Opinion: Why do we play games?

I never thought I’d say it, but the act of playing board games can be, how do you say, controversial. Not from a Miley Cyrus or (insert political topic here) stand point, but more along the lines of why or how we spend our “free” time. People can be grouped into two major categories when it comes to games: those who play board games and those who don’t. The latter group either doesn’t have time or doesn’t have desire, especially if they are used to video games and look down on our hobby as inferior. The former group, however, is the focus of this piece.

I went to a friend’s birthday party a few weeks ago. It was organized as a grown up game night/birthday celebration. It was a lot of fun and I’m very glad that I went. One of the stranger parts of the evening occurred when my wife stopped by to drop off our daughter on her way to work; she looked around and realized that she only recognized two people there (besides me). She looked at me with this bewildered, confused look and asked “why did you want to come if you don’t really know anyone?”

When we were talking about this later in the week, it brought up an interesting discussion point that I hadn’t considered before: why do we play games? Some people (like myself) enjoy playing games for the fun and enjoyment of the game itself. We pull out our Player’s Handbooks so we can venture through unknown dungeons in search of loot. We place plastic figures on a moving board depicting a haunted house to discover which evil Haunt will murder us next. We ask about sheep and wheat to expand our domain across uninhabited islands. It hadn’t even dawned on me that there was another motivation for gaming: spending time with friends.

My wife is of the camp that says “the game isn’t necessarily important (as long as it is a fun, or at least tolerable game), rather I’m just here to enjoy the company of my friends and loved ones.” It is a viewpoint that depends on the company of others to determine the level of enjoyment gleaned from the event. This is why she was so confused at my insistence on attending the birthday party- I only knew two people there, and wasn’t even playing a game with either of them when she arrived. How could I possibly have enjoyed myself?

Let me take a moment to say that I do believe social interactions and gaming with friends is one of the core tenants of our hobby. One reason that I want family game night to be a staple event in my family’s weekly schedule is to build that close-nit, social family experience into the lives of my children. I enjoy gaming with my friends, as it is an activity that I can take part in with them (since I’m not huge on cars and exercise like many of my male compatriots).

But I wouldn’t say that is my primary motivation for playing games. I enjoy games. I love exploring their worlds, telling stories, experiencing things that I otherwise would never have the opportunity to experience (or at least pretend to experience them). Games are such great vehicles for exploring our past, our present, our future as humans. This is why I can host online games through the Tabletop RPG One Shot Group and enjoy the games themselves. So why do I play games?

Because I enjoy games.

Not very earth-shattering, but it’s true. So what about you? Why do you play games? What is your primary motivation for sitting around the table, saying ridiculous words or phrases, throwing odd-shaped objects with various numbers or symbols on them? Let us know below, and check the box emailing you when people comment so you can join in the conversation with them.

Kyle Blomgren is the founder of Flat Top Gaming. He loves tabletop gaming, watching others play tabletop games, singing, and spending time with his wife and daughter.
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4 thoughts on “Opinion: Why do we play games?

  1. For me, my enjoyment of board games mostly boils down to two factors: the entertainment factor that comes with playing within the confines of the game’s design, and the social interaction that the game generates while we play it. The weighting between the two will also vary based on the game.

    As an example, I love Splendor. It’s a really neat game about set collection and optimization. I can have fun playing that game with 3 other robots because its mechanics are so tight, even though it generates next to nothing in terms of social interaction.

    I also love The Resistance. While the framework of the game is minimal at best, the thrills come from what people make of it, especially when tensions are high and everyone is basically yelling at each other.

    Those are probably the extreme ends of my ranges. In reality, almost every game sits somewhere in the middle of that scale, and any game could succeed at any point within it. It could also fail horribly at any point too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think most people are within this spectrum. Board games tend to bring out one of these two categories (or somewhere between) more so than other forms of entertainment. It’s good to have games that fit your extremes because different situations or social settings call for different styles of games.

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      1. As an alternative, have you played Cash ‘N Guns? It is a fast party game at heart that anyone can play while still having enough depth to keep more seasoned gamers interested. I cut it out of my large groups playlist only because I used the game in the last Board Game Night Playlist for bluffing games. Supporting up to 8 players is a plus, as it actually works best with a high player count.

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