May is Mental Health Awareness month in the United States. Mental health is a cause that I am extremely passionate about as I have struggled with depression for over a decade. I think it is important to share about that struggle to help destigmatize mental illness and the problems that come with it. While depression is a constant uphill battle, it has helped me develop into the person I am today, and it is the number one reason I am a part of the board gaming community. Board gaming has helped me overcome quite a few of my battles, and I wanted to share four games that had a major impact on my mental health.
Zombicide was my first modern game. It came crashing into my life at just the right time. I was a freshman in college, and I was living in a single dorm with no friends, no drive, and a general lack of motivation to communicate with anyone. Despite living close to home I had pushed my family away and was falling deeper into a pit of depression. The one this I was effectively doing though, was binge watching The Walking Dead. We had played a few games with my older brother when he came home from college, and my mom enjoyed watching me open up for the first time in months. Later she bought me my copy of Zombicide. It was extremely well-loved, and I now own almost every possible component for the modern edition. During the last seven years my gaming interests have changed dramatically, and I have not played Zombicide in over a year. Despite that, I don’t see myself getting rid of Zombicide because it did have such a momentous impact on my life. It was really a turning point for me, and helped me climb out of a dark place in my life.
Flashing forward, almost four years later my husband and I had moved out on our own. We rarely saw friends, and had quickly fell into a mundane routine. My depression was rearing its ugly head again, and I was starting to lose motivation to game or paint. Living off a little nostalgia, we decided to pick up a few packs of Yu-Gi-Oh cards to help this problem and began to compete against one another. I was absolutely terrible at it. Trading Card Games have never been my strong point, and my husband became frustrated beating my so easily. We finally decided that it was time to find a local game store to play at instead, so he would have other opponents. The community of players was not for me, but the routine of spending time at a game store helped me become more social. This had a huge impact on my mental health, and kept our relationship much healthier. I even ended up running my own board game group at this store for a few years after until management changed!
Dungeons and Dragons- Wizards of the Coast
Even though we were spending a lot of time at the game store, it was not until I started playing Dungeons and Dragons that I found a close-knit group of friends. I started out my first campaign extremely confused, and completely non-effective. My D&D group helped me laugh it off and learn to love the game. While party members have come and gone, the core group of four that I play with have become my family. They understand my depression, and are patient when I am a little angry or weepy. Despite our disputes in game, they are the first to offer help in a time of need, and we check in with each other almost daily. Their support means the world to me, and it is a close bond I would have never achieved without the camaraderie of D&D.
Wingspan- Stonemaier Games
Wingspan is on a lot of people’s radar right now as the new hotness, and when I was offered a pre-release copy for review, I was ecstatic. When I originally accepted the request for the review, my schedule was completely free and being on break it seemed like perfect timing. Sometimes though, life does not always pan out how we hope it will. A week before Christmas, and just two short weeks before my review was due I was informed that I would have a miscarriage. My entire world shattered, and I went into a really dark place. The guilt I felt towards myself and the physical and emotional pain I was in kept me from wanting to do anything, especially spend 12-20 hours working on a review for a game. However, that guilt made me determined to not let anyone else down. I spent a few hours each day working on each little element of the review, from playing the game, gathering my thoughts and taking pictures. Those small tasks gave me a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of purpose. I truly believe that this motivation helped me heal and keep moving forward. Wingspan was such a beautiful game, and having a bit of beauty in those dark times in something I am especially grateful for now.
Why do I share my story? First, if you are someone who is struggling with mental illness, I want to tell you that you are not alone. The board gaming community has been extremely welcoming to me, and I know it can be a huge help to others as well. If you ever need someone to talk to, I am here! Please reach out. It is important to take care of yourself, and find joy in the little things. Gaming can offer that joy and be a lifeline!
Second, I wanted to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who is involved in the process of creating games. Designers, artists, publishers, playtesters, graphic designers, all of you have a role in doing something that makes a huge positive impact on a lot of peoples’ lives. The work you do brings a smile to my face, and often times can help me when I am at my lowest. Thank you for all the work you do to bring that joy to others! You make a difference in the lives of others!
I hope any of you that struggle with mental health also find a deep joy in gaming. There is something beautiful about being able to sit down at a table and connect with someone or something. If there is a game that has had a significant impact on your mental health, feel free to share below!