This article from Ars Technica is a great personal narrative about one man’s struggle with deep depression and how the board gaming hobby has helped bring him out of the darkness.
This is the part I found the most fascinating:
“Board games give me something that little else does. They give freedom within a constructed framework; players are given the social space to bounce off each other like carnival bumper cars, while remaining safe and bounded. Everyone jockeys to achieve something—whether to become king, to solve the puzzle, or to save the world. The objectives and rules form a kind of joyous arena in a 1990’s-style Gladiator gameshow where the players and walls are covered in brightly colored padding. In your game you might be trying to brutally murder another player’s character, but the game will always make sure that everyone is having fun, that everyone is safe. Every rule is a safety net, letting you walk the tightrope without fear. To someone terrified and unable to deal with social situations, this web of gameplay and rules can be an unbelievable gift.”
This resonated with me – one of the things I appreciate most about the board gaming Meetup group I’m part of is how our events are welcoming to newcomers. All of us are socially awkward weirdos of one shade or another, but once we get over the initial hurdle of welcoming a new person into our midst, and they get over the hurdle of taking that first step to show up to a new place as a stranger, it’s easy to involve them in a game and bring them into the fold. The rules and boundaries of board games make for a safe and structured social encounter. No small talk needed beyond “Hello” and “What kind of games do you like?”.
When I’m having a bad day, sometimes it’s a relief to know that no one will expect me to talk about my bad mood, my worries, or my stresses. Around the game table, none of that matters. My friends will accept me exactly where I’m at and then we’ll put aside everything to immerse ourselves in a game or two for a few hours.
On the other hand, though, sometimes I do want to talk about what’s going on, and that’s where I struggle. Game night can be so focused on the games that there’s not much room for depth of relationship. It’s almost a taboo to start conversations that take away from the game playing. Anything more than light banter is a distraction from the real reason we’re there, and I find myself longing for deeper connection with these people I spend up to 13 hours of each week with.
I’d love to hear from other people about their experiences with depression and board games, or depth of relationship in gaming groups/game nights.