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Games as Stuff

V Updated
board game storage
There Will Be Games

I love playing board games. I hate having stuff.

I store my larger board games on two separate shelves. They are each three shelves high for a total of six. The small games go in a tiered bucket container store monstrosity that lives next to the shelves. Collectively they occupy some of a wall. All things considered this isn't a particularly massive amount of space.

However, something to note about me is that I don't like stuff. I want everything I own to serve a purpose or else I don't want to own it, much less look at it every day. Some may call it minimalism. I call it undiagnosed neuroses. I'm like a less cool version of Diogenes that actually wears clothes.

Video games are an comparably easy hobby to manage. Digital libraries basically don't exist. You can install and delete at will. Out of sight, out of hard drive, out of mind. And when physical media is available they're all in lovely uniform (within their platforms anyway) boxes. I'll grant that there are serious issues with digital-only distribution regarding who actually owns the thing you've purchased, but at the very least they can be organized and accessed almost effortlessly.

Board games, though? Board games are huge. HUGE. And their very presence feels decadent. Massive, wasteful, air-filled boxes taking up a wall with their noisy and inconsistent artwork, a constant reminder of the financial investment made. I'm disgusted by what a wall of games represents. It's a constant projection of authority, a declaration of your power level to signal to visitors that you do, in fact, play games. It's peacocking for nerds. "Shelfie" photos make me think of a frat boy who keeps a collection of compromising pictures of his sexual partners and insists on showing them to everyone he meets. We get it. We do. Did you have to plaster them all over the wall, Trent? No one is actually impressed by this.

Yet owning games is necessary in order to play them when desired, and actually playing board games is a certain kind of magic that I'm unwilling to give up. When a great game is played it makes it all feel worth it. A game that enables memorable interactions, be they mechanical or purely social, is a powerful thing. The true joy of this hobby at its best is unlike anything else out there.

We often trick ourselves into purchasing games for pretty stupid reasons. We see a new game that shares a mechanism with an old favorite. We associate that with the experiences we've had that made us like that mechanism to begin with, forgetting that experiences don't come prepacked in boxes. A pack of cards and a few friends have been responsible for some of my favorite game-related memories. The greatest trick that publishers ever pulled was convincing us that they could sell us that joy.

The recent-ish Marie Kondo debacle is proof that board gamers have an unhealthy relationship with stuff. They want to own the objects that they've conflated with their positive play experiences. Produce a pretty object, or even a less pretty one made by someone they know, and they'll purchase it without even a first thought with the hopes of recapturing that happiness. It then sits and collects dust forever, typically played a maximum of twice, before being shoved aside to make room for more objects. In the immortal words of Jay Bauman, "Don't ask questions, just consume product and then get excited for next products."

If you've ever been concerned by space or material waste when it comes to board games, let me know how you've handled it. I have my methods but I'm always looking for new ideas.

There Will Be Games board game storage
board game storage
Demetri "Vysetron" Ballas (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Demetri has an unhealthy obsession with cards and numbers. He gripes because he cares. You can read his less organized thoughts on his BGG blog or on Twitter.

Articles by Demetri Ballas

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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #296613 06 May 2019 13:35
I do like the idea you mention that, on the sort of plus, side, board games actually sit there and force you to think about how much stuff you have. Steam can be extremely bad in this respect---a long list of games which represent money and resources but may as well not exist. I should think about how many steam games I have but I don't; I am forced to look at my board games (I have a lot) and think about if there are any I want to get rid of, are unplayed, etc.

To be clear, I worry about having a lot of games a lot less than a lot of people around here do, but I do think about it.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #296622 06 May 2019 14:40
I would like to introduce the term "diminishing returns" to this topic. Each additional game that you own is worth relatively less, all other things considered equal, because it is in direct competition with all your other games for space and play time. And your games are all in competition with other potential uses of your free time, like watching movies, reading books or fishing.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #296629 06 May 2019 15:51

Shellhead wrote: . . . because it is in direct competition with all your other games for space and play time.

Yeah, and I just got to see this to excess in our gaming weekend. There were about 75 titles available and everyone had (in advance) indicated what games they wanted to play, but didn't play them because other games were being cracked open. Had we just brought our "best" games all would have been played.

There are times where I intentionally leave games at home on game night because, though I like the game, I'm not interested in playing it that evening. If I only bring the game I'm really looking to play it has a better chance of making the cut.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #296646 06 May 2019 17:34

Sagrilarus wrote:

Shellhead wrote: . . . because it is in direct competition with all your other games for space and play time.

Yeah, and I just got to see this to excess in our gaming weekend. There were about 75 titles available and everyone had (in advance) indicated what games they wanted to play, but didn't play them because other games were being cracked open. Had we just brought our "best" games all would have been played.

There are times where I intentionally leave games at home on game night because, though I like the game, I'm not interested in playing it that evening. If I only bring the game I'm really looking to play it has a better chance of making the cut.

Right now, I am lucky to be in a monthly group where only the hosts and I bring games. But attendance has declined in recent months, so we typically only have one game going on at a time. So I have cut back from bringing four games to just two, and sometimes I still only get one on the table. The struggle is real.
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #296651 06 May 2019 18:54
I looked at the konmari fault-line that was worrying people awhile ago, made a meager pile of old stuff I didn't need (none of which included board games), took the obligatory Instagram photo, then gingerly ignored it ever since (like a good Californian ignores most fault lines).

