There is undeniable power in the simple art of play.
I would happily talk long in to the night about the virtues of my beloved board gaming hobby. I would be delighted to wile away the hours under a changing sky discussing its intricate beauty and ability to enchant, to any willing to listen. I could skip through the towns like the pied piper of board games, drawing people far and wide to the sounds of my dice shaker, and together we could melt into the sunset and spend a lifetime in some delightfully delicate adventures in cardboard.
It seems quite mad to myself that this is where I am with board games. But this has been a love affair that has blossomed, and from the moment I began to show an interest in this hobby as more than just the mainstream Christmas played classics, I fell deep down the rabbit hole. It has been a glorious fall.
As a long-time video game devotee with enough miles on the clock to remember the excitement of playing games on the old Vic 20 machine, there were very clear comparisons between the two mediums. But, critically for myself, the differences were immense.
Both board, and video, games offer escape of course. Not that we all have lives we want to escape from, but, sometimes you just want to travel into deepest space on a suicide mission for the Gods and blow some aliens up before returning home to a fanfare and a medal or three. Who doesn’t want that sometimes? Both platforms offer such adventures, but with board games the experience becomes something far more engaging, and it comes down to the shared experience. We can go online and play video games with people from all over the world, and it’s great, but it can never match the actual, social face to face back and forth that breathes life into our board games. To see the elation and despair etched across the faces of those across the table from you is truly special. And it’s ridiculously easy to fall in love with something so special.
However, there is more to this than meets the eye. It goes deeper than simply sharing a game together, and this is what I wanted to talk about here. Board games offer us the chance to step into different lives, and by doing so they sometimes elevate our own, or, save the one life we are ourselves born to live.
I considered the impact the hobby has already had on my own life. Extended bouts of family time are always welcome. With it comes laughter and chatter, time well spent again. The games also pull us away from screens, allow us to do something altogether more tactile and, in my opinion, rewarding. And they also deliver an overwhelming feelgood factor that is quite hard to explain. The actual feeling of spending time engrossed in these cardboard and plastic adventures is wonderful, the fact we are sharing this experience with family and friends, or sometimes strangers yet to become friends, is magical. They also offer a sidestep from the normality of life. When you want to escape for a few hours, the games are a vessel to carry you elsewhere.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a life I love and a family to share it with. My escape routes from life are built more upon a desire to spark the imagination than one to forget my troubles. But for some, life is hard, and it’s at these times that the games we play, become considerably more than the sum of their many parts.
In this article by, Laurence Kirkby, he openly discusses how board games saved his life, and pulled him from back from the brink of darkness and self-destruction.
“It’s hard to express in words, but after years of literally nothing less than constant, all-pervading mental agony, it meant so much to me to be able to… not feel that? To experience something good? The closest word I can find for it was “love.” Giddy, goofy-grinning love, being unlocked from the black hole of my terrified mind by cardboard and plastic and rules, combining to connect me to the friends I had missed so very, very badly.”
It is an eye-opening read, and one that is echoed time and again in varying degrees of shade and light.
Tom Russel describes a similar awakening born from the discovery of this hidden realm of board gaming nectar tucked just out of sight of the typical mainstream collective knowledge, well worth a read here.
There is undeniable power in the simple art of play. And whilst some of us might not have had our lives saved by such simplicity, we have almost certainly had them changed for the better. A brief scan of the internet will prove testament to just that.
And then we also have the impact board games can have on our children. I recently discussed with a friend how a simple storytelling card game we had both played had had a profound effect upon their autistic daughter. How it had proved to be something much greater than the cards that fell upon the table and left the father in a state of somewhat surprised awe. These games can impact our children in ways that are tangible and real, and instant. The renewed social gathering free from the pull of the screen, the connection, the back and forth of conversation as we all remember how to talk not type, and the joyful shared laughter that spills long into the night, all immediate and all blissful to experience. However, the games also offer longer term benefits. They offer a workout for the, sometimes dormant, muscles of the imagination, and they offer opportunity to work together as a team, they throw problems into the air and ask players to juggle them in the search for answers, and they open the room to mild competition where players will lose more often than they win. All positive elements surely in the journey from childhood to adulthood. And, beyond this, they also lay the foundations for play that our children can carry forward and eventually share with their own little ones.
I only found the door to this hobby a couple of years ago. To be honest I wasn’t even looking for it, but I’ll be forever grateful to have stumbled upon such a rich and rewarding landscape. Since I began to play one thing instantly struck me, and that is that the games are always centre stage on the table, but the spotlight is firmly upon those gathered around it.
There is magic in these games. Sadly, perhaps more than most will ever know, and that is why we should be proud as we yell from the rooftops of our love for moving pieces on a board, rolling dice, and elevating life in all its interactive, friendship soaked glory.