Five Reasons to Play Games During These Troubling Times

People sitting around a table and playing a card game

In these troubling times, we need to play more games. 

That’s right: Play. More. Games.

Contrary to what some believe, games aren’t just a form of escapism (though to be honest, no judgement if that’s what you want). Games are powerful tools that allow us to think about and even actively build toward a better world. Here are five reasons why you should be playing games during these difficult times:

1) Games create a playful space to work toward solutions

So… everything is awful, and we are exposed to more information than humans have ever been before in history, right? The constant flow of information and struggle to process all of the bad news about our administration, ongoing white supremacist violence, the reckoning happening around sexual harassment and assault, not to mention the natural disasters brought on by climate change (to name just a few of the things going on) is Really A Lot.

Playing games isn’t going to save you from all that, but board games in particular are often about building something or striving toward a concrete goal. That can feel great when we’re living with so much uncertainty. And if you play games that focus on cooperation instead of hoarding resources and smiting your enemies, you can work together toward solutions together. 

Games can create powerful experiences that allow us to come together while building lasting memories and putting our creativity into action.

2) Whoever controls our imagination, controls our future

Image courtesy of Molly McLeod

It’s well accepted that science fiction has influenced the development of our modern technologies. But this type of thing isn’t just limited to science fiction, or even technology. Think about it: pop culture, the arts, and subcultures all have a tremendous impact on our society, in the immediate future as well as in the long term. Games are a part of that.

In fact, games are a booming industry – and that’s true for both video games as well as board games. They’re showing no signs of slowing down. People spend so much of their time playing games: on their phones, on their computers, around their kitchen tables, and even in school. In big and small ways alike, games influence us and our culture. That’s why we need to play and to make games that don’t only reflect ideas of conquest and exploitation. We need to make and to play games that help us envision a better world.

3) There’s a long history of using board games to fight for a better world

Elizabeth Magie, inventor of The Landlord’s Game, holds her game next to Monopoly. (Photo: Achetron.com, via Creative Commons)

The history of games goes back almost as far as human civilization. Over the past century, it’s also become more and more common to make games about challenging the status quo. One of the biggest examples might surprise you: Monopoly.

Yup. You read that right: Monopoly was originally created as a game to teach about the dangers of land hoarding and wealth consolidation. It was then called The Landlord’s Game. And in the early 1900’s, a group of women made the game Suffragetto to spread the word about how they were struggling for their rights. This untold history extends to video games, too. The infamous Sonic the Hedgehog had an environmental message at its core, according to its creator.

Interested in reading more about this history? Check out this deep dive we wrote exploring the secret history of games for change.

4) Playing board games keeps your brain active and healthy

Our game, Rise Up.

Board games are a part of many children’s experiences of play, but they are also beneficial to adults. Reading obviously is good for the brain, but board games are good for you in another way. Through play, games get you to access problem-solving, memory, and other cognitive skills. For older adults, playing board games has been scientifically proven to prolong brain health and slow the effects of dementia and Alzheimers. And beyond board games, play of all kinds is good for kid and adult brains – check out Dr. Stuart Brown’s research on the subject and watch his TED Talk about the value of play.

5) Video games can actually improve the way you think

Image courtesy of user włodi on Flickr, shared via Creative Commons

Sometimes when we are feeling anxious, stressed, or stuck it’s useful to switch it up for a few minutes as a kind of reset. If you work at an office or spend a lot of time in front of a computer, you’ve probably heard that it is important to take a break and move your body a few times an hour. Movement is great, but a few minutes of playing a game can also shake things up in your brain and make it easier to deal with whatever you’ve got going on. When played in moderation, a game can give you what the podcast Note to Self calls “a mental fist pump.” Listen to their episode Play Video Games for Your Mental Health for the details on the brain and behavioral science.

Looking for games about changing the world?

There’s a lot of things we can do to improve the world and our communities. Playing games, obviously, won’t solve all our problems. But they will help us engage our minds and imaginations, be social with our friends and family, and influence our culture. So the next time you think about changing the world, think about hosting a game night, too.

Now, are you looking for some games about building a better world? We’ve got you covered.

  • Space Cats Fight Fascism is a cooperative game where you play as a band of rebel cats trying to stop fascists from taking over the galaxy. It is for 2 – 4 players and takes roughly 45 – 60 minutes to play.
  • Rise Up: The Game of People & Power is the game about fighting for what you believe in. Using cards like “Massive March,” “Protest Song,” and “Building Community,” players will launch a campaign to bring about the change they want to see in the world.​. 2 – 5 players, ages 10 and up.
  • Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives. In Co-opoly, players work together to build a cooperative and strive for economic justice in their community. Everyone wins or loses together. 3 – 6 players, ages 10 and up.
  • Loud & Proud is a fast-paced social justice word association game that includes shouting, laughing, and lots of opportunities for interesting dialogue. 3 – 6 players, ages 12 and up.

Or want us to create a game for your organization, mission, or cause? Be in touch!


Support Our Work

TESA is proud to lead the development of games, tools, and programs for social change. You can support our work while having fun: buy our games about changing the world. TESA can also work with you to build a game, program, or tool for your cause!