As you may or may not have noticed, I love the written word. It’s a medium in which I am the most comfortable, which is why you may noticed I can be a little flowery in my wording. Don’t worry, I’m working on it. And as niche and narrow as this hobby can be, I love to write about board games. I’ve heard it said that when one engages in creative work regularly, further creative work flows more naturally, and that has proven true for me. The truth is that our hobby can go as deep as we want it to go, and since most board game writers aren’t really pushing too far past “should I buy, Y/N,” I sometimes feel like we’re forging new ground whenever we just talk about games and how they impact us. That’s a cool thought.
But communication is obviously so much more than writing, and as the board game hobby advances, we’re seeing more and more of the “board gaming press,” for lack of a better word, utilize video as a way for them to get reviews out there. I hope it won’t sound like sour grapes from this writer when I say that I mostly hate board game video reviews. It’s not the existence of them, you understand. I think that we need fresh ways of communicating our hobby, and in the age of YouTube, video has the potential to inform, provoke, and entertain in a far more immediate way than my 1200 words ever could. No, the problem is a maddening lack of meaningful content, and the extremely low standard that they are held to by the viewers.
To start off with, I hate that most of the video content in the hobby is in the form of reviews. Reviews are a tiny part of what’s possible with the board gaming press. They are important, yes. But the most thought-provoking material is an idea or discussion about how we relate to other players, or about consumerism in the hobby, or even just talking about a particular series of games that was cool. Unfortunately, video isn’t simple. It takes time to produce and edit, and so most content producers are satisfied to simply churn out a 10-minute video about the latest whatnot. Often, even these are limited in scope. It’s usually a guy sitting in front of his game shelf. He introduces the game, spends 8 minutes explaining the rules, and then 2 minutes giving an opinion. It’s the 8-minute explanation that truly galls me, especially when I’m already familiar with the game. Invariably I will skip to the part where they give their opinion, usually in a way that suggests they just walked in front of the camera and started talking.
The weirdest thing is that so many people seem to think this is perfectly fine. We’ve conditioned ourselves to just expect a reviewer to tell us whether or not we should buy something, and video reviews make this problem especially bad. I am tired of trying to determine whether or not I should buy something. I’m ready to actually start talking about games, and not about purchasing decisions. I’m ready for video content that is prepared to do the same thing, rather than trying to simply post an opinion and get thumbs from BGG users. And I think that many gamers are ready for the same thing.
But like I said earlier, there is no reason why we shouldn’t have well-produced video content that furthers our hobby. The question is, how do we fix it? How do we make videos that will advance the conversation and really take advantage of the potential of video?
First of all, I think it’s vital to inject some visual inventiveness into how videos are shot. Do we need to see one more shot of someone standing in front of their game shelf? The straight-on poorly-lit shot is not one I need to see again. It’s here that some film-making chops would probably serve someone well. Robert Florence had a flare for changing it up when he produced Downtime Town videos. Those were videos that looked fun. And for crying out loud, does the rules explanation need to be a pair of hands hovering above a pile of components?
But it’s hard to think about film angles when you’re just plopping down in front of the camera and talking. That’s why I think even more important is actually scripting a video. Not that I expect someone to read it from a teleprompter, but when you’re on video you need to think of yourself as an actor, at least on some level. That means there will have to be some writing, and some memorization too. Scripting will also focus thoughts, prevent rabbit trails, and offer a chance to inject some humor. My favorite video reviewer is Paul Springer, known as UvulaBob on BGG. His video series, the Untitled Flash-Based Review…Thing, is snappy, entertaining, and covers lots of games that aren’t necessarily the new hotness. It’s lo-fi use of Flash is actually an asset, and he even figures out how to make a rules explanation interesting. That’s a focus that comes from lots of preparation.
But the biggest that will improve how videos express our hobby is simply an expansion on the topics that we discuss. It’s really remarkable how much territory can be covered on video. I’ve recently become addicted to the YouTube channel Crash Course, hosted by John and Hank Green. Regardless of whether you appreciate their take on various topics, it’s impossible to deny the entertainment quality that they bring to subjects that people skipped in high school. We can cover all sorts of ground in this hobby. We deny ourselves the richness of board gaming by sticking to reviews. That goes for both video and written content.
Like Florence and Springer, a lot of people have done good work. At his best, Scott Nicholson tried a lot of cool video content, and Quinns and Paul of Shut Up & Sit Down deserve all of the good things that they’ve gotten from their work. So we know that it’s possible to make good content on video, and to put in the time and energy to do good stuff. I know it takes a lot of effort, but if it means less output, I think that’s acceptable. I’d rather have good conversations than more terrible ones, and the same goes for videos.