Psychology of Board Games

Statistics and Speculations on the Behavioral Science of Board Gaming
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Why Board Games are Better than Comic Books

Corey Butler
United States
Saint Paul
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Microbadge: Chess playerMicrobadge: EurogamerMicrobadge: Coffee drinkerMicrobadge: MinnesotaMicrobadge: I Sent Monkey Auto Races to #1
Uh oh. The last time I suggested that something was better than something else, I got a whole lot of arguments and controversy. Actually, it was an interesting discussion, so let's do it again. Or, if you are very unhappy with what I write, feel free to visit my new Complaints Department. It's right --> Here.

And now, back to our previously scheduled topic: Comic Books, and Why Games Are Better, Even Though I Really Do Love Comic Books.

They often go hand in hand, don't they? My favorite game shop is also my favorite comic shop. It's The Source: Comics and Games in Roseville, MN. That's just down the road from the Fantasy Flight Games Center, by the way. Minnesota is THE place to be for games, dontcha know.

I love visiting The Source because I love comics and I love games. I've spent a fair amount of money on both. I have cabinets full of games and boxes full of comics. This is a serious problem because I aspire to be a minimalist at some point in my life. But as I've been saying, I really love both of my collections, and I don't want to sell either of them any time soon. I am especially attached to my collection of Batman comics. They go back to wrinkly old issues that I've had since I was a kid, back when I didn't know anything about bags and boards. I get a warm feeling just thinking about them, all sealed up and neatly stored in chronological order in my closet.

But I love my game collection more. Why, you ask? Because games promote experiences conducive to happiness, much more than comics do. There is an emerging scholarship in psychology on materialism and happiness. You may have read about the issue of money and happiness, and how they are only weakly correlated after you have a certain amount of wealth. There's also research on what we buy with our money, and whether we put it into things or experiences. Consider the following graph:

From gallery of shotokanguy

Material possessions last longer than experiences, so people assume they will lead to higher levels of satisfaction. Research by Ryan Howell and others, however, shows that people actually get more out of experiential purchases (e.g. a good meal, taking a trip) than material purchases (e.g. buying clothes, a new car). One methodological problem in this research is that there is often a blurry distinction between the two. If I buy a new boat, for example, that is a material thing but it also leads to enjoyable experiences on the lake, so how do I classify it? And more importantly, which lake do I visit? Did I mention we have 10,000 of them here in Minnesota?

Psychologists distinguish between these types of purchases by looking at the goals and intentions of the consumer. Is he or she thinking about having the thing, or doing the activity? This is somewhat inexact and subjective, but it has worked well enough to collect data in several empirical studies.

In my case, both games and comics are physical objects which I own. They are also both linked to experiences, those of playing and reading. But they are not equivalent. When I think about my games, I think about playing them. When I think about my comics, I am more likely to view them as a stationary collection of objects that I own. So for me, games are much more experiential. According to the research, they should provide me with more satisfaction and happiness.

What do you do with your games? Do you get them out and play them at restaurants and coffee shops, even if there’s a chance of getting food spilled on them? Or do you keep them safe at home, still in their shrink wrap? Wouldn’t they give you more happiness if you experienced them more often? If you mainly collect games and don’t get much chance to play them, that is a lot of underutilized potential. I’ve collected all kinds of things in my life. Comics, coins, rocks, you name it. Owning the thing is surprisingly disappointing. It’s never as exciting as looking for the thing. Come to think of it, I probably enjoyed my comics more when I was a kid, not just because I was a kid, but because I wasn’t so preoccupied with keeping them in mint condition. I focused more on the experience of reading them and re-reading them.

One last advantage for games is that they are inherently more social than comics, providing opportunities to make new friends and spend quality time with them. There is considerable research linking happiness and life satisfaction to social relationships. This might be even more critical amongst the geek community, which often tends toward introversion. Comic books are simply less likely to provide these social benefits. Personally, if I’m reading a comic, I usually want to be by myself.

The lesson is clear. I should sell off my comics and buy more games. Better yet, I should sell off my games and my comics and spend the money travelling around visiting people and playing their games. Anyone out there interested in having a house guest for a few months?
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