Every now and again, I open up my Tumblr account’s “Ask Me” feature, to get blog fodder from folks on the Internet. Last week, I got a gaming question that I thought we should talk about here. The question in question:
When you play games online, the physicality of them changes: for example, you click a button rather than rolling dice. Do you think this automatically makes them less fun?
As written, this question is a little loaded. Do I think the lack of actual, tangible dice automatically makes a game less fun? Automatically? No, I don’t.
I think a good user interface makes the process of button-clicking satisfying. A good UI is a pleasure to interact with, full of hearty clicks and feedback, auditory or visual, that’s almost tangible. A nice, solid UI makes play easier and richer, which can certainly measure up to just as much fun, and can sometimes be more fun.
Peggle, for example, is fun only because its UI is fun — all those satisfying sounds and positive feedback signals.
It depends on the game, though. To me, poker’s tactile experience is an important part of its appeal. I mean, I can enjoy a good online game of Hold ‘Em, don’t get me wrong, but I can get antsy in a way that’s not always helpful. It’s just different.
To re-frame the question, I don’t think LOTRO or WoW would be more fun if I had to roll the dice as often as the game presumably checks for random inputs. It might not be less fun, but I’m not sure that adding the physicality of dice would make it more fun, either.
I like a good die roll, though. I’m not a big fan of electronic rollers (for no really good reason). I like the almost mystical consultation that comes from checking the unknowable via a tiny plastic diviner.
Now, as to the harder question: Do I think the change (or absence!) of physicality can make a game less fun? Absolutely. I just don’t think it’s automatic. But, for example, I have little interest in playing Settlers of Catan on a computer — and I covet that sculpted 3D set that exists out there, if only for its physicality. It’s the physicality of some Fantasy Flight board games that so often makes me want them, even though I’m unlikely to play them very often with my casual gamer friends. It’s the physical snap of my travel Scrabble set that makes me prefer it over even the nice wooden tiles of a standard set.
More to the point, I think the physicality of board games, coupled with technological assistance to make them easier to play, is what makes things like the new Surface technology so exciting. We may see board games become more widely popular when people are able to sit around a table in some (please, please, please) high-tech game parlor, sliding electronic cards and actual, physical pieces around a digital game board while sipping on mochas. The new hybrid physicality, if I can coin a phrase, that blends digital interfaces with physical pawns could be an anchor for new third places and as many new types of popular games as Facebook’s networked easiness has. I can hope, at least.
What do you think?