t’s difficult to decide what my feelings are towards luxury games: vegetable-dyed calfskin dominoes with inlaid leather pips, or the black-lacquer beech case that cradles them. (The only dominoes I’ve ever played with came in a cardboard box, and I really only used them for building chain reactions.) Then there’s the rubik’s cube. (One time, when I was in the third grade, my sister told me she’d pay me five bucks to solve the rubik’s cube by the end of the day. I totally cheated. The colored stickers were pretty easy to peel off and reaffix, little did she know.) This rubik’s cube, however, is made with inlaid leather and chrome, and if you have one to play with, you probably don’t need to cheat because you’re already a rich bastard. It’s not even meant to be timed against the clock, because it’s made of metal, and it’s “not nearly as forgiving as the plastic you grew up with.” Zontik, the maker of these luxury games, even goes so far to say that “sophistication requires no solution.” And finally, the chess board. Do I even have to say at this point that the flat planar pieces are made of leather? Well, more specifically, made of butter-soft calfskin. It’s so obvious. The chess board is pretty fancy, too. It better be, since it’ll cost you almost ten grand.
Let’s talk about the design, because really, that’s what initially got my attention. Yes, it’s pretty and shiny and oh-so buttery-soft, and it’s obvious that it’s very well designed, and it’s also supposed to be over-the-top indulgent. According to Zontik’s mission, they “procure the most gorgeous games from around the globe, because they believe that recreation is exactly that: the re-creation of something that is more than the sum of its parts. Their equipment won’t make you a better player, but it will enable you to enjoy better play. After all, this level of prestige isn’t an indulgence, it’s a necessity.”
I should say that there is a level of truth to the idea of enjoying better play; if you’ve read Donald Norman’s book Emotional Design, you know that psychology plays a huge role in design, and the more attractive the product, the more pleasurable experience the user will have, and that in turn will result in being more forgiving of any functional flaws.
“Every time we encounter an object, our reaction is determined not only by how well it works, but by how good it looks to us, and by the self-image, loyalty and even nostalgia it evokes in us. When a product is aesthetically pleasing and plays to our ideas about ourselves and society, we experience it positively. That’s why some people are willing to spend thousands on expensive handmade watches even though a cheaper digital watch keeps time just as well.”
-Excerpt from Emotional Design
I do disagree with Zontik that prestige is a necessity; honestly, it sounds like something an asshole says to sell you a solid gold diamond-encrusted iPad. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in something that makes you happy, but it is a problem if your entire cachet is in owning luxury parlour games.