Videocasting and its Impact on Board-gaming

Who Needs Rules?

For when you don’t want to read the rules… and so much more!

I enjoy Rodney Smith’s channel. It’s quite methodical and takes you step-by-step through the game that you are wondering about.

There are three ways that I have used the channel: to find out about a game, to learn the rules of a game I already have, and to check if I’ve been playing right all these years.

What I haven’t done is skipped the rulebook entirely, and gone on to just “watch it played” as some board game boxes have cheerfully encouraged me to do.

Why?

Well, I’m concerned about the game designer side of the equation.

Yes, I am sure Rodney Smith does a wonderful job of explaining the rules of any game. Yet, I am concerned that a designer who cannot put his or her rules into a coherent document may not have done the legwork necessary to make a good game.

This line of thinking caused me to wonder: just what exactly have videos done–positive or negative–for the hobby? And, should they keep doing it?

Video and the Hobby

The Fun Factor

The second question is easier to address because Rodney and others are not going away.  As long as tabletop games are popular, they are going to keep making videos, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To wit: I just had a fun time watching the culmination of the Dice Tower Top 100 Games of All Time, where Sam, Zee, and Tom bantered about their choices for the ten best games ever made.

It was almost like a geek March Madness, complete with upsets and what I’d think of as a Cinderella Story in board gaming: a few games rose meteorically high out of seeming obscurity, and caught my attention, as a result. But, I won’t spoil the fun for you. You can watch for yourself.

Top 100. Enough said.

All that to say, I like these video channels, and I feel that they have enriched the hobby by bringing awareness of board games to the masses in a way that was previously not possible.

The Internet allows casual folks to stumble into the wonderful world of board gaming, like Lucy finding her way into Narnia by killing time, playing hide-and-seek on a rainy day.

Tastemakers?

“You see that game? It’s the game you’ll like most in all the world…”
“But my sister met a Faun who said it wasn’t that good.”
“Well! You know fauns will say anything. Spreading nasty rumors about games, and most of them not even true!”

Unfortunately, some people feel that these video bloggers have become “tastemakers” imposing their despotic wills on unsuspecting folks like some sort of “White Witch” usurping the rightful place of the consumer.

These accusers sometimes go a step further and promote the theory of a sort of conspiratorial alliance between the industry and the media–as if its all one big group of friends, patting one another on the back while taking our money.

From my perspective, this is all a sign that board games have arrived as a serious medium.

Think of it this way: every established entertainment from books to music to movies to video games has attracted media attention, whether from professionals or laypersons. Which, on the whole, is a good thing.

Collusion and Criticism

Still, all these advance review and demo copies flying around might get some people a little hot and bothered. After all, the reviewer or demo-er is–at face value–getting something in exchange for their time filming the game.

So, is there some collusion between the industry and reviewers? Collusion is defined as:

Secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.

Is sending a review copy something that falls within this definition? Not really. It isn’t exactly a secret that the reviewers are getting these games. And, there seems to be no evidence of getting paid to review the games (getting paid to explain rules isn’t exactly shady either since it’s not offering an opinion on the game).

At first, when I got review copies of games, I might have felt a little impressed that someone sent me a game to review. For free. But, by the time I played the game, the novelty wore off, and I realized what I felt–positive and negative–about the game. Also, I realized that, if I wanted an audience for more than an article or two, I would need to be honest with my readers, or they’d see through the sham and move on.

Maybe some vestigial sense of being “nice” remained, but not enough to dress up a real stinker of a game in regal clothes.

Information Station

Ultimately, I see video media as providing visuals and encapsulating a board game experience in the most direct way possible: by showing rather than telling.

Yes, the camera can lie, and the person on screen or behind the camera may be manipulating images and words to create an artificially sleek impression for a game, but overall, the information and direct access to gameplay visuals is an indispensable service when it comes to finding the next game you’ll like or love.

So, next time you watch a board game video, take a moment to savor the access you have to info and insight, and as we lead up to the Thanksgiving holiday (in the US, at any rate), it might be something to be grateful for.

Until next time!

— Dave.

Twitter: @ptboardgames

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