One way that I discovered to relax in the middle of the corona pandemic is by playing the board game Hogwarts Battle: Defence Against the Dark Arts. The board game has served as a way to cope with my anxiety caused by all the dreadful information related to the pandemic I access through the screens around me. Thus, the board game has provided an analog escape that I found to be comforting.
During this pandemic, I found myself in a constant fight with the TV: always turning it on and then off when I could not handle the corona’s news for that day anymore. I also have some kind of addiction to open social media apps that I find difficult to control. I have the feeling that my fingers work without the command of my brain: usually when I realize it, I am already scrolling down on my Instagram feed for the past fifteen minutes. Especially during these difficult times where checking the news can always trigger my anxiety, sometimes all I need is to have my mind in an offline mode. As a result, the board game has served as a way to enter an alternative world with peace of mind.
It is a Harry Potter inspired two-player competitive deck-building game, and just the box already makes me feel enthusiastic. It resembles a magic chest and gives the impression that some treasures will be inside. In fact, for me, there are real riches: cards with Harry Potter characters, spells, and all kinds of magical items. You start with seven starters cards and your house, and the goal of each round is to stun your opponent. To win the game, you must be the first player to defeat your opponent three times. Each player chooses one Hogwarts’ house to be their own during the game: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, or Hufflepuff. Players use tokens to buy spells, allies (characters), and items that can damage the enemy or heal themselves. Maybe are you going to use a potions kit to defeat your Slytherin enemy? Or are you going to prefer to buy Hermione Granger as an ally? Hey, don’t forget to eat your chocolate frog!
As a huge Harry Potter fan, I feel very connected to all items and characters. I truly know them, their emotions, and abilities, and this makes me feel as if I had more old and good friends in my living room — without worrying about social distance rules. I already had this connection with all the books and movies from the Harry Potter saga, and in the most difficult moments of my life, I have encountered in them a refuge. For instance, when I moved to the Netherlands, I did not have that much space in my suitcase, but I brought with me two books of the saga as I consider them essential items. I read them all over again (for the tenth time?) during my first weeks in the new country.
Now, with the board game, every time I am playing is a cheerful experience. Just to get the board game ready by shuffling the cards seems like a relaxing activity. Every time a new card from the deck is revealed, it is a festive experience: oh, Dumbledore is so valuable! I want him so badly!, I say between some laughs and discussions about who has the better cards or strategy. It feels really cozy and safe because it reminds me of Harry Potter, but also because it is a battle that I can actually win — which does not seem to be the case with corona. In this sense, the board game has agency: it stimulates my senses and feelings, causing happiness and comfort (Hoskins, 2006). It acts on me by stimulating positive emotional reactions.
The game was a present from my brother-in-law on our first Christmas together in the Netherlands. Thus, it is also a symbolic remark of the new family I am now a part of. The fact that he remembered something that I like so much as Harry Potter, and found a present that we could enjoy together, is something that makes my heart happy. We normally sit on the living room’s soft carpet to play, feeling comfortable, maybe eating some snacks and having Harry Potter’s movies as the background. It is always fun and I believe it was a way we found to straighten our relationship.
Historical and Societal Importance of Board Games
Board games have existed for a long time and have been the topic of many scientific studies. Research about board games comprises a large range of topics: perception, memory, problem-solving and decision making, development, intelligence, emotions, motivation, education, and neuroscience. For instance, Hinebaugh (2009) is a life-long board game enthusiast author of the book A Board Game education. He provides an analysis of how famous board games are not only good for entertainment and social interaction, but also to develop foundational educational skills that have been proven to result in academic achievement (p. 18). According to the author, some early games have existed for more than four thousand years, originated from India, China, Egypt, and Nigeria (p. 4). These early games were then changed and adapted during time, and are the foundation of the majority of all board games.
“The educational value of board games may have been better understood in these early cultures than today. Chinese history proclaims that go, known as wei-chi’i in China, was invented by Emperor Shun (2244-2206 BC) as a way to increase the intelligence of his son, Shokin. Mancala was viewed by many tribes in Africa as one of the means to test a boy’s readiness to assume the responsibilities of manhood”
(2009, p. 4).
