Illness and Gaming

Wednesday, 10. February 2016

Nobody wants to be struck by a serious illness – but sometimes fate has different things in store for us. But even when the rug is pulled out from under you by such a diagnosis, life goes on. I could tell you a thing or two about that. Over the past two and a half years I’ve collected several such experiences – and not only negative ones, by any means. Amongst other things, I’ve realised that one of my favourite hobbies – playing board games – isn’t only useful to help pass the time or to educate children but has a lot more to offer.


But let’s start at the very beginning. Even mainstream medicine admits that a full recovery requires more than just medication and that sport and other diversions can be beneficial. Let’s stick with the first of these for now.


Physical activity obviously has many positive effects on the body; most importantly you tend to sleep much better when you’re tired out. But during this activity – which in cases of serious illness probably shouldn’t be too intensive, rather “just” some kind of endurance sport – the cogs keep turning in your brain. There’s masses of time to ruminate and ponder and so it can’t be considered distracting in any way.

Reading, TV, Audio Books…

There’s no doubt these are good pastimes. But have you ever tried to spend time on any of these when you’re stressed or tense? I’m sure you’ll have had just as much success as me. Every time, your mind starts to wander and your thoughts tend to go down their own paths. Suddenly you realise you’ve read the last page of the book without taking any of it in – or the same with the last chapter of an audio book. And it’s very easy for your attention to wander watching TV; it’s in the very nature of the medium.

Self-help groups…

Sure, it does you good to see people every so often who are in the same situation as you. You can certainly pick up some useful advice. But to be completely honest: being around sick people all the time doesn’t do anything to distract you from your own misery. Especially if the majority of people you meet take delight in explaining the depths of their suffering in great detail to anyone who’ll listen.

Singing, Music, Games…

So, now we’ve reached the things which, according to my own experiences, provide the most effective diversion therapy. If you sing or play music, you’ll know how much concentration is required. And a song always makes you feel better, whether humming in the shower or singing in a choir. Board games have also proven to be an excellent diversionary tactic, it’s impossible to play without concentration and communicating with others. And if your thoughts still start to wander down some unpleasant paths, your opponents will make sure that your mental faculties are focused back on the table.

Children have a definite advantage over adults in this respect: they know very well how diverting a game can be and they also know a game can help make difficult situations more bearable. This isn’t the case with adults. I’ve often tried to convince my fellow patients in hospital to play a game with me. Time and again I received the same response, that they didn’t have time for that kids’ stuff or that they were too exhausted. Instead they would turn on the TV and stare at the ceiling or moan about their suffering to any visitors. It’s a shame, because the few I managed to convince came to the same conclusion as me: “Hey, that was a lot of fun and I’ve not thought about my illness at all in the past hour!” 

To summarise:

If I were a doctor, I would recommend the following complementary therapy to all my patients: Join a choir and a board games club or at least dig out the old games of your childhood and discover that the magic of the past can still work today!