Board Games in the Times of Corona

By Saptaparni Sadhu

Human beings are social animals. Yes, no matter how much of an introvert we may like to call ourselves, socializing is as intrinsic to human behaviour as the presence of deadly viruses in bats. Thus, in these times that call for social distancing, humans are very very persistent about finding a way to maintain the social while adhering to the distancing. Just as the novel coronavirus jumped from animals into people and rapidly mutated itself to survive in human bodies of different compositions and in diverse climatic conditions, humans have mutated their social habits by entertaining their want for company online. Yes, our lot is more online than ever right now. In fact, if we created an algorithm comparing the time spent at home online versus the time spent offline, the former is more likely to draw in the hours.

By online, I am not only talking about the time spent doing work-from-homes, COVID tracking, social networking, reading daily news and ultimately segregating the fake ones from the real. I have recently become aware, and probably you have too, of the uber spike in people playing online board games with friends. These applications have been around for quite some time, but in these times of self-isolation, online board games such as Uno, Monopoly, Scrabble and Ludo have received a barrage of takers. The most attractive facet of these apps – they let you play with real people, be it strangers or friends. And what would we not give for real interaction with a real person when our daily 2-minute interactions with those people have been stalled for weeks or, maybe, months.

Herein, I should clarify, I am not talking of the avid video-gamers who squabble and get all excited about their avatars on competitive role-play games such as Fortnite, PUBG or Mobile Legends (I do not know much about these, so forgive any misreading about this crop. All I know is that you have an avatar, you get excited and you kill stuff). I am speaking of most office-going, college-going people who socialise with friends at pubs or restaurants tucked in corners of the city, at the theatre or food festivals or simply at home. We love a bit of company now and then, and these games just fit the bill. And with The Guardian and The Los Angeles Times listing out games for self-quarantined people to play, I realise I am not alone. 

The reason online board games are finding new takers as compared to role-play games is perhaps nostalgia. What we mostly associate with such games is the concept of four people sitting in a circle with cards and coins, flighting over the rules, rejoicing at a smart save or looking at each other in complete dismay at a foolish move. Of course, an algorithm will never allow those sneaky cheats in a Ludo game or a forgotten Uno being left uncaught. But, it’s the next best thing we got. So when I “eat” one of my friend’s red token in Ludo and send it off to his “house”, I can imagine his crestfallen expression and feel satisfied with my strategy.

While the gift of video-calling does help, the call for “action” in these board games give a different kind of excitement for people boxed in their homes – the realisation that someone somewhere is “doing” something and they have called upon me to join them in their “doing”.  Frankly, this is probably the most amount of liberation and society we are going to feel now. Who knew we needed board games so much.

In conclusion, and I am going to veer wildly off-topic here, thank you to our health workers and scientists and researchers all over the world – whose efforts have given me the comfort and privilege to sit at home, worried but kind of safe, downloading board games and inviting friends to feed my need for company.

Saptaparni Sadhu is a content editor at a corporate firm and a student of Literature. She is also a trained Odissi dancer and an occasional poet. She isn’t sure if she likes waffles.

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