Most people who know me well also know that for a few years I have been obsessed with board games. I guess “obsessed” is the right word. I spend a lot of time thinking about them, reading about them, listening to podcasts about them, and watching videos.
I can trace my history in this. I remember, when I was about ten or eleven years old, asking my parents for a strategy game for Christmas. I got Stratego, which I enjoyed. Shortly after that, I discovered Dungeons and Dragons, though my friends and I played with a very skewed, watered-down version of the rules that we made up in lieu of reading and understanding the real rules. After that, RPGs remained my mainstay in the gaming department until I was about 30. After that, due to time constraints (both on my part, and my friends’), I started moving back into more and more board games and card games.
But why? That is harder for me to figure out. What do I find so attractive about games? And why do I like certain games more than others?
There are numerous reasons, but a new one that occurred to me recently is the concrete nature of the rules of the situation the game creates. A game creates a little world (which, within the theme of the game, might be something abstract and geometric like alternating checkered squares, or it might be expansive like an artistically-rendered galaxy populated by various aliens set on conquering and colonizing neighboring star systems), but this world functions on a system of rules that the players know and must work within. I like this “logic” aspect. I like knowing “if A, then B;” or “if A, then you must choose from A, B, or C.” The rules might be complex, and not solvable in the way that tic-tac-toe is solvable, and the choices might be hard, but there are rules that I can look up and which do not change.
In this regard, I find games a refreshing temporary refuge from real life. In real life, every single person is playing by a different set of rules. (It just occurred to me that maybe this is one of the big attractions of religion. Maybe, on one level, many people like religion because it makes them feel like other people who share the same faith are going by the same rule book, and it makes their society more understandable.) I think most people play by similar rules sets, but they are so complex, inscrutable, and mutable that the rules can hardly be called rules.
It does occur to me that comparing a game rule book to a metaphorical “real life” rule book might be sort of forced. It might only be an apt metaphor for someone like me who spends a lot of time thinking about games.
In that regard, a month ago I took a class pertaining to the legal bases for government appropriations, and we spent quite a bit of time skimming through legislation and legal decisions with regard to federal agencies’ budgets, financial obligations, and expenditures. Half way through the class it started to feel to me like I was reading a very large game rule book, which prompted me to think, “When your primary system of thought is game rules, everything looks like a board game.” This is akin to “When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I liked the class much more than I expected to, perhaps because it seemed so much like a game rule book.
I don’t think this is the primary reason I enjoy board games, but it’s up there.