This article reprinted by kind permission of Ravage magazine.
Gamers like stuff. Me too, and sometimes I wonder why the draw to the latest shiny thing is so strong. When I say “stuff” I don’t mean the games themselves. Of course you need boards and pieces to play things. What I mean is all the extra gubbins that we gamers accumulate: dice bags, cups and towers; measuring sticks, a myriad types of “special” dice for every occasion, extra counters, 3D tokens, special cases to carry it all in and so on. Some games seem to be sold on the weight of the box rather than the quality of the game and include all manner of unnecessary baggage. More than once I’ve sat round the table with fellow gamers, discussing some pieces or counters that don’t seem to actually have a purpose other than to bulk the game out. It’s odd.
I’m not pointing the finger at anyone here because I’m just the same. I buy special dice for particular armies, look for nice acrylic counters to replace the card ones that come in the box, and wonder whether I have space for a dice tower on my gaming table. It seems to come with the territory.
What I am curious about here is where gaming might be going. If our collective love of extra shiny add-ons to our favourite games is as commonplace as I think it is, then how does that fit with a world which increasingly strives to have digital rulebooks, on-screen games and so on? It seems like a core feature of gamers and gaming is a love for the shiny things that may all differ in detail but which are solid, physical objects. Getting special dice to roll virtually, on-screen just isn’t the same as having them in my hand. Agonising over which coloured sparkly dice are most appropriate for each game or faction, over whether my dice tower needs to be covered in spiral marquetry or whether it can be stuck inside a Cthulhu plushy… these things matter to us gaming geeks. And it seems to be the physical details which matter most. All of these are tactile delights, and ones that go firmly against the grain of the modern world. How can we bring these two themes together?
Now I’m not a Luddite at all. I’ve got my iPad and am happy to upload as many different rulebooks as I can. It makes carrying a wealth of paper reference for a game very much easier, and when the talk around the table drifts into other topics (as it will) I can check other rule sets I might have virtually, or look up things on the internet. All good.
A Way Ahead
I think this is a real opportunity. There have been several waves of digital “invasions” of the board game space in the past, and they have generally been touted as revolutionary (then withered very quickly). This has partly been due to the unwieldy nature of older computers. Now, with the near ubiquity of smart phones and the rising popularity of tablets, a great deal of computing power is easily portable (and is already present round many gaming tables). This gives us two obvious routes into the digital:
1) internet access.
The internet is the land of FAQs and help with confusions. It’s full of folk who’ve come across that problem before and know the answer. It’s great for finding out niggly details about game play and rules queries.
When it comes to supporting traditional games, I think that apps are a poorly developed resource. The question here is the crux of my point: how far can traditionalist-shiny-toy-loving-gamers cope with having their shiny toys replaced by a different (digital) shiny toy. I’ve seen various apps for gaming including ones for rolling dice and a clever one for working out who should get the first turn. And so far, in every case, people have been amused once and then gone back to doing it the old fashioned way.
Progress marches on, and the handheld computing power we have now is only one step in a process that won’t wait for anyone. The resource seems largely untapped by traditional gamers and I’m curious to see what use these can be put to. Where is the balance point between dice and digital?
By the way…
How much have you adopted digital assistance in your traditional gaming? Has this increased since you started? Where do you expect it to be in another 10 years’ time?
If you could have someone create any gaming app for you that you can imagine, what would it do?