SXSW 2024: THE HOBBY Champions Board Games as a Medium for Creativity and Connectivity

From ancient Mesopotamia to present day, how board games have pervaded our play and our culture

The Hobby opens in the British Museum. A genteel historian speculating as to the origins of a carving on the base of a statue. Lines and labels that sketch out a framework for play. A likely entertainment for guards, whiling away their time on duty with a board game, thousands of years ago. This short trip to the past tees up a film occupied with the present and our enduring embrace of board games. Framed as part of our creative expressions along with art and literature, but distinct as a means to channel our need for practical action.

From the traditional game night, to the spate of board game bars that have cropped up across cities, we all have varying degrees of exposure and engagement with the medium. Simon Ennis’s (Lunarcy, You Might As Well Live) latest feature marries a folksy charm with interviews, home video tapes, footage of tournaments, and more, building a profile of the current age of board games predominantly through looking at the people that play them.

The film frames our current era as a golden age of board games, and it’s easy to see why. The preexisting accessibility and affordability of the medium has only grown in the internet age. Enthusiasts connecting not just locally, but digitally too, via websites, podcasters, and bloggers. The film introduces a notable African American couple who serve as cultural consultants to board game manufacturers after to soaring success of their board game YouTube channel. Crowdfunding ventures like Kickstarter have also helped cast off corporate oversight, and not just fueled the diversity within them, but made making a board game even more accessible than ever before. One woman, a musician, sharing a game called Stage Left, she has developed in homage to her home town and it’s musical scene. One man showcases his game Sangra, inspired by the stained glass he saw that the La Sagrada Familia on a trip to Barcelona. We also meet the creator of one of the most popular games in recent times Wingspan, whose work (unsurprisingly) stems from a love of birdwatching. It’s in highlighting these people that Ennis’s film finds its voice. A cross section of creators and players, representing different ethnicities, sexualities, and socio-economic status, all united by their passion for play.

Aside from the historical, and community aspect, the film takes in the competitive element of board gaming, centering portions of the film around the newly formed World Series of Board games (WSBG), specifically the 2022 event hosted in Las Vegas. It comes as an interesting counterpoint to the spirit that infuses the rest of the film. A competitive element. These are games after all, there has to be a winner. Instead it further underscores the passion for play. Even within this, the event also serves as a forum for people to give a trial run for their own games in development, a collective of play-testers to essentially help by “playing an unfun game until it’s fun”. Even in the more formal and competitive surrounds, the good nature comes out. The Hobby champions board games as a medium for creativity and connectivity, but more than that, it champions the people that play them.

The Hobby has an additional SXSW2024 screening at the AFS Cinema
Mar 10, 2024, 11:15am

Previous post SXSW 2024: HUNTING DAZE is an Unsettling Trip Into the Woods
Next post The Eleventh Annual Cinapse Awards