What Computer Games Cannot Do

Traditional board games will always have one advantage over computer versions.

I noticed an interesting news bit on Gamasutra this week. According to the story (third item), the publishers of Fritz 9, one of the stronger publicly available chess programs, has licensed a physics engine. Looking at the description on the main (European) ChessBase site, the program does indeed offer “physics on the board; pieces fall realistically”. Not only that, but this chess game also provides “3d stereo-surround sound in all boards”.

Computer versions of chess have been readily available basically since the advent of the personal computer, and they definitely have some advantages over OTB (Over The Board) play. Obviously, there is always somebody to play, and one can select the strength of the opponent, so it is easier to practice and gain experience. Better for me, nobody ridicules me when I lose (save Chess Maniac 5 Billion and One). More recent improvements include tutorials to help one learn the game and network play to provide human opponents and some of the social aspects of board games.

Nevertheless, what computer board games cannot do is provide the physical experience. There are tactile elements to playing a real board game, such as the heft of the pieces and kinetic sense of movement, as well as the sounds of placing a piece, transmitted not only through the air, but through ones body. I will be interested to see how Fritz 9 makes use of real physics (for resignation, I presume) and surround sound, but it is no substitute for the real thing, and likely adds very little to the cognitive aspects of the game. It probably will not be harmful, either, unless the required computer specifications are increased just for this gratuitous technology.

When you next have a chance, play a physical board game and experience the simple pleasure of that activity once again. No technology required.

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