Possible Benefits of Board Gaming to our Emotional Well Being
This is a time of anxieties…
A year that was primarily consumed by the outbreak of COVID-19 and its impact on our everyday lives has taken a toll on the mental health of a growing number of people around the globe and here at home. Worries about our health, our work and our family has left many of us in a constant state of helplessness and stress with no real end in sight. In addition, we are still forced to learn how to adopt to a ‘new normal’ of social and physical distancing from our network of friends and families which, for many of us, was a source of joy and support in the past. All of this while trying to adjust to being around the members of our immediate household at all times or, on the other end of the spectrum, we might be struggling to deal with the loneliness if we live alone or if we are being quarantined. The most recent restrictions here in Manitoba amplify this situation even further. It is becoming more and more difficult to experience contentment or peace while maintaining some sense of purpose or positive thinking. Speaking for myself, it has been – and it is – a struggle.
If you are someone who can identify with these challenges, I would like to encourage you to consider board games as a resource to improve your mental hygiene. I know, you are probably thinking: ‘here he goes again with the never-ending magical properties of tabletop gaming’. But please bear with me as we explore the positive benefits of an activity that can be more than just ‘fun and games.’ Obviously, I am not encouraging anyone to reach out to people beyond your immediate bubble. There are plenty of games out there that you can enjoy with your kids, your partner or your roommate(s). There are also an increasing number of titles that you can play on your own as solo games.
Give your thoughts a break
Anxiety or depression can take many forms. One of the most common signs is the inability to stop a thought from constantly repeating itself. Something enters our mind (most likely something negative) and it keeps repeating and circling around our brains until it eventually becomes all consuming. A healthy mind is often equipped to process a challenging thought by analyzing it and putting it aside until we deal with it at a later point. For a person struggling with anxieties this can often prove to be rather difficult. A thought can become like a broken record that keeps skipping back, and back, and back, until we can’t think of much else. Meditation offers a tool called ‘noting’ where we are encouraged to identify a thought, label it, and put it aside, freeing up our mind for the moment. In my personal experience a board game has often a similar effect when I struggle with this form of anxiety. While I am engaged with a game my mind frequently simply focuses on my next move, or on the strategies of the other players, while giving my thoughts a break from the Mary-go-round of negativity in my head. It can give your mind a much-needed pause – even if it is just for a fleeting moment.
Make it real
The age of COVID has become the age of constant technology. We communicate with our loved ones via video conferencing, we watch streaming movies or television shows, entertain ourselves by playing video games and spend endless hours on social media. But most of these activities feel exactly like what they are: virtual.
A board game can give us something very basic: A tactile experience. Participants move real pieces on a board or hold real cards in their hands. This simple sensation can be a source of comfort and can provide an anchor away from a world that can often feel abstract and foreign.
Create a goal and follow it on your terms
One of the challenges that many of us are facing, is the feeling of a lack of purpose and control during a time that is filled with a sense of helplessness and uncertainty. Being engaged with a board game might help us to regain some of these fundamentals. Most board games give you a gaol – be it to win by points over other players, or by working together in a co-operative game to overcome a challenge. While developing a desired strategy during game play, it is up to us to make decisions on how we hope to achieve these goals. They might not always be successful, but they allow us to make the choices on our own terms. Either way it might lead to a sense of renewed confidence.
Connect in a new way
The exchange of experiences that happen to us while being away from home makes relationships interesting. We usually enjoy sharing stories of work, school or other encounters with the people around us. If you are currently living with other members of a household, you might find yourself at a point where you don’t have much left to say to each other after many months of being together in a confined space. Playing a board game might help to get the juices of communication going again. The game itself often provides us with something to talk about. Be it strategy, jokes or discussions. But more often than not, a game can lead to other, more deeper, conversations especially because they are not expected of us. In the safe space of gaming, we can share with others who we really are simply by being engaged in an honest way. It also makes it comfortable not to talk if we don’t feel like it. Being together at a board game table allows us to experience each other’s company in a new and fresh environment that offers a break from the routines of our everyday lives.
Give it a try
No matter what your state of mind is these days, I believe that playing a good game can offer many positive benefits to yourself and to the people around you. Pretty much all games are a good tool, be they new titles that you have not tried before, or classics that you love. If you don’t know where to start, here are some titles I can recommend to get you going.
Be well everyone and have some fun!
2-8 players, ages 8 and up
Great for families
A beautiful and beautifully simple game of laying a tile before your own token to continue its path on each turn. The goal is to keep your token on the board longer than anyone else’s, but as the board fills up this becomes harder because there are fewer empty spaces left… and another player’s tile may also extend your own path in a direction you’d rather not go.
2-6 players, ages 5 and up
Great for families with kids
How far does Robbi roll in about four seconds? Well, that depends on how quickly he moves!
As a team you try to work together to develop a sense of time and speed. If you can do this, soon you’ll know exactly where Robbi will stop.
2 players, ages 8 and up
Great for 2 people
There’s turmoil at the reef, with different sea animals forming swarms again and again.
Each turn, the active player selects one of six stones and places it on an empty field. One player is trying to make groups of the same color, while the other is forming groups of identical sea creatures, with players having the ability to move a stone before placing a new one to form new swarms. The larger the group, the more points it’s worth, and whoever scores the most points wins!
1 player, ages 8 and up
Great for a single player
A quick solitaire ’tile laying’ game that plays in under 10 minutes. The aim of the game is to harvest fruit (score points) by playing cards so that their fruit trees overlap other trees already in the orchard that bear the same fruit. The more trees you can overlap, the more fruit you’ll pick.
2-5 players, ages 8 and up
Great for families
Elegantly simple gameplay that can be learned in under 15 minutes, while providing players with intense strategic and tactical decisions every turn. Players collect cards of various types of train cars they then use to claim railway routes in North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who fulfill Destination Tickets – goal cards that connect distant cities; and to the player who builds the longest continuous route.
Are you interested in trying some new games? Here are my top suggestions:
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