The Decision Space

The Tabletop Game Night Blog

Tabletop Games vs Video Games in the Digital Age

It's that age-old question: tabletop or desktop.

My childhood was spent in the company of my friends and usually outside. There probably wasn't a day that went by that I didn't spend some part of it with a friend or two. We rode bikes, went swimming, or played in the nearby park. (This was the 70s.)

At some point in my middle childhood, dad brought home an Atari 2600. Still, my main leisure time was outside or with friends. We still played games like Dune or Dark Tower.

Later, I got a Commodore VIC-20 (then a C-64, then an Amiga), which came with something even more spectacular than video games: video games I could create. That's when I became a programmer. But I was still a child of the outdoors, of face-to-face interaction with my friends.

Shortly thereafter, computer and console gaming had a renaissance, of sorts. Video games saw an explosion of creativity and challenge and experience. The world seemed to fall in love with video games. Through various ups and downs over the years, video games have now secured the top spot in entertainment, with the industry pulling in tens of billions of dollars, more than the movie and music industries combined.

And I love video games. Don't get me wrong. The imagery and challenges can be top-notch and engrossing. I wish I could play more often, but I have limited free time.

But as much as I love video games, board games are on another level.

Now, I'm not sure I can say that board games are better than video games, and I would certainly never claim video games are better than board games. They are different forms of leisure and entertainment, and they each fit a particular mood and time.

But, if you think about it, there are some reasons that tabletop games are better than video games. They include:

  1. Power is unnecessary for tabletop games. Let's say it's the Apocalypse, and the electrical grid has been destroyed. No more video games! Sure, you might have a battery-powered hand-held, but now you have to make another excursion into the city to try to find more double-A batteries; and remember the last excursion? Timmy didn't make it, did he? Remember?

  2. Smiles and laughter beats laughter every time. When I play PUBG with my friends or family, we often get into fits of hysteria and maniacal laughing. Laughter is a sweet sound. But, at the tabletop, I can see the smiles, too. The tabletop is a more visceral experience.

  3. Real violence at the tabletop. During video games, I can't hit you if you do something I don't like. At the tabletop, if you back-stab me, I have a real opportunity to punch you. I probably never would, but the opportunity is there. I'M JOKING! But still...

  4. You can't pause a video game. Yes, you can pause a single-player game. We're not talking about single-player games. We're talking about video games you play with friends. When I'm playing CS:GO (with friends and family), there is no pause time. If I want to redirect the conversation on some tangential that requires considered thought, I can't pause the game. With a tabletop game, we can take a moment away from the game (depending on the game, of course), and this doesn't necessarily take away from the experience. It can enhance it.

  5. The tactile feel of physical components. I might have said this before somewhere, but you can't beat the tactile feel of tabletop game components. It beats a mouse and keyboard every time. Then, when you add the sound of tumbling dice, and the gentle (or not so gentle) tapping of your piece up the board a few spots? We have a winner!

  6. Tabletop games go anywhere. No matter where you and your friends end up, a tabletop game can be with you. Even on an airplane! Try that with Rocket League!

  7. You only need one copy. Tabletop games are less expensive, by a mile. Let's say you have six friends, and you all want to play COD:WWII together. Each of you pays $60, for a total of $360, to engage in some first-person shoot 'em up. This is assuming you each have the computing hardware capable of running the game. But you could be playing Eclipse for $80. Split the cost, and that's only $13.33 each! Now you just have to decide who brings the pretzels and who brings the root beer.

  8. The greatest gift is the presence of company. Ha. A pun.

Like I said, tabletop games and video games satiate a different need. Both offer competition. Both offer intellectual stimulation. Video games are better for training hand-eye coordination. Tabletop games are better for training strategic and tactical skills. There are times when I'd rather sit down at the computer and get an adrenaline rush in a battle royale. There are times when I'd rather sit down at the table with a bunch of my pals and attempt to subjugate them as Supreme Ruler of the Universe.

But if it came down to it, and I was forced to choose: video games or tabletop games. That's easy. It's the tabletop for me.

Where does your affection lie?

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