How are board games like surfing?
I do know how to surf very well but I enjoy it. To begin with I was drawn to it because I’ve met some people in the past who were both surfers and very relaxed and good to be around… Being rather high strung, I wanted to see if I could get some of that feeling myself.
It took me more than two weeks of going to the beach every morning before I was finally able to stand up on my long board. Then I got it. That feeling of time stopping (almost) and the world fading away into the background. There was just me, the ocean as the surfboard was sliding on the wave. And then I fell in the water and came up to the surface of the world that seems just a little bit different, its sounds and colours refreshed. Reset.
When we play games we tap into that same feeling of losing ourselves. A truly engrossing game allows us to transcend the here and now and can be a truly meditative experience. I’m going to make a sweeping generalisation here and say that physical board games are much better at this than computer games. The tabletops are also great because we spend too much of our time already staring into screens.
A their best, board games give us an opportunity to touch and smell and interact with beautiful pieces of art. They are physical items, they engage all our senses, not to mention that if you are also playing them with people while laughing and having wine, you are immersed in a whole world of experience you created for yourself with a little help from the game designer. Then it is enough for you to look back to the box on the shelf for your mind to bring back those good experiences and make you smile. Come to think of it, this is exactly why I brought my surfboard with me from Australia to Europe and I hung it over my bed. There wasn’t anywhere to surf for hundreds of kilometres, but it did make me smile and think of the good times every time I opened my eyes in the morning.
A their best, board games give us this feeling of flow, where we lose ourselves a little and when the game is over we come back to reality. Hopefully, if the game is right we bring something back that’s valuable. And if a game is really well thought out, it can teach us something important without us ever trying to learn anything. Jesus and Buddha didn’t just dispense abstract rules but illustrated their teaching with stories, that’s why they stick. Within the games we get to live out our own stories and adventures which has an even stronger effect on us. Game designers should act responsibly as to what those lessons will be, but that’s a whole other topic.*
I cannot quote any scientific research I know of, to say that playing board games is almost as good for your as owning a cat, but if one day there is research made into this, my money will be on the fact that it probably does.
*Spoiler alert. It should not be anything like Russia’s “We’re Proud of Our Motherland” game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5cN82631lk.