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Board Games Meet Mental Health

How Board Gaming has Helped my Mental Health Feature
How Board Gaming has Helped my Mental Health Feature

Today, the 10th of October, marks World Mental Health Day as recognised by the World Federation for Mental Health. Two of the Zatu Bloggers have put together features on their relationship with mental health and anxiety. They talk about how board gaming has impacted their journey and give some great board game inspiration.

"So... I've Won Then?"

September 20th, 2020. We had just finished packing up a game of Mysterium. This is normally my dad’s cue to head for his comfortable chair. This is where he will predictably fall asleep in front of the TV. He prefers collaborative games because it allows him to zone out and then go along with what everybody else says. However, this was a night like no other.

My mum recommended playing a game of Kanagawa. It’s a game she has developed a soft spot for during lockdown. Though she’s not quite developed enough of a soft spot to learn the name of it. “Shall we play the painting game?” she asks.

The Painting Game

Kanagawa is the first board game I bought in the initial days after having to move back in with my parents. I had lost my job, had broken up with my partner, and had to pack my life and two musk turtles into my tiny car. Then make the three-hour drive back to the Midlands. I’m not going to lie, I bought it without doing much research. I just thought the box was cute and the playing pieces were cuter. (The same logic then led me to buy Takenoko a couple of days after, which is referred to as “the panda game” by Ma Smith).

Anyway, out came the painting game and Pa Smith hadn’t taken himself off to his TV chair. What is going on? He had played Kanagawa before, but as I mentioned earlier, he can’t really hide behind other players and allow them to make decisions. He had to pay attention. As the game progressed, the usual things happened. He would get frustrated that he couldn’t get the pattern to line up perfectly. Or he would get annoyed when the paint pots fell over. We added up the scores from the first game and he had lost. Hard.

My mum and I fully expected him to retire to his chair, but he stayed and played again. As the game progressed, I started getting frustrated because he was picking up every set of cards I wanted. I kept shooting the same look over to the matriarch, and she just laughed. The second game finished, and we added up the scores. My dad had unwittingly won the game.

For the first time, my dad had won a game that didn’t rely on others or just dumb luck. Whilst the competitive side of me demanded an inquiry on how this had happened, I was actually quite impressed that my dad. He hadn’t really showed any interest in playing board games before lockdown started, was playing them and (though he would probably never admit this) enjoying them.

You’re probably thinking “aww, that’s a cute little anecdote,” but there is a greater reason for me telling you this.

The Power of Board Games

What I hadn’t mentioned before was that when I first moved home, my mental health was the worst it had ever been. I hadn’t processed my breakup and unemployment very well and felt, for want of a better word, lost. It dawned on me that I hadn’t properly lived at home since I was 18 years old. I was back feeling like my life had somehow regressed in the 17 years since. I felt like there was nothing in this world for me. That it was a world that I didn’t want to be a part of.

This particular day was a day when I was feeling it more than ever before, spending most of the day in my room and only really giving one word answers to people, getting really short with them when they started asking too many questions. It occurred to me: maybe my parents were playing these games for me rather than simply with me.

It reminded me of a time last year when a friend of mine had just bought a copy of Portobello Market and invited me over for a game and a cup of tea. I went over, and within about five minutes of us playing, she had broken down in tears. She was feeling lonely, and board games were the way she let people in. Maybe my parents realised this was the case for me too, that if they were going to get me out of my rut and feeling better, board games are the way to do it. A day that started out so miserably had actually turned into a good one.

When I went to bed that evening, it was the best night’s sleep I’d had in weeks. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, as opposed to just lying there with thoughts of unemployment, debt and failure running around in my head. I woke up the next morning with a new vigour, ready to tackle everything that’s going wrong head on. Every evening since then, I have been playing board games or researching on Zatu which board games will be purchased next. Ma Smith likes the look of the cycling one (Flamme Rouge) or the bear one (Bärenpark)

World Mental Health Day

Saturday October 10th is World Mental Health Day. Whilst I wouldn’t be so brazen to claim that board games have saved my life, they have helped me massively. They take my mind off the world at times when I’ve needed to. Even if it’s not playing board games, talking about board games, researching board games and watching playthroughs of board games can help.

With all the extra lockdown restrictions we are seeing applied, there is a risk that people are going to be forgotten about, or feel like they shouldn’t be a “burden” on others. So, my advice on this Mental Health Day is to invite people over for a board game or seven. Find your local board games café and meet them there if you would rather do that. Download apps that allow you to play board games online if you don’t want to risk being in contact with people, or even just use board games as a gateway to a conversation that could ultimately make someone’s day better.

Oh, by the way – I would strongly recommend the painting game, the panda game and the ghost game (the name given to Mysterium by Ma Smith).