People often ask me, “Why do you love games so much.” I give them various answers about spending time with my family and friends. Switching off from screens. The excitement of immersing myself into another world. I am sure you know the type of thing. But tonight I stumbled upon the deeper truth. The real reason this isn’t a fad for me. Why it has stuck for so long, and won’t ever go away.
It's the people who play it and the open attitude this one thing we all have in common brings. Now this may sound small, maybe even trite. But let me just quickly explain what happened this evening. A guy who I barley know and who I have never met, messaged me on instagram asking if I fancied playing a game of Rail Road Ink. With a cool expansion he had made himself, with him, online, via video call. I instantly, and without any second guessing agreed. I opened this up to a woman in New Zealand, again who I have never met, and not even spoken to before on video call as she suggested to me it may be fun to play a game together. The man who made the initial invite then suggested we open it up to a wider group chat of 33 other strangers I have never met, that we have formed due to our common interest in posting pictures of games with a common mechanic theme each Monday.
I ended up playing with these two strangers, and another lady from Ohio with whom I have never spoke before and a lady and her husband who again, I had only spoken to once, and that was via a facebook live we both blindly did for a website we blog for. All of this, felt so normal. It was only after it was over, that I stoped to think how unusual it all was. Put me into a situation with literally any other connection other than board games, and I am running away to the hills, finding an excuse as to why I ‘sadly cannot make it tonight.’ The one thing that connected us all tonight, is board games, and our combined enthusiasm for what they bring to our lives. Isn’t that incredible? I love football. Soccer if you are in the US. I have supported the same team for 31 years. I passionately know pretty much everything there is to know about my team. I love watching them play. I love talking about them. I love writing about them. But if 5 strangers had asked me to join a call to talk about them I would have refused, hands down. Fearful of the social awkwardness it would bring. I also think I would not be in anyway at all interested in giving up my time for whatever reason these people wanted to talk, as I would feel instinctivley defensive towards them. I am not sure why. I am a pretty odd guy with the usual insecurities most of us have, and find these sorts of situations personally very difficult. I do it most days for work, but for social reasons, no thank you! But change that common denominator to games, and I am all in! Why is that? These people tonight, I do not know them. I have no idea what their passions in life are outside games. I don’t know their families names. I don’t know there political or religious beliefs. I don’t know their thoughts on the environment. Do they recycle ? Do they like 'This is Us'? Do they find the Amazon browser annoying? What are their thoughts on the Paris treaty? This takes up a lot of my thinking time. But tonight, with these almost perfect strangers, I didn’t care. We barely even said hello when we started the call. We said where in the world we were calling from and starting playing a game. And it was simple. It was natural. It was beautiful. Are there other groups of people that would do this? I honestly don’t know. Do people into cross stitch meet on instagram and then randomly start have video calls where they make patterns together? Are there a group of Turnip enthusiasts right now having a passionate debate with strangers around the world about composting techniques? I really hope there are, that would be amazing! But I guess that it doesn’t happen this way. Maybe I am wrong. I hope I am. But after 41 years on this earth where I have been more than once accused of being into things as a fad, I have dipped my toe into most hobbies and sports. But I have never found a community like the board game one. It opens its arms to you with no judgment. It embraces you like an old friend, when it doesn’t even know your name from your insta handle. To my family I am Jim Cohen. To my insta friends I am Jim.Gamer. Is that weird? I don’t know. But I like it. I talk, EVERY day to my friends on insta. I talk to my best men from my wedding around three times a year. What is that about? Today alone I have had conversations with 23 people on insta. None of whom I have ever met. I last spoke to my sisters a week ago, bar a WhatsApp to say thanks for a birthday gift. How does this happen? Why does this feel normal? We have one thing in common. We all kind of like board games. It seems like such a small thing to connect to so many strangers around the world in this way. Like and commenting on the odd insta post is one thing. But the natural way six people this evening all chatted for over an hour, struck a massive chord with me. There were no awkward silences as people were unsure what to say. There were no strange faces as someone said something weird. No fake attempts at jokes. No small talk to break the ice. Just six perfect strangers enjoying each others company. Joined together by a few dice. Does that not make you want to cry with how amazing that is? Humans are crazy. I mean, come on! Look at history. Look at the news. Look at yourself. Only today I was driving myself crazy at work because a client of mine had bought a product from someone else other than me. I work in an industry where clients do this every day. They have hundred of places to buy from. I am but one. But it drove me nuts. I was second guessing my actions with them. What could I have done better. What could I have changed to have not lost that deal. And I hated every second of it. But I searched my soul as it is my job to not make that mistake again. It's not fun, but it's what I bet, most of us do every day. We have so little acceptance of things outside of our control. We worry about so many trivial small, irrelevant things that we cannot influence. We fight. We argue. We kill. And over what? Land? Religion? Politics? We have created so much that divides us. And for what? We are never all going to agree. We don’t need to agree. But so many people have died as people attempted to make others see their way of thinking. Why? Now this is going to feel like a stretch, but stick with me ok? This doesn’t happen in board games. I have debated the merits of certain games with other people. Joked about certain mechanics, designers and games. Which is the best? Which works in bettwe in certain situations? But there is always time and space for one more game. "I love Dune. Oh you think Root is better? Sure, I would love to try it. Thanks for the recommendation". Change that conversation to any other thing, and see how it goes. "You have a different opinion to me on this political leader? Oh, well maybe I was wrong, lets' talk about?" "You think this reaction from this religious group was extreme? Sure, let's debate that, maybe I was wrong?" Now I know there are bigger things in life! I know it is harder to find common ground in politics and religion than there is in board games. I am not saying we should all agree on these things, far from it. What I am saying is who gives the actual crap if we agree or not?
Tonight we played games. I don’t know what the six others who joined the call tonight think about all these things. And I don’t care. I wanted to be their friends. I wanted to hang out with them. I wanted to enjoy their company. And I did. And it was beautiful. I am not like that in any other walk of life and I believe that so many of us are like that. You don’t think the same as me on Brexit/Trump/Israel/Abortion/The environment? Well, we cannot really be friends.
How often do we see a side of other people we don’t like. How often have we found the faults in others making us not to want to spend more time with them? I do it all the time. I judge for fun. Quite literally, my wife and I do it at every outside restaurant table we have ever sat at, and in truth, we both love it! But maybe it's time to put that side of my personality away. Maybe I need to stop the judgment. Stop looking for what’s different in others and start looking for the similarities. As when that similarity is that the other person quite likes playing board games, well heck, I seem to be able to do anything for these people.
It brings out the best in me, and from what I have seen, so many others too. That is very cool. But this is not a blog about how cool board games are, or a pat on the back to the board game community. No. This is a slap in my own face. A slap to me for not being like this in the rest of my world. Why is Jim.Gamer so much more open than Jim Cohen. Why is Jim.Gamer so much more giving, and kind and patient? I want to see the good in everyone. Not just the ones who like games too. I want to find common ground with the world. I want to take what I have learnt from this amazing community and bring it with me on every step I take. Board games bring us all together. I want to try and bring the part that board games brings to my personality and see if I can accept the world with more gracious eyes.
I love board games because they make me a better person. They make be closer to the man I want to be. Thats the actual answer to why I like games so much. Sounds a bit much maybe, But it’s true. But now I want to like games because they have made me a better person, not just because I am a better person when I am playing them or talking with others who also like them. I want to like games because they have taught me how to see the good in others. I want to like games as they have changed my attitude to strangers. I want to like board games as they have made Jim Cohen a bit more like Jim.Gamer.