Maybe I'm weird, but I breathe clutter. I don't feel the need to dominate it or stamp it out, nor do I actively try to amplify it. Sure, there's a point where a boundary is crossed and you start to lose those pockets of comfort that are needed in any home and that's when some healthy konmari-lite should definitely kick in. Some people may tragically lack that sense of boundaries, perhaps because of the boiling frog phenomenon. I'm not going to start systematically piling stuff on beds for the joy-test, though. I steer clear of the self-deprecating or overly curatorial idea of minimalist open space that, in itself, often tries to signal how adult (per generational standards probably 2 generations removed) someone is trying to seem at the cost of access to the things they actually use and even perhaps enjoy in their visible "potential energy" of usefulness, abutting our living space because they're... a part of our life?

My house is full of the detritus of having two homeschooled teenagers, both musicians, one of them a visual artist. So the chaotic visual clutter doesn't really matter to me at the moment anyway. It's just our element. Much like the rest of the universe, not all of it "sparks joy" and I don't feel the need to exercise dominion over it.

My shelves aren't for collection display but for access, so the TV is surrounded by games, sitting inside a dark Kallax 2001: Space Odyssey monolith that could be the backdrop of any Youtube talking head influencer. It contains a core set of 80-90ish games that get randomly pulled out when I either corral some of the family into playing something or guests drop by for a game & some conversation. More Ikea shelves (some other nordic designation, about waist high) behind the couch and along another wall in the living room store a combination of schoolbooks, poetry/theory books for myself, some more games that I'll bring to a group that's starting to meet less & less (it's all Zombicide, so who cares really). In the cavernous hallway, ignored by most passers-by on the way to the bathroom, are my own darlings that I mostly play solo (dungeon crawls, adventure games, COIN, etc).

I used to feel a little sheepish about these shelf denizens gargoyling (or "peacocking") it up on my walls but... I've seen what inhabits these shelves & spaces otherwise, in other homes, and I feel like I at least have honest access and visibility into the things I enjoy, not stuffy baby-boomer style emblems of things that I feel obligated to enjoy but don't actually give a fuck about: collections of sun-faded canonical/college nostalgia books, perhaps a smattering of book club fodder for small talk, endless tchotchke's that signal my successful suburban-yet-worldly lifestyle, pictures in bad triptych frames with motivational Oprah slogans, furniture no one actually uses, etc. My home is mostly about *now*... and *now* is a fucking glorious mess of games, instruments, art stuff, rocketry parts and school supplies.

That said, I'm never considering additional shelves. This is it. My limit is locked in.

Gifts of new games (from people who don't know me well enough to understand that I don't actually want more games) are met with polite enthusiasm & appreciation followed by mysterious disappearances, while any impulse/hype for a new game is met with heavy self-skepticism followed by selections that would need to hit the chopping block to make room should I actually cave & buy something new. This has become rare since the Solomon test effectively kills this impulse. Expansion boxes are broken down & tossed into recycling, cardboard inserts chucked, bespoke over-designed plastic inserts chopped up for useful parts. With the exception of a handful of boxes, I hold no reverence for these containers as objects. If I could affordably send most of them to a service to break them all down into half their size, ruining their "resale" value (lol) I totally would.

I feel lucky, however, to have hit this limit somewhere on the cusp of the initial wave of the Kickstarter E.T. cartridge glut, when the quality-to-quantity ratio was a bit better, making it easier to hang onto the quality and less taxing to unload the dreck. Up until that point, my main release valves had been BGG auctions, garage sales, and Goodwill/thrift stores. CMON kruft will (probably?) always be easy to unload on Ebay or resell at cost. At this point, I think it's actually going to take more aggressive front-end filtering for newer enthusiasts but I see neither the critical apparatus nor the demand for this. It may take the post-KS generation a couple of years to hit their "my god, what have I done?" moment at which point we might see a revival of discernment and criticism. For now, though, it seems like a run on the bank steered by "influencers."
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #296667 06 May 2019 21:33
I think I have 2 or 3 separate places where I keep my board game at home. I also have like 3 or 4 in my office. On top of that, I have two shelves for my miniatures & Gundams. Then I have like a cardboard box and a minis carry case on top of my wardrobe. My house is very small, less than 500 sq ft.

I think I won't be buying any more. Since my wife & daughter (currently 4yo) moved in, I really don't play (I'm not complaining). I'm eyeing some old releases though, may be later. But if I can't buy them, no regrets.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #296694 07 May 2019 07:21
When my father died, his beloved collection of opera recordings became a "thing" my sister and I had to deal with. I have no kids, so all these things I own will probably end up in a dumpster somewhere, if not rotting in a house waiting for someone to notice that the guy who lived there died in his sleep years ago.

I do not mind things that have a purpose, even if that purpose is just entertaining me, but things that only exist to be a thing, I'm done with. I don't need to hold on to every book or movie I've ever read or seen. I prefer digital, and I prefer it when I'm allowed to delete -- permanently if I choose -- items from digital libraries. (On the chance I want to revisit something, I don't want to page through screens and screens of junk I never want to experience again; just get it gone.)
RolandHemisphere's Avatar
RolandHemisphere replied the topic: #296696 07 May 2019 07:41
I used to buy a lot of books, and the best thing that ever happened was the Little Free Library boom. Now the books I occasionally buy end up in my library, or get dropped off at a free library.

The next game I can't sell will end up in a Little Free Library.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #296698 07 May 2019 08:41
I have been slowly paring down the collection in an attempt to remove redundancies. This does give some shelf toads a pass... I only have one game like Stronghold, and it’s Stronghold. I rarely play it, but when I want to do so, it’s there. I can deal with that.