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  • Essays
  • High Spirits: Tabletop Games & Mental Health

High Spirits: Tabletop Games & Mental Health

O Updated
(Photo by Sam Schooler on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

Staying sane in quarantine.

There are many things that affect our mental health in some way. It could be a life-changing or otherwise significant event. It could be certain habits we have or things we do - or don't do. Our physical health can also affect it, as well as the health of someone close to us. Our relationships also have an influence on our mental health. These are all very broad stroke headlines and there are many things that fit into each of those categories. Of course, different events affect each of us differently - in different ways and at different times. Ultimately, it's about how we deal with these events that decide how they affect our mental health.

Let me start by saying that I have no medical training whatsoever, so I can't give you any medical advice. All I can say is that you should look for help if you are worried for yourself or a loved one. There are many places that can offer advice and answer your questions and help you with mental health issues.

With that out of the way, I want to look at how distraction can help to some degree with mental health, in particular anxiety and depression - at least in a small way and even if it's only for a short while. So to be clear, I'm not saying that distractions will solve your mental health problems, and I do understand that it's not a simple matter of smiling or keeping positive to make your anxiety and depression go away. Yet, being able to spend some time thinking about something else is useful and may help you for a while.

Of course, I want to look specifically at how tabletop games, of whatever ilk, are able to create that distraction. I certainly find that for myself and I think most of us feel similarly, whether we're dealing with mental health issues or not.

Tabletop games have become a form of escapism, just like books, films or music are. Many games allow you to escape into another world and take on a different persona. I'm not even just thinking about role-playing games, or RPGs. A lot of games have a really rich theme that allows your mind to wander and go off into another world, which is a million miles away from your worries and day-to-day thoughts. Games with asymmetric player powers also force you to immerse yourself in whatever faction or character you take on. It allows you to pretend to be someone else for a while.

In fact, if you have the capacity to focus on something else and want to occupy your brain, then heavier games that require a clever strategy, good tactics or some other sort of planning and thinking many turns ahead, will be for you. Again, there is a wide range of games that will make your brain work hard, forcing you to stop thinking about the things that are going on in your life.

However, that's not always possible of course. Depending on your mental state, you may be too tired or your brain is just too exhausted to expend much energy. That's when lighter games are worth looking at. It doesn't matter whether it's the game is mostly rolling a few dice, placing tiles or some other similar mechanism, as long as there isn't any need to plan ahead or think too much. It can still create enough of a distraction to help you improve your mental health for a little while.

The social aspect of games can also help with your mental health, if loneliness is a factor. Spending time with other people can be good for you. You can choose between co-operative and competitive games, depending on whether you want to experience everyone pulling together to achieve a common goal or prefer to pit your wits against the other players. In fact, there are varying levels of co-operative and competitive that you should be able to find something suitable for your current situation and mood.

Of course, at the moment the only people who you could play a game with face-to-face, are those who live in your household. People who suffer from loneliness are probably already living alone. However, there are ways to play with others online. Have a look at the "Useful Links" page on my blog, which lists some of those online sites that are free to join and offer a wide range of games to play. You can then use software such as SkypeDiscord or others, many of which are also free, to be able to speak to the people you play with. It's not the same as face-to-face contact, but it is a really good option at the moment.

Yet, there are times when you might prefer not to be around other people, but still distract yourself with a game. Luckily, many games can be played solo these days. These games aren't solo variants, but give you the full experience of the game, just as if you were playing with other people. So you do have a large number of games to choose from that you can play by yourself, but also with others, depending on how you feel at the time.

I do think it's amazing how much variety tabletop games offer and how they can help us with our mental health - at least to some degree. If you have had great experiences with tabletop games and how they helped with your mental health, then please post them in the comments below. Maybe you have some favourite games that you can recommend others who struggle with mental health. I'd love to hear from you.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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ThirstyMan's Avatar
ThirstyMan replied the topic: #309310 16 Apr 2020 16:12
Thanks for this. I am suffering at the moment with my wife trapped in the Ukraine and me trapped in Kuwait. Both of us are on lock down. I get to speak to her three times a day but it is super hard to cope when she becomes overwhelmed by the situation and begins to break down. I guess, from her perspective, the same is true for when I have bad days.

We are trying to cope by only thinking about today's tasks and not thinking too much into the future. Who knows when airlines will unlock and she will be able to come back to Kuwait.

In addition to that she has had her passport stolen by a pickpocket in Kiev so she has to replace her passport, which is in progress, but she is 1500 km away from the passport office and all public transportation has broken down. I keep trying to say that there is no rush and anyway no one is flying but, man, it is hard.

Both of us are still being paid by our kind employer (she is a classroom assistant for Grade 5 and I'm a senior teacher). I am supposed to be giving Zoom lessons but I frequently have to cancel because I simply cannot cope with talking to anyone else.

I keep saying to myself that there are people a lot worse off than us (infected, unemployed etc) but it doesn't seem to do much good.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #309314 16 Apr 2020 16:42
ThirstyMan, that sucks and I am sorry.

If you are into podcasts, Tim Ferriss has had on a bunch of guests recently, talking about strategies for staying healthy during these extraordinary times. Lots of practical and actionable info in there.

Ryan Holliday is also very good. His books (The Obstacle Is the Way, especially) have helped me greatly at contextualizing the crazy amount of shit going on.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #309323 16 Apr 2020 17:49
That's fucking brutal, Thirstyman. Sorry to hear it.
ninorota's Avatar
ninorota replied the topic: #309343 17 Apr 2020 11:18
Damn thieves in Kiev... I feel you, man.
oliverkinne's Avatar
oliverkinne replied the topic: #309868 02 May 2020 16:40
Thank you for sharing your experiences. I hope you two can be back together soon, but in the meantime taking everything a step at a time seems the best way forward. Things will improve but it’s so hard to keep reminding yourself of that.