Monday, April 20, 2020

The Importance of Board Games While Working From Home

Board Games Reifying Social Connection
by Hannah

Hello, dear readers, I am writing to you today to discuss the significant quality of life impact that playing board games during these times can have. With so many people being forced to reconfigure their work-life balance and set-up, it can be difficult to find the time for enjoyable activities that still manage to stimulate our brains in a collective manner. What I mean to say is that it is difficult to set out time to play games with other people that require us to really talk with each other, especially with how tiring this overhaul of our lives has necessarily been. This is true for those of us with spouses, partners, roommates, and children to consider or for those of us living by ourselves. This is also very true for those of us struggling with exacerbated or awakened mental health issues. There is no doubt that we all need some form of relief.

These past few weeks have been a surreal bad dream, but I have found solace in pulling myself away from my computer, my Nintendo Switch, or the television, whichever I was using to deaden my brain for a brief time (an important part of protecting our health too), and then breaking out a board game to play with my partner or with our friends over Zoom. Honestly the need for an activity that didn't require any screens (or no more than one Zoom screen for seeing our friends' faces) and allowed us to engage in a very immediate way was the original impetus that drove me and my partner, Josh, to start collecting board games in the first place. As much as we love video games, we needed some form of present and immediate interaction that I think the simulated worlds of video games are often unable to provide by the very nature of their medium. They are always immediately removed by several layers from our experience--they are always immediately mediated. They are a wonderful escape in their way and often a medium rife with amazing storytelling and world-building, but they also helps us to negate the outside world and our immediate social connections to an extent in a way that can be alienating in high doses, depending on a wide variety of factors, which I can't entirely cover here. 

The physicality of board games is certainly more immediate in a very literal way, but the actual rules and systems involved in a board game require our brains to process and function. In a sense we become the processor for the programs and systems of the game. In this way, board games seem to engage us in a special way that is differentiated from video games by this sense of presentness. When we play board games with other people, we engage in these meaning-making and system running functions with another person. Regardless of a game's competitive or cooperative nature, players still work together to enforce rules and engage in a game's specific systems, giving them weight and doing some world-making for the game.

Sitting across from my partner and actually looking at him, whether that is to consider if he is going to ruin my plans to sell my goods by selling his first or if he is going to deep strike a Terminator behind my Sybarite, it is still looking at him with a specific attentiveness that is often missed in the chaos of the day. We actually take time to be together in an intelligent but still playful way when we break out a board game. These times remind us how it feels to really connect socially and intellectually.

It is this presentness that has made playing board games so important to me and Josh right now, as so much of daily routine has imploded in on itself. We find each other again when we play games like Brass Birmingham or Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, and we find a way to experience closeness with our friends even over the computer through these games. They pull back the layers of numbness created by binging video games and television in the evenings and allow some real shared joy and playfulness to be reintroduced to our lives. 

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