Why Games Matter in Difficult Times
In this troubling moment in United States history, is engaging in escapism an act of pulling the wool over our own eyes or a much needed respite from the horrors constantly rolling across our social media feeds? There’s been much talk over the course of this past year about the need for self and squad care (pick one or both, as fits your needs and personality). Taking a bubble bath or reading a fantasy novel is fine and good if you want to shut down or get away from all the things for an hour or so. But if you want to do something regenerative and fun for your brain, might we suggest games? Both video games and tabletop games get your brain going. Here are three reasons why you should be playing games during these difficult times:
- Video games are actually mind altering. Sometimes when we are feeling anxious, stressed, or stuck it’s useful to switch it up for a few minutes as a kind of reset. If you work at an office or spend a lot of time in front of a computer, you’ve probably heard that it is important to take a break and move your body a few times an hour. Movement is great, but a few minutes of playing a game can also shake things up in your brain and make it easier to deal with whatever you’ve got going on. When played in moderation, a game can give you what the podcast Note to Self calls “a mental fist pump.” Listen to their episode Play Video Games for Your Mental Health for the details on the brain and behavioral science.
- Games create a playful space to work toward solutions. So, everything is awful and we are exposed to more information than humans have ever before in history. The constant flow of information and struggle to process all of the bad news about our administration, ongoing white supremacist violence at the individual and state levels, the reckoning happening around sexual harassment and assault, and climate change slow disasters (to name just a few) is Really A Lot. If you’re like us, you’ve been making your calls to your elected officials, showing up for local community members facing difficult situations, donating time, cash, and goods if you can, and it never feels like enough. Playing games isn’t going to save you from all that, but board games in particular are often about building something or striving toward a concrete goal. That can feel great when we’re living in reactive mode with so much uncertainty. And if you play non-competitive games that focus on cooperation instead of hoarding resources and smiting your enemies, you can work together toward solutions. The TESA Collective has made three collaborative games: Co-opoly, Rise Up, and Loud & Proud, and we also highly recommend Civio and Freedom.
- Playing board games keeps your brain active and healthy. Board games are a part of many children’s experiences of play, but they are also beneficial to adults. Reading obviously is good for the brain because you’re putting more knowledge stuff in it, but board games are good for you because through play, they get you to access problem-solving, memory, and other cognitive skills. For older adults, playing board games has been scientifically proven to prolong brain health and slow the effects of dementia and Alzheimers. And beyond board games, play of all kinds is good for kid and adult brains – check out Dr. Stuart Brown’s research on the subject and watch his TED Talk about the value of play.
So maybe instead of vegging out (though, tbh, no judgment) or doing something totally escapist, think about hosting a game night or playing games with the folks you share a home with. It’s a great way to take a break while also being generative and social.