Board games can be a great way of escaping from the day-to-day worries, thoughts and general logistics, even if it’s just for a short time. Board games are just one form of escapism, of course. Books, films, arts and crafts, hiking, solving crossword puzzles and many other activities can achieve something very similar for yourself or other people. You have to find what works for you, but in this article, I want to talk about board games and how they are a form of escapism for me.
Of course, board games can have the opposite effect. They can remind you of your fears or worries. That’s another way in which board games can help, but that’s not what I want to talk about here. Making you face your fears is not a form of escapism.
The most important thing for creating a successful form of escapism is how much of my thinking a board game occupies. The more I think about the game, the less I have the capacity to think about my day-to-day worries, my fears or anything else that otherwise occupies my thoughts when I’m not playing.
There are a number of different ways in which a game can make me focus my thoughts on it. The most obvious, I think, is when a game is quite complex, either because it has a lot of rules that you have to remember or because the game creates a large decision space, which means either you have a lot of options on your turn or each option leads to further decisions, which in turn lead to more, creating a large tree of decisions. Either way, your brain is occupied with thinking about the rules or the decisions ahead.
The risk here is, that a game can be too complex and overload your brain, at which point you can become disengaged with it and your thoughts start to wander somewhere else, probably back to your day-to-day. Finding a game that occupies just enough of your brainpower, but not too much, can be a balancing act and the same game can be ideal for you one day, but on another day it might be too much, because you’re already tired and need something lighter.
In fact, I often found that a lighter game can actually make you focus on it a lot more than many more complex games, especially if the game is fun. Your brain is not much occupied with rules complexity or a large decision space, but it’s faced with very simple decisions that come thick and fast. A lot of dexterity games demand a lot of focus for example, but even very simple card games can draw your attention by making you focus on what the other players are doing. You basically have no time to think, because you’re constantly making decisions, while every decision is actually quite simple.
Something else that can draw you into a game is artwork, a good story or setting, maybe some tactile components or basically anything that appeals to your imagination. If you can get your imagination fired up enough, your brain is focused on the story that the game tells, the world that you wander through and the adventures you experience. It fills in all the elements that the game doesn’t provide, keeping it occupied and you focussed on the game.
I think that’s part of the appeal of role-playing games or any other games with a significant storytelling element. It’s also why games that have stunning artwork, amazing minis or other beautiful components are so appealing. They all make it relatively easy to escape from the day-to-day dross into another world, at least for some time.
Speaking of time, game length as such is probably less important with regards to escapism. A three-hour game that keeps your thoughts away from your fears or worries is just as valuable as a 10-minute game, because you can easily play the latter several times to keep you occupied. In fact, sometimes long games can be great to start with, but as you get tired, your concentration starts to deteriorate and your thoughts start to wander back to your day-to-day challenges. However, it depends on how you feel and if you’re fresh enough to focus for a few hours, then that’s fine, or you can take breaks, of course.
For me, the time limit tends to be around two hours for one game, but it does depend on the game. Playing Near and Far for three hours is absolutely fine, but something like Scythe you probably want to be over with in about an hour, even though if you lose, you will say you would have wanted to play it for longer, of course.
So do you use board games as a form of escapism? Do you have games that achieve that really well? Are there any games that you don’t play because they remind you of your day-to-day worries? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.