We love games, that’s why you’re reading this, you wouldn’t take part if you weren’t enjoying yourself and consistently games make people happy. Now as you and I probably know it’s much more than just games. So what is it that floats peoples boats? In what will be a series arc for several posts, I’m going to talk to a number of people (who know stuff) about what really beeps their jeep about gaming.
So with no further adieu I’m going to hand you over to our first expert a buddy of mine, Darren Quinn. Mental Health Professional and above all, avid gamer…
“Do what you love, more often. It’s good for your mental health!”
The following is based on my experience both as an amateur boardgamer & a mental health professional.
I work as a counsellor and noticed that a question I often ask is “What makes you happy??”. I was thinking this week “Darren, What makes you happy & how can it affect mental health??” The first part was easy – “Board Games”. The second part though took a little more thought and research.
So I thought and researched and this is what I came up with.
Face-face real contact: How nice it is that in this day & age of Selfies, Snapchat & FaceTube that I can sit down in a comfortable, warm space with people and spend a number of hours engaging with something that we all seriously enjoy. Rather this than sitting at home alone, isolating oneself, which is a major factor in depression. The importance of real communication and genuine connection cannot be understated when it comes to one’s mental health.
Reduced risk of mental health issues: Keeping your mind engaged, which you are more likely to do if you enjoy yourself, is a major factor in reducing the risk of cognitive decline (including Alzheimer’s and dementia). The more you engage in such activities the stronger your brain becomes in fighting the risk of such decline. The brain is like a muscle, the more you work it the stronger it gets.
Stress reduction: The recent spike in interest (and sales) of Adult Colouring Books in this country is generally attributed to the mindful nature of spending time focusing on an activity for a period of time (i.e. getting away from the phone/laptop/tablet). I’m confident that this sense of spending a period of time focusing, forgetting my troubles as it were, when playing games is a huge contributor to the reduction of stress and anxiety in my life. Now, I just need to figure out how to achieve the necessary number of points for victory with just 2 sheep, 3 cattle with 2 turns to go. Also worth mentioning is the correlation between stress reduction and body relaxation, which lowers blood pressure. As a person with a history of high blood pressure in my family, I am fully aware that high blood pressure is associated with greater risk of artery damage, heart disease and stroke.
Goal achieving: A number of people I encounter have issues with achieving goals. Setting goals and figuring out how best to achieve them is common among most games (e.g. Get the most points by focus on production & shipping of corn). The more one does this in gaming, the better they become at it. Practice makes perfect right? Cognitively speaking if a person believes they can achieve any goal then they can achieve goals. So if I have achieved a goal in a board game, why not one in life. I truly believe that board gaming increases one’s ability to set and achieve goals, an invaluable life skill.
Problem solving: Gaming helps us in exercising essential cognitive skills, such as problem solving. Many of the most popular games out there are puzzles (e.g. Pandemic, Five Tribes). In essence a puzzle is an exercise in problem solving. Again it is my belief that the more problem solving engaged with in gaming, increases my ability to problem solve.
Child Development: A friends’ child was recently asked by an Occupational Therapist to play a game called Rush Hour. This game comes with a board, cars and a number of cards which simulates a traffic jam. The player needs to figure out how an ice-cream truck gets out of each traffic jam. Essentially this involves the player moving the various cars around the 3-D board so that the ice-cream truck can escape. From this I can see how board games can be helpful in occupational therapy. I know they certainly helped this little boy, increasing his co-ordination, spatial awareness and motor development. Now he’s moved onto Rampage and is having great fun flicking monsters around.
Feeling Good: Simply put, the benefit of laughter, togetherness & banter. A player constantly messing up a rule, a bragging player who thinks they’ve won coming unstuck, just simple funny moments that happen during the game and things people say playing them. Laughter increases endorphins (the chemical in the body related to our level of happiness) which makes us feel good. This sense of feeling good fosters an atmosphere of trust, fun and togetherness, which in turn leads to better self-esteem and self-value.