The academic interest in board games has also generated the Board Game Studies Journal (BGSJ), a peer-reviewed international academic journal for historical and systematic research on board games. The goal of the journal “is to provide a forum for board games research from all academic disciplines in order to further our understanding of the nature, development, and distribution of board games within an interdisciplinary context” (Sciendo, 2021, para. 4). The 2020 edition of the journal included papers with topics such as the relationship between board games and cultural memory (Pavšič, 2020), and board games function as experiential historiography (Suckling, 2020). Thus, there are different types of skills and knowledge that can be stimulated by playing board games, which shows that their relevance goes far beyond entertainment, being correlated with the development of cognitive abilities, creativity and self-confidence skills.
Industry of Board Games and The COVID Pandemic
The industry of board games has experienced growth in recent years, and “is expected to carry on growing further” (BBC News, 2019, para. 2). A fact that contributed to the popularity of board games is their appearance in TV shows, such as The Big Bang Theory and Stranger Things, where the characters appear constantly playing them. Moreover, there are bars and cafes dedicated to board games, where people can enjoy playing several different games while eating a nice meal. These places often have a “game guru”, a person that can help to recommend games and teach how to play.
During the covid-19 pandemic, despite the fact people cannot go to these bars and cafes, the sales of board games have seen an even bigger increase (Weisholtz, 2020). There is a simple explanation to that: they are also appealing for people trying to find new things to do at home during lockdown restrictions. The newspaper The Guardian reported that board games can help people “escape” covid, as they could make the quarantine to feel more bearable (Brignall, 2020). Moreover, they can serve as a strategy to cope with mental issues such as anxiety or depression, which have seen rises during the pandemic (Vijayaraghavan & SINGHAL, 2020; Sigdel et al., 2020). Indeed, board games imply social gatherings between family and friends — and one that does not involve a screen. Thus, while the media is constantly presenting dreadful news regarding the pandemic, and social media has been proved a medium to increase anxiety (Vannucci et al., 2017), board games can be a great antidote to mental health issues by providing a fun, social and analog interaction.
Board games can also comfort people as they can bring about happy childhood memories of playing with family and friends, or create new ones. Therefore, there is a strong emotional connection related to board games to some people. For me, the game turns out to be a way to have fun, get together with people I love, cope with my anxiety, and finally go away from digital interaction. For what seems an hour, I enter a wizardry world without screens and tragic news, where I can use magic cards to be sure that my loved ones and I stay safe.
BBC News. (2019, September 27). Board games: Why are they becoming so popular? shorturl.at/ioBK4
Brignall, M. (2020, August 22). Strategy board games to help you escape Covid. The Guardian. shorturl.at/rINP4
Gobet, F., Voogt, A. J. de, & Retschitzki, J. (2004). Moves in mind: the psychology of board games. Psychology Press. shorturl.at/wHIRX
Hinebaugh, J. P. (2009). A board game education. R&L Education. shorturl.at/kwM12
Hoskins, J. (2006). Agency, biography and objects. Handbook of material culture, 1, 74-85. shorturl.at/qvMU0
Pavšič, Z. (2020). Remembering Yugoslavia: Board Game Monopoly and Cultural Memory. Board Game Studies Journal, 14(1), 109-126. shorturl.at/btMZ3
Sigdel, A., Bista, A., Bhattarai, N., Poon, B. C., Giri, G., & Marqusee, H. (2020). Depression, Anxiety and Depression-anxiety comorbidity amid COVID-19 Pandemic: An online survey conducted during lockdown in Nepal. MedRxiv. shorturl.at/zCL25
Suckling, M. (2020). Simulating Saratoga: How Saratoga-Themed Board Games Function as Experiential Historiography. Board Game Studies Journal, 14(1), 83-108. shorturl.at/hrNY6
Vannucci, A., Flannery, K. M., & Ohannessian, C. M. (2017). Social media use and anxiety in emerging adults. Journal of affective disorders, 207, 163-166. shorturl.at/tBVW9
Vijayaraghavan, P., & SINGHAL, D. (2020). A descriptive study of Indian general public’s psychological responses during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown period in India.Weisholtz, D. (2020, December 5). How classic board games are bringing families closer during the pandemic. Today. shorturl.at/suxLP