The lost art of the written word

Increasingly, the world of board gaming reviews has shifted from the written word to video presentations. A quick look at any board gaming site and you will see at least for the newer games, video reviews or video blogs far outnumber the traditional text reviews. In some sense, that is perhaps not too surprising. The shift from reading to watching videos is prevalent in many forums and extend far beyond the board gaming world. The emergence of Instagram, Tiktok and a host of other video-based messaging apps is a testament to how people consume information these days. Heck, even though Twitter is popular, people can only limit themselves to 280 characters worth of expression. Such is the evolution of our attention span.

There is no doubt video reviews of board games has its place in the board gaming world. In particular, being able to see the components and how they situated on the board makes a lot of sense. No matter how much you write to describe components of the game, nothing beats a visual record of the game. However, you can make the argument that photos or pictures of board game components might be adequate. Still, being able to see how pieces move, the relative size and quality of the components is a plus for watching video reviews.

Videos are also superior when it comes to describing the flow of game play in the context of a review. I am not arguing that a rule book is superseded by how-to-play tutorials, because it is not. I do not think a video review will ever replace a rule book as they are just too cumbersome when searching for specific details of a particular rule. Having a rule book as a handy reference will always be the preferred, and likely quickest way, to find what you need. What I do mean is the process of writing a review and summarizing game play can be tough. There are many rules and nuances to games and unless you are writing or describing the entire rule book, it is virtually impossible to rehash every single detail in the summary. So, part of the challenge for reviewers is to describe the basic mechanism of the game and the most interesting bits. This actually is a frustrating part of writing and also reading a review because honestly, it is not the most exciting part. For folks who don’t already know the game, it is almost better to read a rule book or watch a video tutorial. For folks who already know the game, do you even really care? So then, what’s the point of summarizing game play? Well, as a reviewer, if you skip the summary and jump straight into conclusions, then something feels missing. It is as though you are writing the conclusion for an article without even outlining the basic premise. It feels…incomplete. Moreover, if you write only your opinions of the game, then the article is limited in its reach. You are appealing to folks who may have already played the game or those who are familiar with how the game is played. Especially for more casual gamers, the article will be slightly bewildering without proper context, not to mention the terminology and jargon associated with the game. I don’t like summarizing rules because it almost always doesn’t do justice to the game, yet I do it anyways. Damn if I do and damn if I don’t.

To be clear, I am also a consumer of video blogs and presentations, but I mainly watch these to get a sense of how games are played, the components and the general mechanisms. In fact, I find myself rarely, if ever, paying attention to the actual review portion of the game. Instead, I rely quite a bit on written reviews, both in the generic game forums, but perhaps more so, through my list of GeekBuddies on the Board Game Geek website. I also tend to ignore many of the “top 10 lists” or “top 100” video lists that are becoming so prevalent.

I think there are some benefits to a well-written review that cannot be replicated with video content. For one thing, I can better control the pace of consuming the information as opposed to videos. Sure, there are now video tags and time stamps to scroll through the content, but I still frequently have to review or fast forward to the right frame for that one particular comment or quote. With reading, it is much easier to spot what want or to skip the sections which you do not care for. You can also slow your pace of reading for sections and comments which you want to pay attention or focus on. I generally find that easier on the page than via videos. I am also not as distracted by peripheral attributes of the video including facial expressions, cadence of the tone, and any other external factors that come across the screen. The written reviews is free from all these distractions. Finally, there is just a certain quality, or maybe feature from written reviews that doesn’t come across as easily on a video. It is hard to describe. Oddly enough, I find myself more influenced by the emotion of the reviewer via the written word. It is as if, when the reviewer writes: “I hate this game because….”, that negative emotion comes across more strongly than a video review that says the same thing. I am not quite sure why that is or whether I value that negative impression a lot more when reading versus watching a review. Perhaps the seeing the word “hate” leaves a stronger and more lasting impression than hearing/watching the word “hate”, which is curious to me.

That is not to say that reviews are problem free. Of course, the quality of the writing is paramount to the enjoyment of reading the article, as is the organization of the article. A well written article takes quite a bit of editing and proof-reading. So, do bear that in mind when reading an article that contains a single typo. This is not a knock against a video review as I am sure that video reviews are also time consuming. The professionally edited ones are quite impressive and amazing.

It occurred to me perhaps, a hybrid review can potentially capture the best of both worlds. A well-written review which introduces the game, then incorporates a short video which explains the basic game play, perhaps an attached file for the complete rule book followed by an opinion column for the game. I have never seen a hybrid review before and certainly wonder if there would be an audience for such a format. Alas, the effort required to assemble such a review is tremendous, but nonetheless, it would be appealing to me, especially if the video segment is condensed to a specific time limit (say no more than 3 minutes).

Ultimately, writing is somewhat cathartic for me. I am not necessarily fond of writing, but it is a way to escape routine and to momentarily delve into a world for which I feel passionate about. I write for myself first and foremost and if ends up entertaining others, then I can at least claim to have contributed to the hobby as a whole.

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