Sore Losers: Are Board Games Unhealthy for Families?

"I never play games with my husband. He's such a sore loser! If I don't make sure he wins, he just gets into a fight. And he'll cheat to win, too -- openly. It's just not worth the trouble."

A 2017 study found that 91% of the users reporting had gotten into an argument over board games. Fair. Perhaps more troubling is the 54% who had their feelings hurt when playing board games and, most definitely, the 41.4% that had, at one point, turned over a game board. Could board games actually be unhealthy for families?

Do Tempers Run High at Your Board Game Table?

We already know that board games are a great way to interact with friends, but most of us don't go home with our friends at the end of the night. For spouses, siblings, and other relatives, there can be more complicated interpersonal dynamics at play. 

Many people find it frustrating to play games with their spouse. One friend noted that he never plays with his wife, because "She'll continue to attack me even after I'm already behind everyone else; it's just a miserable experience." Another player noted that he had a friend who would constantly attack his wife, playing negative or sabotage cards against her exclusively. This would actually ruin the game for everyone involved, as they could sense the tension.

When playing with couples, it's easy for external issues to start to manifest themselves in games. The relationship simply extends to any other hobby or activity. And with siblings, the tendency is always to pick at each other -- sometimes instead of playing the game properly.

Dealing With the Sore Losers

Even if some aggression is normal, the stats also revealed that 15.5% of these arguments had led to a decrease in communication after the game, and 6.5% of the arguments had actually led to a fist fight. That's a concerning statistic, especially since some of us will play a few games a day!

But there are ways to reduce the aggression around your table:

  • Focus on cooperative or team games when dealing with people who "take the game" a little too seriously.
  • Try to keep spouses on the same team if you suspect they could be dealing with some "interpersonal" issues that day. 
  • Playing a lot of different types of game, so the same person isn't constantly losing -- that can feel "unfun" to anyone.
  • Know when to excuse yourself from the situation; board games are for fun, not fighting.

It should be noted that this study was mostly regarding family games. Risk, Scrabble, and so forth --the games that non-board gamers usually play. But these are also the games that all of us grew up with, and the aggression can be real around any table. If you are playing with someone you are naturally competitive with, there are going to be higher stakes than playing with a stranger.

Ultimately, it's probably likely that board games simply reveal other problems in a relationship; if your spouse can't lose to you, they probably don't respect you as an individual. In that case, it may actually be a useful tool for learning to respect each other as competent beings.