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Board Gaming And Mental Health – Painting Miniatures

Board Gaming and Mental Health - Painting miniatures
Board Gaming and Mental Health - Painting miniatures

You can’t deny that the last few years have been challenging at the least. We have lived through mandated walks, endless Zoom meetings and family game-nights not to mention the painful amount of free time to just sit and contemplate things you didn’t want to contemplate. So, it’s no surprise to anyone that mental health has taken a battering.

In the UK 1 in 6 of us will go through some sort of depression or anxiety each week. As someone working in the arts industry, which completely shut down for the longest time, I had a lot of time on my hands. I started by trying to do ‘useful’ or ‘honourable’ things like learning a language or doing some ‘professional development’. I quickly learned that my brain didn't want to learn a language and that I was quite developed professionally if I was honest. The truth is that I didn’t know what to do.

Suddenly people around me started to meditate. It may have just been my circle, but it felt like the world was sitting, cross-legged with candles and relaxing music and looking inwards. Being Welsh, I had a connection with sheep so followed the crowd and gave it a go. However, the problem with sitting in silence and stillness is you must be silent and still. I think I felt guilty that I couldn’t do it, like I was doing it wrong. I felt like I was a failure. So, I did what any self-respecting adult would do and gave up.

Painting minis


I’d recently got back into board gaming, ironically just as social activities were banned, and suddenly had shelves filled with boxes, and some of those boxes had little grey plastic miniatures, and those little grey plastic miniatures were calling me. I hadn’t thought about painting minis before.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time building and painting Airfix models but that was different. This was about world building. How could you throw yourself into the world of a board game with lumps of grey plastic taking you right out of it. I had recently fallen in love with Scythe from Stonemaier Games and finally got around to buying my own copy. Jakub Rozalski’s artwork is stunning and the world building on all the cards was unlike any other game I had played up until that point. Then there was this collection of grey plastic staring at me. Grey plastic that didn’t belong in any world, never mind a 1920’s alternative Europe. And after a long YouTube deep dive and quick Amazon order, I was ready to start my painting journey.

I’d purely got into painting for shallow aesthetic reasons and went in with a huge pressure ‘not to screw it up’. I’d even bought those magnifying glasses with a light on top like an Egon Spengler cosplayer. And whilst the world was starting to get back to work, I sat in my kitchen and learnt how to spray on an even undercoat.

That first mech was something I wasn’t expecting. I put on some music, adjusted the lights like I was setting up for a weird date, and before I knew it, the music had faded to the background. I noticed my breathing, calm and regular. The brush strokes were slow and precise. Then before I knew it, hours later, it was finished. I was holding in my hand the first mini I had ever painted and felt, not only proud, but calm. For a few hours, the weight of uncertainty and unemployment was gone.

Indian spiritual guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho before he passed away in 1990, invented ‘active meditation’ to suit the modern world. "You are born in artificiality; you develop in it. So traditional methods have to be changed according to the modern situation," I had thought meditation was about checking in with your brain and listening to those voices that lived in there. Which was mainly the problem. There were a lot of voices up there. Thoughts of stress. Thoughts of arguments. Thoughts of thoughts.

However, Osho had masterminded active meditation to quiet the mind and move the focus down to the heart and the belly. Now a belly was certainly something I had! We all have gut feelings about situations and often our gut, or intuition, is correct. Active meditations are meant to help tap into those feelings and put less focus on the chatter going on upstairs.

It's not just painting that has given me time of active meditation. As well as completing my Scythe collection and my box full of Townsfolk Tussle characters I have moved onto creating inserts for my games. Sitting with a craft knife and some foamcore boards gives that same focus and relaxation. I’m not into wargaming or games with minis as a general rule but if I see a game that I think I might like that happens to come with a box full of plastic, I will now be more inclined to splash out. Nemesis Lockdown sits on my shelf waiting to be painted. Dune Imperium is calling out for an insert now that Rise of Ix has arrived. And Scythe now needs new tuckboxes to hold all of the Rise of Fenris modules.

It is certainly overly dramatic to say that board games saved my life. But it is not an understatement to say that games have helped me get through some of the toughest times in my life so far.

While the form of meditation you choose to incorporate into your routine is up to you, active meditation is a great way to practice mindfulness through the hobbies you love. So, the next time things are getting on top of you and traditional meditation doesn’t help, then reach for something more active and set an intention to be more mindful—you'll be much happier for it. And think of how beautiful those games are going to look on the table when you're done!

This blog was me showing a link between board gaming and mental health, while painting miniatures! I can definitely confirm that the link between the two - for me especially - was there and helped me out a lot.