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Wooden meeples from the Carcassonne board game (Photo Credit: Júlio Reis).

Board games are currently enjoying something of a renaissance. Sales of board games continue to rise globally (over 20% since 2009 [1]), gaming communities are growing and flourishing, and games design and production values are at an all-time high. Whilst the sales figures for board games might be dwarfed by those for the video games industry (in 2015, the UK video games industry was worth nearly £4.2bn, up 7.4% from £3.94bn in 2014), there is clearly a significant increase in the popularity of board games, not only in terms of the amount of units that have been sold, but also in terms of the number, and the demographic, of the people playing them. This increase in popularity, and an increasing mainstream acceptance of gaming culture, has resulted in a dramatic  increase in coverage across the popular press and media, with The Guardian recently announcing a new monthly column, The boarder’s hoard, dedicated to reviewing the latest board games on the market. With even Vice running an article on the rise of board games, and popular celebrities such as Wil Wheaton running extremely successful YouTube channels dedicated to their favourite games, does this mean that board games are suddenly cool and that being a gamer is now something to be celebrated? As well as their newly celebrated social status, It would appear that gamers, or at least gamers that go on to create their own board games are also getting rich, with Kickstarter funds for board games now exceeding £41 million in total sales. All of this seems in stark contrast to this 2015 Telegraph article, pronouncing the death of card and board games.

Given the current popularity of board games, it would seem only natural that university academics, perhaps harbouring strong feelings towards meeples and multi-faceted dice, might make games and gamers the object of their research. The Games Research Network brings together a collection of gaming enthusiasts from across Manchester Metropolitan University, who aside from enjoying games (both analogue and digital) are also interested in taking them as an object of study. In keeping with Roger Caillois’s suggestion that play ‘involves a totality of human behaviour and interests’ [2] our network brings together researchers from the arts and humanities, media studies, sociology, linguistics, education and the sciences.

Our concerns are as diverse as both our membership and the games we play. Over the course of the next year we’ll play a range of games, each chosen with specific research questions in mind:

  • In what ways do games explore questions of gender and sexuality?
  • To what extent do board games function as narrative?
  • To what extent do games require their players to assume a certain role or character?
  • What is the relation of digital to analogue gaming?

These are some of the questions that will be tackled by this network, through discussion, debate, and most importantly of all through playing these games. We’ll present our ideas through this blog and in our annual symposium in which research findings from both the Network and the wider gaming community are presented.

To keep up to date with all of these developments, simply follow this blog, and please do get in touch if you have any questions or any areas that you think might be of interest for future research.

Sam Illingworth & Paul Wake

References

[1] Booth, Paul, Game Play: Paratextuality in Contemporary Board Games (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), p. 1.

[2] Caillois, Roger, Man, Play and Games, trans. Meyer Barash (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001), p. 175.