Tabletop Gaming and Mental Health | Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

May 10 – 16 is Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK. Because talking about it is the first step to tackling it, raising awareness can make a massive difference to those who need support. So, let’s talk about it. Our HR manager, Gaz Reid, is here to share his personal experience and research into how tabletop gaming can help to boost your mood. 

It’s widely known video gaming can help with your mental health, but what about its analogue older brother? Whether you’re a painter, player, or collector, let’s take a look at what tabletop gaming can do for your noggin.

Speaking from experience, I’ve kept the darkness at bay by meeting up with friends and rolling some dice. As well as playing, we’d often make up strange scenarios for our games — little stories to explain why our armies were fighting one another. 

We did that for a laugh and to smack-talk each other, but it did something more. It unleashed our creativity, as well as our prowess on the battlefield. 

Well, they unleashed their prowess. I rolled dice.

But it was fun, and it gave us a level of social interaction you just don’t get with video gaming. Being able to look your opponent in the eyes and interact face-to-face can’t be beaten.

In fact, psychologists are starting to see the benefit of games, particularly roleplaying games, as a form of therapy. 

In 2017, a California State University study showed Dungeons and Dragons can be a powerful therapeutic tool for adolescents, helping them to come to terms with their worries in a safe and controlled setting, and making it easier for them to open up. 

This worked particularly well in a group setting. Even more interesting is that results suggested this therapy could be used for individuals of all ages, not just adolescents, “as long as the person can embrace the spirit of play”.

"How does gaming help your mental health?"

Because I work with a lot of tabletop gamers, I asked how gaming helps them manage their mental health. Here’s what they said:

“Like many things, it's an all-encompassing distraction. When I'm playing a game, I'm only thinking about playing the game. All the problems I have to deal with are solvable within the context of the game, without interference from many of life's other problems.”

“Having a weekly Magic The Gathering night with fellow staff benefitted me and engaged me. Before those few months, I was pretty lonely socially. Being an adult, it was hard to make friends when I moved away from my home town. Tabletop games gave me an avenue to make closer bonds.” 

“When I’m feeling particularly low I can avoid social situations, and the more I do that the more guilty I feel about doing it. I never miss a week of Pathfinder though. I recently moved really far away from my best and oldest friends and while lockdown has had serious challenges for me, playing Pathfinder every Wednesday on Roll 20 gave me something to look forward to, and a chance to catch up with my closest people while I’d usually be hiding away.” 

“Painting really helps me focus, which helps me manage my anxiety. Seeing the effort I’ve put in pay off, being able to experiment and seeing a miniature come together is really satisfying and gives me something to enjoy and be proud of. Showing it off afterwards is great too — yeah, I did good. Give me those sweet, sweet compliments!”

If you’ve found gaming to be cathartic, the above responses won’t be much of a surprise.

Still, while it’s really useful to find hobbies and mechanisms that help you stay level and give you a boost, it’s really important to feel your mental health is supported at work.

The workplace is one of the worst offenders when it comes to negatively affecting mental health. This is something we take really seriously at Steamforged Games, and we’re working to do the best we can to support our awesome team. #teamforged

This blog is part two of a three-part series for mental health awareness week. If you’ve enjoyed this blog, check out part one on LinkedIn where Gaz talks about what awareness means to Steamforged Games, and part three on Steamforged Games’ approach to mental health.