Game nights are traditionally viewed as friends and family gathered around a table and pulling out a board game or deck of cards to compete. But developers, such as Jackbox Games, are changing this narrative.
Jackbox Games is a video game developer that creates electronic party games. It competes with board games to entertain on game nights, leaving many conflicted on whether or not the technology takes away from shared experiences.
Brooke Hofer, Jackbox Games marketing manager, said they aim to create an environment that motivates people to spend time with those around them instead of detaching.
“We live in a time where everyone is on their smartphones all the time, looking down and not really interacting with one another,” Hofer said. “Our goal is to create really engaging and meaningful moments that bond you with the people you’re with.”
To play, users open a browser on their device, go to jackbox.tv and enter the room code displayed on the game screen. Most games support up to eight players, with room for 10,000 audience members to influence the outcome of the game.
“You could be watching a stream from someone in Japan, and at the exact same moment, in Texas, join on your phone and play that game along with them if they’re streaming it,” Hofer said.
Although Jackbox Games was founded in 1995, Hofer said they underwent some struggles until releasing a Party Pack in 2014. They now have five Party Packs, each including five unique games, which are available on a variety of platforms, including Apple TV, Nintendo Switch and Xbox.
Niko Papageorge, mechanical engineering sophomore, said he enjoys the games because of their accessibility and strong social connection he feels.
“Even when we do play (Jackbox Games), we’re all still sitting next to each other,” Papageorge said. “We’re still all laughing if something’s funny. We’re still all making fun of each other if a drawing is bad.”
On the other hand, Patrick Joseph, electrical engineering senior and vice president of Texas Table Top, a UT organization centered on playing board games, said he sees less engagement when playing.
“I’m not trying to say that board games are the only way to enjoy things,” Joseph said. “But what I noticed was everybody was using the screen and their phone to interact with each other, so there’s almost no talking.”
While Joseph said he plays and enjoys Jackbox Games occasionally, he prefers board games because they offer more imagination. And he said he’s not alone.
“Board games have definitely become more popular in the past three years while I’ve been here at UT,” Joseph said. “I think a lot of people want to find a way to interact with people that doesn’t require technology.”
The dilemma between electronics and face-to-face interactions is one Mike Brooks, a licensed psychologist in Austin, has researched and written about. He suggests there is room for both kinds of experiences. The key, he said, is finding activities that bring people together.
“In a game like Jackbox Games, even though we have our own screens as we’re playing the game, it’s all a shared experience that we’re having,” Brooks said. “Those things enhance our well-being and help us create deeper relationships.”