real life, human vs human scenarios, you’re as likely to be talking to the guy you’re playing against as you are to be playing chess while eating dinner. Well… look… That’s how it was when I played competitively; of course you’re going to talk to your friends while you play. But you’re going to be drinking moonshine out of plastic cups and watching weird Russian cartoons while you play too. In a competitive atmosphere, the guy across the table doesn’t want to be your friend, he doesn’t want to exchange pleasantries, and he certainly doesn’t want to shake your clammy hands after he loses to your superior skill. A computer version of Chess is just as good, if not better, than competitive chess simply because it’s the same thing without all the awkward human interaction.
Trivial Pursuit. Now we’re getting to the ones that really work but for reasons that don’t quite follow the point I’m pursuing. I’ve played 1 version of Trivial Pursuit in its video game form that was quite good. It gave the experience of the board game but it also let you tailor your game to your players… which is something that’s incredibly hard to do in a physical game. The game allows you to choose different decks of questions and to mix and match and question themes. This alone makes video game Trivial Pursuit better than the board game version. It even makes the questions multiple-choice, which I don’t need of course, but it’s nice to even the playing field a bit for people with less trivial knowledge than myself. And don’t forget that everyone is in the same room while they’re playing, and that’s a definite bonus. Your trash-talking will not fall on deaf ears while you’re playing this game. The only thing that makes this less convenient than it’s physical cousin, is the portability. The version I played needed a tv, a game system and a controller for each person. Not really something you can hook up and play in a park or café.
I think what makes the difference between a good video game adaptation of a board game and a bad adaptation is just the necessity of face-to-face interaction in the play of some games. Monopoly doesn’t work because you need to look into people’s eyes as you screw them financially. Chess works because the guy on the other side of the table may as well be a soulless hunk of whirring fans for as much interaction as you’ll get out of him during the game. Trivial Pursuit works because all it does is eliminate the frustrating parts while retaining the same room gameplay of the original, but… you may as well play be playing the physical version because the end result is the same. Everyone in the same room, playing the same game. (I’m not actually sure if it has an internet mode – and I’m not going to look it up because it’ll hurt my rhetoric if it actually does have that). My point is, if you’re looking for a fun way to interact with other humans, video game version of board games seem to be either fun and efficient but local, or awful and pointless at a distance… and not much in between.
What a downer.