The Negative Habits of Gaming

It was a game I was interested in since I first saw a review by Kaja and Joanna on the recently disbanded Starlit Citadel Reviews. “Dungeon Twister” looked like a great two player strategy game with lots of replay value. So I was exceedingly happy when I managed to score a copy with expansions in a recent Board Game Geek trade list. Getting it to the table ended up being harder than I expected, but I finally managed it last week. It was a game that certainly lived up to expectation. It was also a game that alerted me to some ways of thinking I can draw upon that may not always be of benefit.

Dungeon Twister - The Negative Habits of Gaming article - Tabletop Game News and reviews AustraliaDungeon Twister sounds like a cool game.

As a teacher I have used games to help students who struggle with social, emotional, and academic issues. Watching students play games can help reveal – in a short space of time – what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy refers to as “habits of mind”. These are unhelpful thinking habits that hinder our growth and ability to cope. I am only one of the many people who work with these kids and often these students are working beside counsellors and other professionals. I am not a counsellor and do not offer advice, but I do get to work on helping these young people improve their thinking, which is something I began to challenge myself on when I played “Dungeon Twister” for the first time.

“Dungeon Twister” begins with the blind placement of dungeon tiles resulting in the board set up being hidden information to both players. The next phase of set up is each player placing tokens that have either equipment or characters on them. These are placed face down adding additional hidden information for your opponent. As your characters enter each room the tile is flipped and the tokens are turned face up. Each room will generally contain some of your tokens and some of your opponents. You place your opponent’s tokens and vice versa so as to not provide overwhelming strategic advantage to the turn player. Your goal is to score 5 victory points by either getting one of your characters through your opponent’s end of the board, or killing one of their monsters. As play began it was evident to me that I had managed to mess up the token placement part entirely. Within a few turns I had allowed a goblin through netting my opponent 2 VP, and lost a character scoring him another victory point while I struggled to get close to scoring. My frustration levels increased and I could hear some of these habits of mind bubbling to the surface; specifically I began to notice what is known as the ‘mental filter’ and the ‘critical self’.

Dungeon Twister - The Negative Habits of Gaming article - Tabletop Game News and reviews AustraliaWhere would any party be without a cleric.

My mental filter was evident when I started to focus only on the negative in the situation and filter out anything that did not match with how I perceived the game. I thought things were going badly, I saw only the bad and filtered out the good plays or gains I was making on my opponent. I guess this could work for positive things as well where people are so focused on the positive they are oblivious to the impending doom, but for the most part it tends to refer to people who are stuck on the negative. What this meant for me was my ability to see the whole game and consider the board was limited. In game this was hindering my decision making as I was almost convinced of my impending failure and not capable of believing I could turn this around. If I was playing competitively this sort of thinking would certainly be detrimental. The only thing at risk in our game was fun, yet that was something I preferred to hold onto.

This was a good gateway for the critical self to get on board. In much the same vein as the mental filter, the critical self is blaming ourselves for situations even when they are beyond our control. As the game progressed I was overly critical of my token placement and decisions. Now if I had bought fully into either of these habits of mind it would have made for a terrible gaming session. Yet fortunately I had a good opponent who kept positively reinforcing me, and I was able to notice these habits and redirect my thinking and language. I reminded myself that this was my first time playing the game and I could not have foreseen how my decisions would impact the game play over time. I was not even prepared for how the game was going to play. I deescalated my negativity by reforming how I perceived the situation and found some positives to focus on.

Dungeon Twister - The Negative Habits of Gaming article - Tabletop Game News and reviews AustraliaDungeon Twister. Think positively folks!

Even though this was a board game about me fighting my way through a dungeon I can still take this lesson and apply it to my life. Imagine taking on a new task at work and getting stuck in a ‘mental filter’ or the ‘critical self’ frame of mind. Can you imagine how these habits could sour a great learning opportunity? Could make work, or relationships harder to manage? For some of the kids I work with, this is what they are dealing with daily. Yet this is also why I love games so much. For some students I have worked with playing games has been a very rewarding journey. For others it has just been fun.

Habits of mind are common to us all, and one of the best things we can do is to simply notice them. Often being aware is enough to snap us back to reality and move out of those negative cycles. For some this is harder to do and it is recommended that they speak to a trained professional to aid with strategies for managing these issues. For most of us it helps just to be aware. I think it also makes a pretty good argument why we should play more games.

Article Written by: David
This is David’s first article for Gameapalooza and we’d like to welcome him to the team.