The value of board games

Did you know that board games are a form of technology? Engineering lecturer Dr Melissa Rogerson examines our love of all things board games and their fascinating 5,000-year history.

Board games such as Backgammon, Senet and Nine Men’s Morris have been played for millennia. In fact, strategy game Nine Men’s Morris was so popular throughout the Roman Empire that remnants of boards can be found scratched in the stonework of Medieval cathedrals in England.

Recently, board games have become a popular way to spend leisure time with thousands of new games being released each year.

Human-computer interaction is the study of computer technology design, specifically the interaction between people and computers. Dr Rogerson’s chosen technology within the field is board games.

As a form of culture and entertainment, games inform us of the ways that humans interact with technology. Dr Rogerson explains, “There are four things in my research that I find people talk about consistently as to why they like games.” These are:

  1. Sociality – Spending time with friends and family.
  2. Materiality – The physical components of a game, the pieces, their design and medium of components.
  3. Intellectual challenge – Being strategic, making plans and decisions.
  4. Variety – Finding the right game, for the type of group and number of people playing.

While playing a game is often identified with a winner and a loser, many modern games are more focussed on teamwork.  “If you don’t like conflict or the idea of having to beat other people, then many modern games can be a terrific way to find opportunities to work together. Games aren’t just about knocking everybody else out. You can come second and that can be a really meaningful experience for you.”

Dr Rogerson’s studies focus on making technology better and more useable for people, with the endgame being to create tools that work the way we want them; doing what we want, when we want.

“Game playing highlights the sorts of interactions that we have as people while we’re using technology. It’s not just about how I interact with the pieces, but the way I use them to plan my next move, the way I sort my cards, or the way I stack my pieces in front of me. It’s also about the way I connect with other people.”

The intrinsic value of board games is shown by their ability to offer something different to everyone. With such a rich history and an exciting future, they’re sure to remain an essential part of our social lives for years to come.

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