A Playful Perspective
One of the ways we have been tending to our overall health and wellbeing over the last several months is by being more intentional about making space for play in our lives, which we confess is one of the first things we let go of when we are feeling anxious or pressured to be “productive.”
For example, several months ago, Travis and I made a commitment to spend more time doing jigsaw puzzles.
This was something we had not done in almost 18 years of marriage.
While we may not be the fastest “puzzlers,” we have thoroughly enjoyed how working on puzzles quiets our minds as we set aside our “to-do lists” and the concerns of the day simply to focus on shapes, colors, and the subtle nuances of the puzzle pieces.
This has helped lower our stress and improve our sense of wellbeing.
In addition to puzzles, we have also tried to be more open to playing games. The most recent new one we tried was Drawful 2 (more details to follow), to which my brother and his family introduced us to several weeks ago during a visit.
Having lived apart from my family for 10+ years has meant that we have long been using internet video calls to communicate, which, thankfully, helped lessen the online learning curve and quick transition that COVID made necessary.
Who would have imagined a year ago that we would be attending church services, baby showers, birthdays, and graduations, as well as playing games with family and friends, online?
While these online gatherings are not ideal, we are thankful for the opportunity to connect and be in relationship with others, especially given the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual toll that the pandemic is continuing to have on our lives.
For those who are not familiar with Drawful 2 (a game that can be played well either in person or via Zoom, Skype, or Facetime), each player receives a “unique” (that is, weird!) prompt that they must try to draw on their mobile devices (without the ability to erase once you start drawing!).
For example, when playing with my family (dad, brother, sister-in-law, and two young nieces), we had to draw things such as “a pool full of salad,” “summer tuxedo,” and “throwing a shadow.”
After each “artist” presents their work, everyone else anonymously proposes a title for this bizarre drawing.
The goal is to somehow find the correct prompt while fooling other players into selecting your decoy answer, both of which earn you points.
Ultimately, the person who receives the most points “wins.”
However, with the amount of laughter the game produced when we played, we thought everybody “won” in terms of its positive impact on our mental and emotional health!
Now, of course, we could not help but think theologically about the parallels between playing Drawful 2 and dealing with COVID.
Here are some of our reflections:
• At the start of 2020, pre-pandemic, most of us probably had a fairly clear picture in our minds of how the year was going to unfold. Similarly, with Drawful 2, when you read the phrase you are supposed to draw, your mind almost immediately creates an image.
• Once the pandemic started, 2020 ended up looking nothing at all like what we had envisioned! The same thing happens when playing Drawful. At no point did what I draw look remotely like what I imagined, despite my best efforts.
• We are now facing the fact that the majority of 2020 has gone by and there are probably some things we wish we could erase, or perhaps just begin anew, but can’t. Similarly, with Drawful, once you start drawing, you can’t go back and erase what has happened; you simply have to live with it the best you can.
• While we don’t know how long the pandemic is going to last, we know that God is with us and loves us and that, through our trust in God, we have faith that the overall outcome will be okay. With Drawful, no matter how bad the drawings, and no matter how many points we get (or don’t), we know everyone will enjoy themselves.
Making time for play, particularly with our friends and families, is, in our experience, one of the best ways we can all tend to our overall health and wellbeing, both during this anxious time and into the future.
Want to add some (socially safe) play to your life?
Here are three recommendations.
Note: the games range from easy to complicated, 2 minutes to several hours, kid-friendly to experts only, and few to many players!
• Boardgamearena.com (FREE and premium accounts – $4/month): over 200 games available in multiple languages. Players create a free account and can invite friends to join their game table using their individual usernames. Games are divided by the number of players, playtime, and complexity. This site has a group video option if you buy a premium account and are playing with fewer than 4 players. A premium account gives you access to all 245 games, but it will probably be a while before you get bored with the free options! Players can join from a tablet or laptop, but we don’t recommend playing on a phone.
• Drawful 2 can be found at Jackboxgames.com (games cost from $5 to $20) – this site lets a group of people play internet games together in person or remotely. Most games are an internet version of classics like Charades, Balderdash, Pictionary, Trivia, etc., but with a twist. Games can be purchased individually or in a “Party Pack.” Players can join from a smartphone, tablet, or laptop using a room code.
• playingcards.io (FREE) – this site lets a group of people play card games (and some simple board games) remotely. Choose from one of 13 pre-programmed games or create a custom room to play any of your favorites.
Rev. Dr. Karen Webster is co-founder and executive director of the Healthy Seminarians-Healthy Church Initiative, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organized (housed at Columbia Theological Seminary) and validated ministry of Trinity Presbytery (SC). In addition to being an ordained PC(USA) pastor, Karen is certified as an Exercise Physiologist, Nutrition Specialist, and Health and Wellness Coach