Five reasons why games are awesome

Hi. My name’s Mike and I’m a gameaholic.

When I say ‘game’ I mean the traditional kind: card games, board games, role-playing games, dress-up games – pretty much anything that puts you in the same room interacting face-to-face with other people.

But I can’t get enough of them. I spend the majority of my waking hours researching the latest games being published, planning the next session of the games at my fingertips, or writing/designing new games to try out with my friends.

As addictions go it could be a lot worse. The only negative impact my obsession really has is on my wallet, and on the shelf space in my house. In fact, there are many positive things about the hobby, which I believe are worth sharing with people who do not know that much about it.

1) Games are social

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(Photo by Hugh Angseesing)

All games require players – either as opponents or allies. This means you have share the same space with them – often sitting around the same table. Success or failure in a game often depends on how well you can communicate with the other players – and many games actively encourage this.

When pitted against an opponent it is important to read their mood and attempt to anticipate what they are going to do next. It may pay off to bluff, mislead or bully them into following a course of action with fits neatly with your plans.

When put into a team it is important to discuss your plans with your allies. Working at crossed purposes or unnecessarily duplicating effort or wasting resources can quickly lead to defeat. Alternatively, you may need to use negotiation and bargaining to bring enemy or neutral players over to your side.

Interestingly, playing a game with people can lead to you seeing sides to them that you would never see in another context. Some of your friends may embrace the opportunity to become a brazen hero or a despicable villain. Games can generate surprising expressions of loyalty, cunning and competitiveness.

Bringing people together to play a game also provides an opportunity to socialise more generally. You can catch up on gossip or the latest news from your circle of friends. If you meet new players it can be fun to find out where they are from and what other games they like. In fact, a game can serve to ‘break the ice’ between people who are normally quite introverted or shy.

2) Games provide mental excercise

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All games present some sort of dilemma to challenge the mental faculties of a player – whether it is a simple choice of where to move a pawn, or a more complex decision regarding how to win the hand of a fair maiden or take over the government of another country.

Personally I do like to think of playing a game as mental exercise – if you will, the brain’s equivalent of going on a run or doing push-ups. I’m very conscious of the fact that in my late 30s I’m not quite as sharp as I was in my 20s and that as I get older it’s going to become harder and harder to keep my mind agile and focused.

Some people fill their own home with gym equipment – instead my spare room full of games is the gym for my brain. The analogy also applies in the sense that both types of exercise are more fun when you buddy up with others, rather than going it alone. Except that you don’t normally need to shower after a good board game session.

3) Games teach you new things

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Games can do more than just let you hone your problem-solving or negotiation skills – they might teach you entirely new things.

There are a whole branch of educational games out there for teaching you about language, nature, engineering, geography. In fact, most quiz type games are educational in the sense that you get to find out all the answers, even if you don’t know them initially.

One of my favourite ‘simulationist’ board games is High Frontier, where you actually have to build, fuel and fly your own rocket using real science (the technical schematics for your rocket parts are even on the cards).

It’s also difficult to think of a better history lesson than taking part in a role-playing game set in the past. At the hands of a good GM, some ambience and fellow players who don’t mind doing a little research you can use your collective imaginations to almost literally step back in time.

4) Games provide unique life experiences

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(Photo by me)

It’s true that many games are a form of escapism, but I see this as a positive, not a negative. A lot of people have dreams and ambitions that have yet to be fulfilled. In the context of science fiction and fantasy, some stories can only be told via the imagination. Things that would be beyond us in real life.

I see a lot of social media and online dating profiles where people say they enjoy travelling. Ha, big deal – have you ever been to the Moon, or to Mars? Have you let the sands of Arrakis slip through your fingers, or dared the nightmarish twilight of Mirkwood?

In my time I have saved people from burning buildings, stolen vital data from oppressive and corrupt corporations, crushed armies beneath my heels as a general, brought criminals to justice and influenced the course of human history. And so much more.

Putting heroism to one side, games can also be funny. In fact I don’t think any other activity has ever made me laugh so hard. Have you ever seen Brian Blessed in a loincloth? Did you know Robert Mugabe is hoarding missing Dr Who episodes? Would you ever guess that the nation’s second favourite type of cake was angel cake?

5) Games are for everyone!

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There’s still a little stigma in some circles about playing games – particular certain kinds of games like Dungeons & Dragons or Warhammer 40,000. It’s true that some games draw a certain kind of audience that cause them to seem cliquey or unwelcoming but to me that’s rather beside the point.

Hobby gaming is a thriving industry – particularly thanks to Kickstarter – with thousands of games listed on sites such as Boardgamegeek. Whatever your tastes, your experience or your preferred level of difficulty there will almost certainly be a niche that will appeal to you. In fact you would be surprised what is out there if you care to look.

A good entry point into board gaming is Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop channel on Youtube – with some celebrity pals he will explain the rules and show what a particular game is like so you can see before you buy.

Another ‘gateway’ into the hobby is a French board game called Dixit, which uses surreal but family-friendly picture cards to help players use their imaginations. It’s difficult to think of anyone who would not find this game appealing – and its a great one to bring out with friends and family at xmas time.