Call it comeback: while almost all aspects of our lives depend on technology, board games are experiencing a renaissance, according to a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.
Zachary Horton, assistant professor Pitt English major in Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, learning board games, among other types of media. In the fall of 2019, he taught Pitt’s first board game class, Post-Digital Gaming, which featured games from the 1970s to the present. He believes this is one of the few classes in the country that focuses on board games, despite “a huge revival in popularity among all age ranges.”
Before COVID-19 and the rules of social distance, Horton and his colleagues in the English Department often gathered in small groups to play games of different genres.
“This is a way to release some of the stress from academic research and teaching,” Horton said with a laugh. “Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, people played board games remotely during orders staying at home. I am hosting a group this weekend. “
So why has its popularity skyrocketed? Horton tracks the rise of social media and smart phones.
“There is no way to prove with certainty why, but the trend is clear that the emergence of board games matches the rise of social media. In the late 2000s and beyond, there was a massive revival. And the last five years, this has exploded exponentially, “said Horton, who also directed Pitt Vibrant Media Lab.
It is this juxtaposition between digital and analog that makes this a bit of a rebellion, Horton said.
“The interest in board games is retaliation for digital media everywhere. People are looking for more social activities and get involved when they become more isolated by technology, “Horton said. “People crave social relationships – which makes this genre really different from video games.”
“Board games, be they Monopoly or chess, represent something that everyone can take part in,” said Ashley Priore, a Dietrich School student second year majoring in English Literature and political science.
“They are cross-generation, unlike digital media, at least for now. For most people, it’s about social connections and physical interaction – something social media cannot provide, “added Priore, who also founded a non-profit organization. Queen Gambit Chess Institute.
But Horton also stressed that digital and analog are not necessarily contradictory.
“This is demonstrated by the rise of hybrid games that use applications and physical boards, and digital versions of board games like that which can be played online,” he said.
Trends in the game yesterday and today
Horton said that board games have been popular for thousands of years around the world – and have never really lost popularity. He said that the first game recorded in history appeared around five thousand years ago in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
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“Ancient games usually fall into one of two categories: racing games and war games,” Horton said. “Racing games have a lot of luck, like you race to the end. War games involve moves that move tactically – like Chess or Go. These games are still popular today. “
Then, with the advent of printing in the 15th century, Horton said the game became more colorful and narrative-based. And then in the 20th century, after World War II, Horton said there was a big explosion in board games because of the economic boom.
“People have more disposable income, and they are looking for family entertainment. Manufacturing is on the rise, and it’s cheap to produce colorful and good board games. “Horton added that this marks the release of games that are still popular such as Clue and Risk.
“We call this the eternal game. They continue to be a favorite of children and families, “he said. Other popular games, mass markets such as Connect Four, Candy Land, Monopoly and Trouble, have never lost their popularity, even with the invention of video games and mobile applications,” Horton said.
Game trends such as war reappeared in the 1960s to 1980s, Horton said, and contained complex simulations of historical battles.
And in the 1990s, Horton said board games from Germany had infiltrated the United States and were very popular.
“This is a more adult-oriented game with simple rules, but complex decision making strategies.” Some of the most popular people might know, he said, are the Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne.
The 2000s saw great interest in miniatures – games that used mini-pieces to arrange scenes on the table, combined with tactical rules, Horton said.
“People are happy with something that has a physical presence. So much of the media we consume is virtual or digital, so this continues to increase in popularity today, “he said.
Big bang: hobby game
The hobby game is experiencing the “biggest explosion” right now, Horton said. These games are more complex than traditional games and involve strategy, he said.
“This is a game that we see on Kickstarter, at conventions and throughout the internet,” Horton said.
Based on Polygon.com, supporters pledged more than $ 176 million for table games in 2019, compared to only $ 16 million for video games. The most successful Kickstarter table is Etherfields Board Game, which received about $ 5 million from more than 33,000 supporters, said the website.
Hobby games are different from ordinary family games, Horton said, and often involve a cooperative aspect, with all players actually playing against the game itself – scrambling together to find a solution.
“What is interesting and interesting about hobby games is that they present opportunities for adults to gather and enter a complex world that is a little different from what we live in,” Horton said.
For Pittsburghers seeking their improvement, Horton said that the Squirrel Hill neighborhood has the longest-running hobby game store in the country, Games Unlimited, which has been around since the 1970s. While the store is closed because of coronavirus, they are still posting their Facebook page and hosting a virtual happy hour for players who need their repairs.
“Hobby shops often hold events with game demos, and it is a gathering place where people gather,” Horton said. “I know that once this pandemic ends, many of us hope to gather and play together once more.”
But for now, Horton said that he would continue to play in the comfort of his own home.
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