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The resurgence of board games in lockdown

For many of us, the highlights of the social calendar over the last few months have been Zoom quizzes and playing games over Houseparty group calls. It’s fair to say that some virtual get-togethers are more successful than others. 

You might have been unlucky enough to face a Zoom-quiz-gone-wrong. The Wi-Fi cuts out midway through a question, you can’t show your answer because your screen has gone fuzzy, and this is the third time this month you’ve been quizzed on how many bones there are in the human body. Maybe instead, you try playing Trivia over Houseparty. Halfway through the game, one of your friends disappears into thin air. They have accidentally exited the call.

Socialising in lockdown has had its testing moments, and a quiz is unlikely to fill the void when you are desperate to hug your friends again. But it is something at least, and games have been so important in alleviating more than just boredom over the course of quarantine. 

We are having to find new ways of connecting with people. Whether it’s playing Trivial Pursuit with your household, or finding yourself in a virtual escape room, games provide a much-needed diversion from personal struggles.

Psychologist Seema Hingorrany suggested that “in uncertain times like these, taking up a stimulating activity tied to nostalgia can be therapeutic. In fact, board games have been a part of psychologists’ mental health tool kits even before coronavirus.”

Games remind us of happy childhood times and connect people when loneliness is escalating

Perhaps your family has dusted off the Monopoly board or dug out Cluedo again for the first time in years. Or maybe you’ve found a virtual version of Pictionary to play with your friends online. A game can remind us of happy childhood memories, of times when we could spend entire afternoons just playing games. As adults with busy schedules and other worries, it’s rare that we have a spare few hours to discover that it was Professor Plum with the candlestick in the dining room. Now, lockdown has given us a chance to revisit our favourite childhood games.

In the UK, the sale of puzzles and board games soared by 240% in the first week of lockdown. It seems that many of us have swapped nights and dinners out for evenings indoors with Scrabble

Virtual games have also seen an overwhelming resurgence, with apps such as Houseparty reporting a 1072% increase in the number of downloads. Even the World Health Organisation got on board, launching a campaign called #PlayApartTogether to encourage people to stay at home and connect through games. 

Loneliness has been a very real problem over the last few months, and young people have been particularly impacted. The Office for National Statistics revealed that more than half of those aged 16 to 24 had experienced loneliness in lockdown. People have been struggling, and there is little to distract us from our worries while stuck at home with too much time to think. 

Sometimes watching a film, reading a book, or scrolling through social media is just not enough to distract you from overwhelming feelings of worry. You find your thoughts wandering, and even the smallest of reminders could make you anxious again. A game is different. It takes your full concentration to win a game of Scattergories or a round of a quiz. As soon as the competitiveness sets in, you become so consumed by the game that you forget your worries, if just for an hour or two. 

You might have been unlucky enough to face a Zoom-quiz-gone-wrong

When we play a game, our brain releases endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine to distract our minds. Laughing over your housemate’s terrible performance in charades or bickering with your siblings about the rules of Monopoly might just be the perfect antidote to your anxiety. Games give us an escape. They remind us of happy childhood times and connect people when loneliness is escalating. 

You might not remember that Colonel Mustard was the guilty party in your last game of Cluedo. Splurging on Mayfair in Monopoly probably won’t solve all your worries. Your Wi-Fi could cut out just as you were about to win another Zoom quiz. A game may not be able to change the world, but it can provide a much-needed distraction. In uncertain times like this, escaping into the world of a game could be exactly what we all need.

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