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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Socially Acceptable Game-Playing
I am off today to Columbus, Ohio, for a boardgame convention of sorts called the Gathering of Friends. Basically I will be hanging out with a bunch of friends (many of whom I game with reguarly here in southern New England) and playing board games. If it sounds geeky I guess it is, but I expect it to be a great time, just like it was last year. The board games we play are often called "German" or "Euro" games because they are somehwat more popular in Europe than the United States (although U.S. publishers are taking note). Check out Boardgamegeek.com or Funagain Games for examples of what I'm talking about.

I have a pet theory that one reason behind the poker boom is that Americans are just happy to have a game that is fun and socially acceptable to play. Most games Americans grew up playing are simply not that much fun. When it comes to board games, most people think of 1) Monopoly and 2) Risk. Many people have had bad experiences with these games because 1) they take hours and hours to play 2) you're mostly just rolling dice the whole time and 3) players are eliminated in painful ways -- by having either all their armies annihilated or by going bankrupt. The "Euro" games I'll be playing all this week do not have these features -- they play in about an hour, usually no one is eliminated before the end, and they usually don't use dice.

But back to poker. Not only is poker more fun that the games most Americans grew up playing, it is also "cool." Game-playing is somewhat stigmatized in the United States as an activity for children or nerdy teenagers or, in the case of card games such as Bridge or Hearts, senior citizens. Before the poker boom, American game publishers pretty much told everyone that party games such as Cranium and its ilk were the only games that adults should be playing on a weekend night.

Then along comes poker, providing people with a socially acceptable reason to have a game night. (Of course plenty of people were playing poker already -- TV poker really just reminded everyone how much fun it can be.) The vast majority of home poker games, both tournament and cash game, are played for paltry stakes. In many cases, the amount won or lost in the poker game is exceeded by the cost of the beer and pizza consumed while playing. So while poker is certainly a gambling game, the gambling is not the main reason for playing -- the social aspect of game-playing is.

I also believe that this is the reason that many people love going to casinos. They don't care so much about the money they win or lose, they just like playing games -- even mindless games such as roulette -- and in their minds the casino is the only place where adults are "supposed" to play games.

I have a lot more to say on this topic, but my I have to be out the door in less than 20 minutes. I'll just wrap up by saying for most people, poker can be viewed as part of the broader family of card and board games people grew up playing, rather than as a unique and special pursuit, which is how most serious poker players, including many people reading this blog, view the game. I love "serious" poker. But when I play in most home games, I do it for the fun, not the money. And as long as we're just playing for fun, I figure why not play a good board game. For me, less-than-serious poker is not very different than a board or card game played for no money.

I will almost certainly play some poker at the Gathering, and I may try to blog about it depending on the hotel's Internet options. On the online poker front, I cleared the Empire bonus this weekend. Also, last week I deposited in UltimateBet just so I could play Triple Draw. Man is that a fun game. The only problem is that there isn't always a game going.

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