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Why We Play

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Controlled Area Gaming

As I write this, much of the world is in the grips of dealing with the COVID-19 (aka Coronavirus) pandemic. The impact of “social distancing,” extraordinary health precautions, and the wave of anxiety around public space closures has come to a head here in the United States as it has already been felt in other countries.

With every great crisis, we should take a moment for reflection. Just as I tell my son that he should put down on paper or video his feelings at this moment for posterity, we should all audit our daily routines to evaluate what matters, how we coordinate it, and what it means to us. This, I hope for most readers, includes tabletop game time.

AtariIt is also times like this that make me acutely aware of my own history with games. The first video game consoles hit the market in the 1970s and at that same time, wargaming evolved giving birth to roleplaying through Dungeons & Dragons. I was born in 1973, and I distinctly remember my dad bringing home a breakout console system with paddles. I also remember how he taught me to play Chess. Those treasured memories are bittersweet because he died just as my love for games was beginning to blossom.

So as I’m sitting on the couch watching my son Samir play Breath of the Wild (second playthrough), I’m drawing a mental line from his grandfather’s video game console to his writing game reviews. My role in the family has often been that of gamer vanguard. The games I bring home personally, and sometimes the games I review, have an impact on my family who often get to be guinea pigs on Tony’s diabolical laboratory of gaming cruelty. But, truth be told, what comes out of these experiences is something deeper. Often, even a bad game makes memories.

For all gamers, there are different reasons to play. Some of us love the puzzle solving. Some gravitate to the thematic engagement. Still, others relish the social engagement and conflict in a friendly (I hope) space. Over at the Board Game Quest Discord Bunker, we have regular arguments about what makes a good game, what games suck, and what games we can agree (rarely) are worthy of perennial praise. We don’t take that job lightly, and that discussion has taken a back seat recently for more important topics such as how we continue to game in a time where social activities are risky and our regular lives are suddenly in flux (not Fluxx…please no).

The loss of that physical social space should not be the death knell for anyone’s gaming life. Personally, and I hope others have the same perspective, family gaming is an amazing balm for dealing with stress. Distracting kids and loved ones with whom you cohabitate from the ravages of a nascent zombie apocalypse (see we can still joke) with pushing around a few cubes, trading a few sheep, or even just buying a few hotels is just what’s needed at times like this.

Shobu Review

And if you don’t have close family around, you can always find some online. Between Discord, Board Game Geek, and other online sites to find gamers, it’s easy to build a virtual community. If you can spare a few bucks to buy a computer headset, gaming with friends over Tabletopia (free to play) or Tabletop Simulator ($19.99 on Steam) is just what’s needed. You might even find that you have MORE options for games to play than you do at home as content on both these platforms seem to have grown immensely.

And, if ever you need help getting up to speed on the technology, feel free to drop by our own Discord channel and ask. We’re always looking for new family to play with. Brian B knows we have the patience for the technologically challenged. This is the time where we all have to adapt to that new console that dad brought home.

Finally, as all this unfolds, what I feel really matters is that everyone is making positive memories from these uncertain times and not railing against the powers that be for cutting off social engagement.

Be safe everyone and game on!

I asked a few of my fellow BGQ reviewers to chime in on how they are handling things. Here is what they said.

Alex: Since I’m a public school teacher engaging in remote learning, most of my time is going to be spent jockeying a keyboard trying to make the best of a situation where I have to provide meaningful instructional content to my students while they are not in school. Fortunately, I have a live-in gaming partner in Stephanie, who will no doubt be more than happy to fill my off-hours with catching up on clearing off our Shelf of Shame, as well as revisiting some old favorites. At least, until Animal Crossing shows up and Stephanie never resurfaces from her Switch.

Tony: As I’m a parent to a pair of twin toddlers at home, my free time to go out was already a little slim. During the days, I spend my time working or taking care of the little monsters. Once they are off to sleep, I spend my nights either gaming with fellow BGQ reviewers for our weekly game night or painting minis while my wife and I watch a TV show (Westworld is off to a crazy start). But it’s times like this when I’m glad I can escape for a few hours into a tabletop game—be it at the table with my wife or a friend, or online via Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia. 

Jon: I work in the Health and Safety field so I’m heavily involved in making sure my colleagues are safe and taken care of, especially right now. Since baseball and basketball seasons are off the table for the foreseeable future, I have found the mental escapism of digital board gaming to be its most valuable. It is nice to dive into Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia or straight into Steam for Scythe or Yellow and Yangtze and get my mind off what’s outside. Don’t forget that while it’s important to keep the well being of those we care about as a priority (check-in with your grandmother!), it’s also important to let yourself escape some of your own anxiety and tend to your mental health. Good luck, my friends. Take care of yourself and go wash your hands.

Andrew: I’m fortunate that my job allows pretty flexible options to work from home. So I’ll be hanging out here and playing games where I can with my six-year-old son while he’s on a very extended spring break. I will try to get in small game nights while our big monthly meet-ups are being canceled. And of course gaming on many of the wonderful board game apps that are out there.

AnnaMaria: I’ve been privileged to work at home for a while now, but now that my partner is home for the foreseeable future we’ve got plans to work through our Shelf of Opportunity—and get a max rating on every level of Overcooked. As more in our community are finding themselves at home and feeling isolated, it’s a great time to share sites that facilitate people playing online with others like Board Game Arena, Tabletopia, and Happy Meeple. In addition to providing some much needed human contact, online board games also give us a momentary escape from worry. Stay healthy, explore new ways to connect with friends and family virtually, and take care.

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