*This post was written by a Start Healthy contributor.
As a parent, it’s always fun to share stories of how you entertained yourself while growing up. The slow, beige clunky computers and boxy walkie-talkie-shaped mobile phones of the 1990s. The cable boxes (sitting on tube TVs) of the 1980s. The pinball machines and Atari systems of the 1970s. Such cutting-edge devices of their day elicit amazed reactions from a generation accustomed to the instantaneous speed of twenty-first-century technology.
Some slower-paced activities pass the test of time, though—and board games appear to be at the top of that list. Playing these games has been one of my favorite activities since I was a child: I played with my friends, my family, and my neighbors—and I still do today.
Apparently, I’m not alone. Chess and checkers, for example, can be traced back to ancient times, and they are still two of the most popular board games in the world. In recent years, dozens of board game cafés—where you can play for hours with like-minded enthusiasts—have popped up across America. And, overall, these games still bring in the bucks, with the board game market expected to amass over $12 billion by 2023.
So, for countless people, there’s certainly something eminently fun about this activity on an intrinsic level. But the positives go beyond that—board games also provide educational and even health benefits to those who play. Here are just a few ways they improve our lives.
1. RULES MUST BE FOLLOWED.
For most board games, the rules are literally set in black and white, and everyone must abide by them. That’s why it sometimes takes awhile to get started: all the rules need to be read, understood, and accepted by all participants before play can begin—in practical terms, it’s kind of like agreeing on a contract for the entirety of the game.
2. THE ROLL OF THE DICE CAN FOIL THE BEST STRATEGY.
Have you ever spent a lot of time working on something, only for it to fall apart because of sheer bad luck? This important fact about best-laid plans is important to learn, and board games remind you that, no matter how prepared you are, you are still at the whims of chance. (Heck, Monopoly literally has a Chance card.) This is also a good reminder that…
3. YOU CAN’T ALWAYS WIN.
Winning and losing are part of life, and with board games there’s usually only one winner. This is understood when the game begins and accepted when the game ends, so it encourages sportsmanship.
1. ENJOYING A SLOWER PACE.
Allowing ourselves to step back, slow down, and process through things is even more important in today’s technological age, when our brains have been rewired for a rapid-fire reality. Another added benefit is patience, such as waiting for your turn (especially in games where you can lose a turn)—a good rule of thumb to learn at a young age.
2. WORKING OUT YOUR BRAIN.
Perhaps more than anything, this is the best physiological benefit of board games. You can reap important mental benefits from them because they often require you to increase your attention span, be actively engaged instead of passive, and use problem-solving skills—which are great tools for anyone but are particularly valuable to young kids (whose brains are developing) and older people (whose brain function starts declining).
3. STRENGTHENING BONDS AND HAVING FUN.
Simply put, board games bring people together. Whether you’re spending the time with family or friends, the fact is you’re part of a group, engaging in face-to-face interaction. From a practical perspective, socialization skills are improved and empathy is employed. From a self-worth perspective, it’s immeasurable. You’re welcomed. You belong. And that’s a great outcome for everyone involved. Plus, you have fun! Inevitably, smiles will persist, laughter will ensue, stress will be reduced, and fond memories will be made.
Sometimes, the best things in life aren’t always the latest and greatest gadgets that are designed to wow us. Rather, the true magic can be found in simplicity—something that makes us slow down, observe, and appreciate those around us. Ultimately, under the layers of enjoyment, this is just what board games do: remind us what’s truly valuable.
What else can board games do for you? Here are just a few examples of how they can strengthen different skills.
OPERATION – You may not become a surgeon because of this kids’ game, but you do learn the importance of a steady hand.
MOUSE TRAP – Also requiring a deft touch, this game makes you construct a Rube Goldberg-type contraption to ultimately capture the critter first.Deductive Reasoning
CLUE | BATTLESHIP – Much like police work, this timeless classic requires you to interpret evidence to solve a murder. Similarly, the naval game has you logically deduce where your opponent’s ships are.
CONNECT 4 | CHESS | CHECKERS | BACKGAMMON – In reality, most board games require some sort of strategy, even if there’s a large luck quotient involved—but these amplify it for their target age ranges.
RISK | STRATEGO | AXIS & ALLIES – Ever wonder how militaries strategize? All of these games give you such insight, from basic battles to world domination.
PICTIONARY | TELESTRATIONS – These games make you consider the easiest ways to communicate through art instead of speaking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT – Whereas being full of facts doesn’t always reward you socially during school years, this game lets you revel in it.
SCRABBLE | SCATTERGORIES – These games are the ultimate fun for linguists everywhere.
THE GAME OF LIFE | MONOPOLY – College or career? High-end properties or cost-efficient ones? These games teach you about the benefits and consequences of the financial choices you make.
YAHTZEE – Another numbers-based game, it’s the dice version of playing cards, where you must think through how you can maximize your point total.