I was impacted by the news of Chris Cornell’s death. Soundgarden had been one of my favorite bands as a teenager, them and Pearl Jam. So a lot of my developmental history was framed by those bands, also by delving into DC hardcore bands like Fugazi, Bad Brains. In many ways these bands shaped who I am as a professional in mental health and also a board game designer.
I encounter depression on a daily basis. It does not always come through the door in the same form each time. Sometimes it comes in the form of rage, sometimes in the form of sadness, sometimes in the form of numbness.
I don’t know Chris personally, I have only an outsider’s perspective and I am not trying to suggest he was depressed. What I am suggesting is that life is difficult. It is hard getting through every day as it is. Music for a lot of us is an escape from that. For others, board games are an escape. In a previous post I wrote about identity and how board games can allow us to pursue different identities. In itself, this is a sense of an escape.
My dear friend, Mark Rivera wrote about a board game I want to touch on briefly, he talked about The Adventurers game (AEG) in the guise of fun and frivolity and the experience he had while playing. He felt captivated by the experience and drawn into the game and the game’s world. I probably need to ask Mark which character he chose. This may not be relevant as most of the time the characters are distributed randomly. The excitement and dread of that game though are often a huge draw for potential players. Many gamers can see the parallels with adventure movies like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider. Few of us will ever get to explore the world much less explore for lost artifacts. We love it though, the excitement, the thrill!
There is worry, but it will not actually happen in real life. For folks experiencing depression, the dread is real.
The escape. The dread is manufactured. It isn’t real. I wrote about Forbidden Island (GameWright) as an ideal game in therapeutic settings because of this. There is worry, but it will not actually happen in real life. For folks experiencing depression, the dread is real. Same too for social anxiety. With those particular games, the player is immersed in the avoidance, the stepping to the edge and looking down at the doom, but not jumping.
This is the scariest thing for humans in the world. We are often put to the edge of our own experience, we could jump to grand experiences, but something holds us back. For others, there isn’t anything holding them back. Reading Chris Cornell’s bio this week brought me back to that. It made me think to of Amanda Palmer. There was no “plan B” for them. It was go for the musical life because of their creativity and their drive. Success was not guaranteed, for every Chris Cornell there are a million bands that gave it all and never made the leap.
Game designers too face this conclusion. Game design has never been my “plan A.” Shocking right? I like my day job, i like what i do. Game design is always a hobby for me. But others have made that leap, which is good for them. A “household name” in board games could be Antoine Bauza, he has had a number of “big hits” in boardgames. To that end though, his level of success is tempered by the hobby not being as big as music. A quick example, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, their hit record sold 5 million copies in the US. Mr. Bauza’s hit game, 7 Wonders, had sold 500,000 copies by January 20th of 2015. You can all see the difference there. To that end, there are fewer board game designers than musicians in the world.
The creative process is not an easy one, I recall reading interviews over the years with different artists, designers, etc who described running from their negative thoughts, those feelings of “imposter syndrome”; that someone is more talented or better or that they aren’t deserving of their gifts or their fame.
This all creeps back into the realm of depression. That feeling of dread pulls so many down and under. I’ve talked to artists in various genres who gave up. The feeling of dread was too great. The feeling that the creativity wouldn’t last, that the fans would leave, that they weren’t deserving of the success.
Here’s how we combat it! Bust out those board games, grab Forbidden Island, Adventurers, what ever you want. Look at what you have to do to avoid those pitfalls. Plan! Plan for them. See what leads to those moments. Forbidden Island is sinking every turn, your dread is legit. You gotta get to that chopper, fella! This means careful planning and use of skills.
Assess your skills regularly! Write a list, recite it in the mirror. You can do this! You are mighty!
But depression creeps back in, the negative thoughts swarm. I picture dementors from the Harry Potter movies when i hear folks talking about their negative thoughts. It may not be socially acceptable to pull out your wand and wave it around chanting away the negative thoughts. Maybe do it in your head or when you’re getting ready for the day?
Fight back! Keep fighting! You are not alone. There are people who care about you. Who want to help. Dylan Thomas wrote about “raging against the dying of the light.” This is the same idea. Grab a friend, your cat, a book, a board game! Arm yourself against those thoughts and tell them off! You wouldn’t quit on your favorite board game, you would persevere! You would continue to battle until the end came.