Analog gaming builds interest for researcher

Illustration by Frank Neufeld

Faculty of Information and Media Studies professor Sarah Roberts has created something of a hub for analog game enthusiasts in the faculty – the FIMS Gaming Club, a group that meets Fridays to play and study various analog games.

Creating a community within her home faculty was important to Sarah Roberts. In fact, it was among the first agenda items she tackled after coming to Western a few years ago.

“I had some goals in mind around community building but I also brought with me my own interest in ‘analog gaming.’ I’ve been interested in analog games since I was a kid and begged my mother to buy me Dungeons and Dragons; I had no idea what it was or how to play, but I liked to read the books,” said Roberts, who teaches in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS).

Analog gaming – she noted – is an important distinction because when someone says ‘gaming,’ more often than not, they are talking about video games. Analog gaming, on the other hand, is anything that involves a board, cards or dice – and it doesn’t necessarily need any of these, either.

“I’ve always had a fascination with (analog games) as a particular creative expression. I’ve found it interesting thematically, stimulating intellectually, and I thought it was a cool social activity. When I got here, I thought about wanting to partake in this moment that’s a bit of a renaissance for analog gaming, I think – certainly for board games.”



In no time, Roberts created something of a hub for analog game enthusiasts in FIMS. A staff member, and some energized students, helped her put out a call for game play and “people came out of the woodwork,” she noted. Just like that, the FIMS Gaming Club – a group that meets Fridays to play various analog games – was born.

But that’s not all. Analog gaming, as a fun social activity within the faculty, soon after became an academic pursuit as well. This term, Roberts launched Analog Gaming in Libraries as a graduate course in the Library and Information Science program.

“There’s the social and fun aspect of (analog gaming) but there’s a practical aspect to this particularly for MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science) students who will have an opportunity to create programing around gaming in libraries, or think about games in an instructional capacity,” Roberts explained.

Her 27 students meet every Friday, allowing them to “coast right in” to game play after their lecture hour, and even stick around for the Gaming Club afterwards. As future LIS professionals, they collectively discuss the games as texts, looking not only at game-play and connections, but also mechanics, creative design, the cultural, sociopolitical and economic implications of analog games and their players. At the end of lecture, the students play a variety of games – including Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, Dominion and others.

“This has turned into a social phenomenon where people do this instead of going to the bar. But if we just stopped to critically interrogate the theme of many games – like Settlers of Catan – it’s all about colonization and domination. When games are different from that, it’s an interesting thing to observe and think about. And this encourages students to think about the economics of analog gaming. A lot is knowing about video game economics, a massive slice of the entertainment industry. You can’t say the same about analog games. For a long time, they were seen as cottage industries but that time is gone. This is big money. There’s something going on in the industry and we need academic research on that,” Roberts explained.

And there are many positive aspects to analog gaming that future librarians need to consider, she went on. Everyone has a positive, affective relationship with board games and studies have shown they breed socialization, have positive effects on mental health and even cognitive development. Their appeal is universal, she added.

“Think about all of the different demographics that have an interest in gaming. It might be that video games are a bit exclusionary to some – but all people enjoy board games, from toddlers to senior citizens. What a library can do is provide the venue, the opportunity, the instruction and the game itself. It can bring in people from all walks of life to play games. If nothing else, it’s about bringing people together in a great setting,” Roberts said.

In fact, this is what her students told her they were looking for when they stepped into the classroom.

“Multiple students shared, when we first got together, that they were looking forward to an opportunity to put the screens down and interact with each other. They want to connect and I think we can think about that same social connection happening in the library setting. And I think that’s really powerful,” she said.

One of Roberts’ students, Amanda Caputo, first came on board with the FIMS Gaming Club. She has run it for the past two years and was excited when the class followed.

“I was interested in it for the leisure, and academically interested. I had done a little bit of (academic) research on games and did notice it’s quite lacking,” Caputo said.

“It’s a really good opportunity for people to connect in different ways, and it’s a really unexplored area academically. It’s great that this exists and that we’re turning our perspective and seeing this as something that’s worthy of study. Board games bring a lot of different skills to a table that you won’t necessarily get from a text.”