Coronavirus and its lockdowns have played with our feelings more than any fuckboy ever could. But somewhere along the emotional roller coaster of our lives being uprooted, we went from being bored to playing board games.
During the lockdown period, some of the most downloaded apps were online entities of classic board games we grew up playing. Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Chess and even UNO emerged as saviours of our social lives once the Zoom fatigue set in. In fact, Ludo King, the online version of the four-player strategy game developed in 2016, crashed in the first week of lockdown in March after too many people tried to play it simultaneously. It also became the first Indian gaming app to cross 100 million downloads.
Even tabletop classics like Monopoly and Scrabble have seen a renaissance. In the U.S., a board game seller reported a 4,000 percent increase in sales on Amazon. In the U.K., the sale of board games and jigsaw puzzles spiked by 240 percent in the first week of their lockdown.
But what about these games has us so on-board? Why don’t they result in the same kind of annoyance and fatigue we feel every time someone tries to video call us? And how do these board games help improve our mental health? We asked Mumbai-based clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany to elaborate.
VICE: Why do you think board games regained their popularity in the time of coronavirus?
Seema Hingorrany: We’re mentally fatigued and feeling brain fog by living a life with no schedule. We’re constantly surrounded by bad news and rising deaths, with no end in sight. 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 kit even before coronavirus. If a client is feeling anxious or depressed, we encourage them to play games that trigger nostalgia.
But what about these games makes them so therapeutic?
It’s not so much about the game itself as it’s about the memories we associate with it that make us happy. For most of us, board games were an inextricable part of our happiest childhood memories. We played them on holidays or sleepovers. As we grew up, our hectic schedules may have pushed these memories into our subconscious. The feelings of satisfaction we associate with these games are stored in our limbic system. So now that we’re playing them at a time when we’re all collectively feeling low and anxious, they activate the memories we pushed back and bring them to our consciousness. It’s a way for us to connect to the emotions that made us feel like life was safe and simple in our childhood.
How exactly do we connect to these emotions?
The novel coronavirus is a perceived threat that is literally right at our doorsteps. We see its effects in our buildings and news feeds. This plunges us into a state of constant stress, which increases the levels of our stress hormone cortisol. But by playing the games we associate with nostalgia and simpler times, we move into a healing state. Our cortisol levels automatically reduce, and our brain emits endorphins, oxytocin as well as dopamine to distract our minds and give us a sense of satisfaction.
What are the long-term effects playing these games that give us a rush of nostalgia will have on us?
I think remembering the emotions we felt as a kid can also help us process our past trauma, if any. Our shadow selves are the parts of us we haven’t been able to face and overcome. For many, the lockdown has been a time for self-reflection in a way that helps them finally face the feelings they pushed away for years. Some might get triggered by having to face past trauma, but these games become a form of self-regulation at a time when it may not be physically possible to meet a friend and talk about things. Self-regulation and soothing are the needs of the hour, so dwelling in our past can help us come to terms with it.
Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.