By the time that this text is written (March, 2021), the world is amidst the third wave of lockdowns. Even though (in)voluntary lockdowns’ main benefit is to save people’s physical health, they have taken a toll on their mental health because of isolation and loneliness. Moreover, living in the contemporary digital era means that many people reside to read the news through social media (Spohr, 2017). Being introduced every day, to news—fake or authentic—about Covid-19 in combination with the abovementioned feelings of isolation and loneliness can lead to “feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration” that create a very unpleasant reality both for children and adults from which they seek to escape (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021).

By definition, “escapism” means: “The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy” (Definition of Escapism, n.d.). The three individual sub-themes below will explore escaping through Fantasy Fiction, Board Games and Puzzles/IQ Games, by representing six (6) objects from the collection that helped their creators escape the pandemic’s unpleasant realities.

Escapism isn’t good or bad in itself. What is important is what you are escaping from and where you are escaping to.

Terry Pratchett
Escape to Imaginary World via Fantasy Fiction

“Fantasy is the faculty by which simulacra of sensible objects can be reproduced in the mind: the process of imagination” (Stableford, 2009, p. 35). Back in the 1940s, Tolkien, author of The Lord of The Rings, had already proposed that fantasies are embedded with three fundamental and psychological functions: Recovery, Escape, and Consolation. Therefore, escaping from the depressive pandemic reality to a fantasy world is a sound option one can choose when restricted in a household.     

In the 1970s, the word fantasy became the label for commercial fiction for adults. Broadly speaking, fantasy fiction can be divided into two sub-genres: Low fantasy and High fantasy. The low and high here do not refer to the quality of the fiction but to the amount of fantasy setting in the stories.

High fantasy, or epic fantasy, sets in a secondary world, a world that is separated completely from the real world, though the medieval setting has been the traditional background. In the recent masterpieces, A Song of Ice and Fire (see the 4th volume: A Feast for Crows in the collection), George R.R. Martin immersed himself in medieval England by visiting relics and reading history books for inspiration. Low fantasy, on the other hand, refers to Fictions setting in the Primary world, the real world that we live in. Magical or supernatural occurrences are intertwined within the world that we are familiar with. A typical example of this genre is the Harry Potter book series. Fantasy Fiction meets Board Games in this theme through the Harry Potter Board Game.

The paradoxical Covid-19 board game, during Covid-19 pandemic
Board Gaming v.s. Social Distancing

Board games are tabletop games in which some indicators or objects are placed, moved on a specific board to achieve specific game goals. They often include elements of the table, card, role-playing as well as miniature games. Many adults wrongfully perceive board gaming to be a childish activity. This may derive from the fact that such a playful activity, reminds them of childhood memories of playing board games with friends or family. However, during Covid times and usually being away from friends and family may trigger a need to reconnect with the inner child.

Today, the old classics, among others Monopoly, are new again. The board games market registered 20% growth in 2020 (Matalucci, 2020), because board games can help combat social isolation during the pandemic (Booth, 2020), more and more people participate in them to have fun and get rid of the negative emotions that are brought by the pandemic. Board games usually require multiple players to participate, which is counterintuitive in times of mandatory social distancing. However, they provide the opportunity to play with family members or roommates (“co-quarantiners”) to increase face to face communications as well as the fun of staying at home. People can also escape from screens and online interaction while playing board games.

Covid-19 Digital Collection represents board games through the 3D objects of the Harry Potter Board Game, which recreates a wizardry world using fantasy, the Catan Card Game that lets several players use information, negotiation, and strategy to begin a table adventure and the Horse Rider Miniature, which is a character that belongs to miniature wargaming, in which miniature models represent military units in analog tabletop battles. The Jigsaw Puzzle can be considered as a crossover between board games and puzzle/IQ games, therefore the following section will be covering the topic of escaping through puzzle games.

Brain Training: Using Puzzles as a way to Escape from a Negative Reality

A puzzle is a problem or game that trains the mind and test ingenuity. The player needs to think and put all the pieces together, find patterns or fill the gaps according to the genre of the puzzle. There are various kinds of puzzles: crossword puzzles, mechanical puzzles, logic puzzles, math puzzles, word search puzzles, Sudoku, trivia puzzles (Lee, 2019). Puzzles are represented in our collection by the objects Wooden IQ Puzzle and Jigsaw Puzzle.

This short video presents how puzzles’ sales went up during the pandemic and explores some of the reasons why people enjoy them so much

As already noted, during the pandemic a lot of people turned to the traditional games of our childhood, puzzles. As many of them claim in their blog posts, what triggered them to do so was the fact that puzzles can work as a getaway. Given that the dominant emotions during this period were fear, anxiety and uncertainty, many people felt the need to escape from this negative reality. Puzzles are ideal to keep a mind occupied in the most creative way. Putting the pieces together makes you give the sense that life becomes better, as if chaos gets in order (Watson, 2020). As a result, they have beneficial results in mental health.

Another reason why many people have chosen puzzles was that during this time of “inaction”, puzzles gave them a goal, a mission. The process of solving a puzzle is not an easy one, as it demands much effort, some moments of fail and insistence. Puzzle gamers love this process of suspense, which sometimes might be addictive, until they finally find the solution. Additionally, puzzles are teaching people that no matter how hard things might get, they should never give up (Long, 2020). They encourage players to keep trying and trust their instincts, their moments of epiphany, which as scientists claim most of the time are correct (Salvi et al., 2016, p. 456)!

At the same time, other people in search of positivity in their daily life turned to puzzles in order to get the feeling of reward after solving them. The Aha! moment when the player after some hard effort finally finds the solution brings pleasure and excitement. This moment of insight triggers the brain’s reward system, the same system that responds to other pleasures such as food (Watson, 2020). This feeling of pleasure and reward is what attracts gamers, especially during hard times, as it brings euphoria and increases confidence.

Coming Soon
What object did you use the most in order to escape during covid?
What object did you use the most in order to escape during covid?
What object did you use the most in order to escape during covid?

The poll was created by the authors

Objects Associated with this Theme

Explore the narratives hidden behind each object and gain a deeper understanding of how they can act as coping mechanisms.

Harry Potter Board Game
By Camila Valgas
Catan Card Game
By Eleni Balaska
Wooden IQ Puzzle
By Eirini Skarlataki
Jigsaw Puzzle
By Mengxin Wang
"A Feast for Crows" Book
By Qinwen Zeng
Horse Rider Miniature
By Thomas Papatzikas

Booth, P. (2020, December 24). What’s Old Is New: Board Games Can Be a Lifeline in Lockdown. U.S. News.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Coping with Stress.

Definition of Escapism. (n.d.). Lexico.

Lee, C. (2019, February 25). Puzzle Types – Wealth Words. Wealth Words Blog.

Long, C. (2020, May 18). Quarantine Is Making Puzzle Enthusiasts of Us All. The New Yorker.

Matalucci, B. (2020, January 2). Coronavirus: Rapid growth of board games market faces pandemic hurdles. DW.

Salvi, C., Bricolo, E., Kounios, J., Bowden, E., & Beeman, M. (2016). Insight solutions are correct more often than analytic solutions. Thinking & Reasoning, 22(4), 443–460.

Spohr, D. (2017) Fake news and ideological polarization: Filter bubbles and selective exposure on social media. Business Information Review, 34(3), pp. 150-160.

Stableford, B. (2009). The A to Z of fantasy literature (Vol. 46). Scarecrow Press.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (1947). On fairy-stories.

Watson, G. (2020, May 4). Why solving puzzles feels so satisfying, especially during a quarantine. Washington Post.