Games and My Mental Health

On my lunch break yesterday, I happened upon the latest Table Talk episode by Rodney Smith and the rest of the Watch it Played gang.

This was posted 11 days ago.

The video was asking the question “Are Board Games Good For Your Mental Health?”

What an important question, and one that we don’t always think about much.

I thought about making this part of my Friday Night Shots series tonight, but didn’t really want to associate alcohol with this important topic.

(Don’t worry, fans will be getting a Shot about a different topic).

Anyway, part of the whole Table Talk thing is that Rodney and friends talk about a topic, and then invite people to leave comments about what they think. Those are then addressed in a future video.

Being a blogger, and not wanting to leave a 1000-word comment, I thought I would address it here instead.

I hope that’s ok, Rodney.

Until seeing this video, I had never really thought about this topic before.

I knew that gaming made me feel good, and not gaming for an extended period of time made me feel bad, but I never really examined why that is.

Like Rodney says at the beginning of the video, I’m not speaking as any kind of expert (or even layman, really) on this topic.

All I can give you is my views and how it affects my mental health, and I encourage you to think about it for yourself and leave a comment (either here or on the video, or even both!).

This really hit home during the pandemic lockdowns for me.

I had been gaming every Sunday and going to 3-4 conventions a year prior to COVID-19. I had also been playing boardgames during lunch at work.

I was living some people’s dream!

And then I was stuck at home, not able to see anybody.

Yes, I was with my wife and yes, she was willing to play games with me.

We even did play some early in the lockdown period.

But I found my mental state deteriorating, at least as far as games were concerned.

We would set up a time to play something, and then I would just not feel up to it and say “let’s do something else.”

This continued in stops and starts throughout the lockdowns, until things started opening up again and we were back to a more normal gaming state.

I realized afterwards that I really should have pushed myself. I allowed myself to start wallowing in the lack of social contact and let it affect other areas of my life as well.

There was no reason the game-playing had to stop.

I just allowed it all to get to me.

This tells me that gaming gives my mental health a big boost.

When I am playing games, I just get a rush. Learning a new game, playing an old favourite, whatever it is.

As an aside, I feel that way about this blog and writing, too. I find myself getting into a funk and not feeling up to writing. Sometimes (though thankfully not so much this year), I can go 2-3 weeks without posting anything.

Then I get inspired, or decide to push through the lethargy and produce a post, and I feel enormously proud.

I wrote that. People are reading and responding to something I wrote.

I feel the same way about gaming.

As Rodney mentions in the video, one of the aspects of gaming that is greatly helpful to me is the shared structure of a game.

This affects me in ways he doesn’t mention, though I also feel what he says as well.

I am a social being. I love being around people.

But I’m also an introvert and I’m terrible at group conversations (or even one-on-one conversations sometimes).

That is kind of contradictory, but what I mean is that I love being part of a group, but when we are together and just chatting, I often don’t say anything, or not much anyway.

I’m not looking at my phone. I am listening.

I just feel like I have nothing to contribute.

When we’re gaming, though, that’s a different story.

We all have a common frame of reference. We’re all doing the same thing, talking about the same rules, the same strategies, what have you.

When I’m gaming, I am very talkative (some might say too much).

Gaming gives me that outlet where I can be the social person I am and not be the wallflower that I also am.

Paula talked about how her reaction to losing a game can sometimes give her a nudge that maybe something else is going on that she’s anxious or upset about (this is going from memory but I think that’s the gist of it).

I feel the same way.

I know I’m not that great at many games. I don’t have the mindset to do very well at some of those games where you are planning 3-4 moves ahead.

Most of the time we’re all laughing during and after the game. We playfully analyze what happened and what might have happened. “I was just waiting for that one card!”

I tell James that one day I will beat him at Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (I have actually beaten him once, but only once) and we laugh.

He (or somebody else I feel comfortable saying this to) pulls off some great move and he gets a playful “fuck you” from me. There’s always a grin involved. It’s just normal trash talking.

But if I’m playing a game and I start feeling upset about how I’m doing, that tells me that something else is wrong. Maybe things at work, maybe some other things that are stressing me out.

When playing a game, no matter how brain-busting it is, if it becomes more of a chore than a fun activity (no matter whether I win or come in last), I know something is off with me.

I also find gaming to be something that keeps my mind active. I feel, as I’m getting older, that gaming keeps my mind limber (even if some games do make my brain melt).

Maybe without gaming, my mind would slowly turn to mush and I would eventually become one of those forgetful elderly people who have trouble with any kind of cognitive thinking (of course there can be other reasons that happens, so I don’t want to slight those who do have those issues).

I have no idea if there is any scientific evidence of that.

But I think gaming, puzzles, something that makes you have to think and use your brain, are good ways to keep that sort of thing at bay.

Why am I talking about that in a post like this?

Because that also helps my mental health.

If I feel like I’m keeping my brain from atrophying, that makes me feel good.

It makes me feel like I will be 80-90 years old and the brain will still be ticking like I’m 50.

Even if there is no evidence to back that up.

Gaming also helps with anxiety, at least for me (though trying to plan a game day can make me anxious sometimes).

When I game, I don’t feel anxious. For some reason, I’m able to put aside the fact that I will probably suck at the game (though sometimes I surprise myself) and just enjoy it.

I feel great when I come in second! Even when I come in last (though there is some slight disappointment when that happens, but if the game was fun, I don’t care).

Anxiety doesn’t disappear, of course. It’s always there.

But when I’m gaming, I feel I can deal with it.

For me, gaming is very important to my mental health. If it were removed from my life, I’m not sure how I would cope with that.

It helps in so many ways.

I’ve made so many friends through it, both in person and online.

I’ve met some of the greatest people I’ve ever met through gaming.

My vote is yes, gaming is good for your mental health.

As long as you like gaming, of course (sorry, one more aside).

If you don’t like gaming (and I’m not sure why you’re here if you don’t?), then friends trying to force you into becoming a gamer so they have somebody to play with is probably not good for your mental health at all.

We as hobbyists should not do that, and should recognize how bad this is when we see ourselves doing it.

But for we who love to game?

It is very important for our mental health.

Thanks, Rodney, for an incredible inspiration for a post.

4 Comments on “Games and My Mental Health

  1. A thoughtful post on an important topic – and I guess we should found a club of wallflowers who talk a lot in board games!
    I have observed an effect the other way round: Deteriorating mental health makes me unwilling/unable to learn new games. During the pandemic, I tried a few times to learn a complex (“weight” of 4 and more on BGG) new game and couldn’t. (Most of the time, I just didn’t feel like trying in the first place.) Yet within the last year, I managed to learn three complex games! So that’s nice.
    Anyway, when I’m not feeling so well and other things that I normally like lose their luster for me, playing board games is pretty much unaffected. It’s definitely helped me get through the pandemic.
    Another thing that helped: Reading my favorite blogs! So thanks for that 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 5 on Friday 12/05/23 – No Rerolls

  3. Thanks, Clio! It’s always nice to have a fan. 🙂

    That’s one aspect I neglected to mention. If I’m tired or in a bad mental state, I also have trouble learning a new game, or even playing one of the more complicated games out there that I usually love.

    Or maybe I’m just not in the mood to teach it. That sometimes comes out too, and it often has exterior reasons (though sometimes it’s just me being tired).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Friday Night Shots – What’s Your Go-To Game When You’re Down? – Dude! Take Your Turn!

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