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Board games’ golden age: Sociable, brilliant and no screens required (thank you)

Warren Mara

In an age of connected devices and ‘enabling’ technology, humans have become increasingly distant from one another. This is no revelation, but does present both a challenging trend and a glaringly obvious opportunity for learning professionals.

At present, a revolution is gaining speed and it looks like bringing humans back together. Without their phones and greatly prized connectivity, around a table, talking, laughing, competing and…learning. Organisations today aren’t just looking for greater acumen in their staff, they are looking for greater connection of people and their ideas.

Table top games are of course not new, but the latest surge in popularity for them and the corresponding rise in their quality is refreshing. Especially in an age when digital gaming is king. The Guardian  suggests that “the past four years have seen board game purchases rise by between 25% and 40% annually”, which is great news for believers in the power of social learning. 

How this medium is used for learning in a professional context requires some thought, and of course instructional design application. However in our favour is a world of game mechanics, rules, stories, themes, objectives, game boards and pieces to gain a greater learning result than digital alternatives. Note: we are talking about games ranging from Pictionary to Cards Against Humanity to Settlers of Catan. The same board games you have enjoyed over a glass of wine with friends, not just the Dungeons and Dragons games your 40 year old man-child cousin plays in a dark room.

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This is not an anti-technology protest; the same Guardian article does cite the role of social networks and online reviews for games as a contributor to the rise in popularity of table top games. For example, the Geek and Sundry multimedia company have over a million subscribers and publish daily table top game reviews to their audience. The challenge for learning professionals and organisations is to strike the right balance between ‘connectivity’ and ‘connectedness’ and look at whether a blend of learning products is right for achieving desired learning goals.

At Sysdoc we have created both table top and digital learning based games and have seen great success with both approaches. When organisations strive for greater connection between functions, more considered decision making, increased sharing of experience and joint problem solving, social learning through table top games provides a great, and ever-greater popular medium to do this.

Articles and channels on the table top revolution:

Excellent Guardian article http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/nov/25/board-games-internet-playstation-xbox

Dopamine and games – Liking, learning, or wanting to play? http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/BenLewisEvans/20130827/198975/Dopamine_and_games__Liking_learning_or_wanting_to_play.php

Geek and sundry channel on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/geekandsundry

Article title is a reference to Owen Duffy's “Board games' golden age: sociable, brilliant and driven by the internet”, The Guardian, November 25, 2014

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