Digital free family fun

Andy Beresford is a vintage games expert and the director of an award winning non-digital games company Home Leisure Direct. In recent years he has witnessed a dramatic rise in sales of games for home use. Here he describes this recent phenomenon and explores what has prompted this move away from the grip of the digital.

The growing popularity of digital free family fun

In the UK and internationally the enduring trend for all things retro has resulted in young people enjoying the merits of old school gaming and pre-digital entertainment. The huge popularity of the new pinball bars
just goes to show that real games still have allure for generations brought up on the virtual versions.

While many dads are keen to re-live their youth by introducing their kids to the Golden Age of arcade with games like Donkey Kong and Pac Man, a growing number of parents are eager to drag their children away from the screen for some wholesome, more traditional games room gaming.

The concept of home entertainment is nothing new, and in many ways the digital revolution has spawned a generation of people who have made their gaming dens at home, with a console and a screen. But the current trend for non digital home entertainment and the corresponding increase in UK sales of pool tables, table tennis, table football and pinball machines signals a sea change in the way we live, play and spend family time together.

Digital damage limitation –  Digital free family fun

After the initial freak-out about how digital gaming was detrimental to our children’s development, numerous studies seem to suggest that a short daily period of time playing console and video games can actually be good for children, in terms of sociability, wellbeing and relaxation.


But the key is in the amount of time, go over that one hour and the benefits are negligible. And despite this small reassurance, numerous studies reveal that the amount of time children are spending on media devices is far higher than that. The findings of a survey carried out by the Kaiser Family Foundation are alarming:

“In just five years, media use has increased from 6 ½ to nearly 7 ½ hours a day in children between the ages of 8 and 18. Even more alarming – children have become master multitaskers, often using two or more media devices at the same time. Counting each device separately, these kids have found a way to cram in a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into those 7 ½ hours.”


If one characteristics of the ‘digital native’ (those who have never known life without digital tech) is their inability to survive without constant digital feedback and instant gratification, then this is amplified in the M2 generation: the 8 to 18 year olds whose lives revolve around social media and digital communication. But these kinds of levels of ‘media saturation’ are deeply detrimental to development and well being:

“Almost half of the children in the survey who were considered heavy media users had grades of mostly Cs or lower, compared to fewer than 25 percent of children considered light media users.”

And in this informative yet sobering research paper, ‘Virtually Addicted’ Dr Aric Sigman describes how recreational screen time may affect cognitive skills, attention, brain development, academic achievement and even cause insomnia in children.

Incorporating old school games into home spaces with Digital free family fun

With this kind of knowledge in mind many parents are keen to entice their children away from the screen for more wholesome family fun. It’s not just the hidden threat to growing brains and attention spans but parents are noticing the more obvious signs of how too many hours in front of a screen makes their kids moody and introverted.

pool dining table

As a games expert at the heart of the industry I’ve witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of games room games being purchased for home use in recent years. In 2014 pool tables were our biggest seller, especially pool dining tables.  Many of my customers tell me they are actively looking to engage their family and friends away from the TV, iPads and game consoles. But the substitute has to be absorbing and fun, a board game simply isn’t going to cut the mustard with a moody teenage boy or girl. Customers are also keen to use home spaces better with something that doubles up as an attractive and practical piece of furniture when it’s not being used for play. Creating a double use space, a dining room that doubles up as a games room, is an attractive solution. And pinball coffee tables provide the ideal compromise.


Pinball sales have also increased dramatically year on year, up over 800%, and again, the number of people buying for the home is on the rise. UK Games manufacturers and businesses are seeing a definite resurgence in the market and demand for both new and used machines, which are selling not just to the UK but as far afield as New Zealand, Europe and the USA.

And it isn’t just collectors anymore, families are buying their first machine and their children are loving them, most have never seen one before. A beautiful, vintage pinball machine in the corner of a room with it’s bells and bal bearings and coloured lights is a tempting distraction away from the screen.


Tightening the purse strings

The economy in the last ten years is another factor influencing people’s choice of leisure.

With prices on food, alcohol, petrol and utilities sky rocketing due to the financial crisis and slow wage growth, many people are looking at where and how they can make savings.

According to data from Horizons, the food service consultants, the average price of a three-course meal in a pub had risen 7.4 per cent from £17.38 to £18.67 during the past year.

While the price of a pint of lager has gone up 20-fold, or by 1,948 per cent, since 1973.

Even in the last year, according to the Good Pub Guide 2015: Regional breakdown of beer prices the average price for a pint of beer in Britain is now £3.31, a 3.4% increase on last year.

In cities in the South East such as Brighton and London self-consciously trendy boozers are charging as much as five pounds for a pint of draft beer, while you might be paying as much as £8.00 for a glass of fine wine in some venues.

If you do the maths, an average night out for two people imbibing only a moderate two drinks each is going to cost at least £20, add inexpensive food to the equation and it reaches £45 and then throw in a few rounds of pinball or pool and you’re talking £50 minimum. If you substitute just one night a week at the bar or pub for an evening at home you’re saving a total of £2,600 a year.

A figure that will buy you a pool table or pinball game and a substantial supply of booze and peanuts!

But it’s not only the financial considerations that are driving this rise in home games. Many customers expressed to me that they don’t want the hassle of venturing out to busy pubs for their fun on worn out or broken tables, when they can play in the comfort of their homes on quality equipment.


The real benefits of ‘real’ games

These kinds of games have stood the test of time for a reason, games like pinball, pool, table football and table tennis offer intrinsic rewards that are intensely motivating. They are fun, active and generally accessible to all ages and abilities: easy for beginners to play but a challenge to master.

It’s unrealistic to suggest that video games are banned from the home, but the key is getting the balance right. Even a  social introvert enjoys gaming. By creating a designated ‘play-space’ for non-digital gaming you will foster a sense of communal fun within the home where the family can come together and enjoy face to face entertainment. Play encourages bonding and is plural and enlivening, in contrast to digital games which can be autonomous and physically stultifying. Play has been proven to trigger the release of endorphins and serotonin and both of these happy chemicals help people to cope better with stress and anxiety.

At The National Institute for Play studies show that playing games has the potential to profoundly increase our physical and emotional wellbeing, not only because it encourages physical movement but because:

“It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.”

And who couldn’t do with a little bit more of that?


You might also like my post on quotes about introverts 


1 Comment

  1. March 24, 2015 / 20:56

    As a child my parents bought me a mini pinball machine and it was the thing I played with the most. Even when for Christmas they got me a video game console, I still didn’t stop playing pinball.

    I expect if we had one now my children would be the same. They are great fun!

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