Game in the time of Coronavirus

Updated: Jan 27

Although far less romantic than “Love in the time of Cholera”, playing board games during the Coronavirus outbreak has been no less harrowing for some of us. But, unlike the metaphorically rich sickness in Marquez’ literary tale, COVID19 has been the real-deal.

Without doubt, our world has been changed by the immediate impact and lasting effects of this global pandemic; surgical masks which were the exclusive uniform of the medical profession and exotic nail bars are now as essential as underwear; firm handshakes have transformed into street-cool elbow bumps, and if you’re not singing “Happy Birthday” in your head whilst washing your hands, well then, you’re officially dooming us all, my friend.

Note: this piece does not attempt to discuss or describe the horrors and devastation that people have experienced since the Spring, as I would be doing a disservice to everybody. Rather, this work focusses on some of the impacts Coronavirus has had on our hobby and me as a member of our rich and wonderful gaming community. Get comfy, kids, for I begin with a story.

Locked and Loaded?

I remember the first time I queued up at 4am to get into a supermarket back in March of this year. I was confused, terrified, but determined. Walking in single file, masked and gloved like I was about to commit armed robbery rather than buy bananas, It became very clear that the previously bloated shelves had taken on a sudden svelteness. Gone were the usual mountains of bread, pasta, toilet paper, paracetamol, and tin foil. I know, I too thought the foil thing bizarre until I heard some of my fellow trolley truckers at the checkout enthusiastically conspiring about the virus trying to read our thoughts and/or spread some form of organic electromagnetic field. After that, I scoured, sourced, and fabricated three fetching aluminium beanies; hot to sleep in but no bugs are gonna use me and my family as their personal streaming service!

Anyhoo, besides the natty NASA inspired fedora I am sporting today (just in case, you understand), I am ashamed to admit that I initially and loudly condemned panic buying by the public at large whilst simultaneously stockpiling my own bunker level store of 3 ply puppy printed loo rolls; my anxiety disorder and guilt complex make for riotous bedfellows.

I remember one particular early morning grocery guerrilla attack where I felt almost giddy with relief having secured 4 bags of flour by placing them on different parts of the conveyor belt by virtue of the terrified checkout lady wearing fogged up glasses not remembering how many she had already scanned. In comparison, the rest of my basket was a car crash of hastily grabbed consumables; tinned peaches, microwave chips, cola, and shoe polish.

In that single defining self-reflective moment in the supermarket car park, I quickly realised that I had not evolved the skills necessary to survive a disaster of any kind, let alone one requiring alpha-parent abilities to pressure-purchase foodstuffs capable of sustaining my family for weeks without access to 24/7 convenience stores.

As I made my way home, uneasily victorious, I also slowly realised that I had no idea what to do with flour, 4 bags or otherwise. My early hunter-gatherer jubilation crumbled as quickly as fast-acting yeast (another short-lived win!) when I realised how little I knew about baking. Bread was something that came bleached, soft, and thick sliced; plastic wrapped and preservatives aplenty, just as nature intended. Turning powder into a sandwich was witchcraft; a tasty but no less mysterious practice of the dark arts.

As well as my domestic shortcomings, I also failed repeatedly to trump the in-house iParent during our own personal lockdown working-from-home-schooling-hell; Mr. EyesPad as he is now known became the only reliable source of social interaction for our son as my husband (who, to add a cherry on top of his misery cake, was shielding for health reasons) and I found ourselves unable to switch our eyes and ears off from the relentless news headlines, government briefings, tweets, emails, and radio broadcasts. Sensory overload on steroids; anxiety’s lifeblood.

Boom or Bust?

Fast forward eight terrifying, devastating, and exhausting months and, for me, the digital pandemic chatter has settled into a familiar, constant, household hum. The bags of flour still languish in my cupboard untouched (thank the Lord for online shopping!), but our wonderful shared board gaming hobby has been rapidly evolving and adapting at a pace that puts Boris Johnson’s ever decreasing waist size and popularity to shame. And just as well, frankly, given that we awoke today to another set of new Tier 4 lockdown restrictions.

And so, this new layer of can we/can’t we got me thinking. In the omnipresent shadow of Coronavirus, what has changed for us as board gamers? What challenges do we now face in sustaining our hobby with no definitive pandemic effects-end date and, perhaps more surprisingly, what new opportunities, if any, has this new-normal dropped into our dice towers? Not that I nor anybody would ever wish a global disaster as the agent of transformation, but I ask the latter because, whilst it is easy to focus on change as a negative force, the chance to evolve brings with it novel and, importantly, positive opportunities for growth.

I think we can all agree that we love our gaming hobby and our overwhelmingly friendly community. But, as I have mentioned in other pieces and contexts, these cannot survive in a vacuum. Elements of what we do and how we do it and who we do it with have to develop so that we can thrive as players in this new normal. If we don’t, we risk dooming board gaming to pastime vestigiality; turning what was once great into a stubborn, unstable place; the grumbling appendix of the hobby body.

Digital Development?