Of Board Games and Birthdays (Brandon Kempf)
Every year at this same time, so far at least, I’ve managed to turn one year older. Over the last handful of years when folks ask me what I want for my birthday I simply say that I just want to sit down at the table and play as many board games as our bodies and minds will allow. This year was no different, but it was.
I am exhausted, but at this point it’s a good exhausted. When this marathon of gaming started, I was exhausted as well, but it wasn’t a good exhausted, it was a why the fuck do I care exhaustion. What did 33 plays of 21 games over the last week do? They grounded me and brought me back to why I play games. I play games to connect to those around me. I don’t play games to review or sell, I don’t play games to make statements and I don’t play games to be anything other than the person across the table, sharing a laugh or sharing the contemplative silence.
What really helped was that I unplugged for about 90% of the last week. I checked email, I occasionally sent out a tweet, but for 90% of the time, I left all the myriad of voices behind and focused on what was in front of me. Instead of living through a screen, I tried to take that out of the equation. That’s not saying that I don’t care about friends that I have made via technology I do very much, it just means that sometimes it becomes too much for me and I should probably withdraw.
I am an empathetic soul. Sometimes too much so. I sat viewing and listening to Kavanaugh job interview over the last month like a lot of my friends, feeling anger and frustration at the inability for us to change anything that was going to happen. We hang on every possibility that someone could save us against all odds, but no one did. Saturday while playing games the sound of phone notifications interrupted a game and faces turned from smiles to furrowed brows and furious typing and responding. I know a lot of people have far more invested in things of this nature than I do, and it speaks to my privilege that I could disconnect from that moment and walk away while they got their frustrations out, my empathy had overloaded a few days before and I just had zero left in the tank to become involved or care at that point. I just wanted to play games and enjoy the company of friends and didn’t really give a damn that the world seemingly was burning down around us.
Why did I have empathy overload? Well there are so many things going on around us all the time, it’s easy to get wrapped up into each and every thing that happens. There are so many connections being made that we just don’t have the time to sit down and breathe and be with ourselves. It’s an argument about what’s diverse or not diverse, it’s yelling about politics, it’s yelling about friends, it’s the endless pressure of feeling like you have to be doing something at all times or trying to make something better. It’s the endless pressure of needing to feel positive when you just don’t feel very positive. It drains the life out of you and over the last couple of years, I’ve let it keep filling and filling until it just had to boil over and that’s what is happening right now. I’m finding it very difficult to feel empathy, and that really bugs me. I don’t like feeling this way, I want to empathize with friends and I want to help, I’m just coming to the conclusion though that sometimes, maybe I shouldn’t, for self-preservation’s sake. You gotta help yourself before you can help anyone else, right?
This is not a “woe is me” post, this is not a mental health cry for help, this is me explaining why I am withdrawing from something that I have been a part of for quite some time now. I’m going to keep on doing things. I’m going to keep writing, I’m going to keep working on audio productions, but I’m just going to withdraw from the digital social life a bit and enjoy watching baseball with my traitorous daughter the Red Sox fan, I’m going to enjoy playing Lego or Minecraft with AB, and I’m going to try to help Kerensa with everything a bit more. But most of all, I am going to try to embrace what’s around me physically and enjoy it, and try to make it a better place, so I can be in a better place. Sharing contemplative moments, laughs and conversation with friends around a table can do that. Gaming can do that.