• Joshua Williams

Depression, Growth, and an Unplayed Galaxy

I have a slight addiction to board games; not just playing them, but a need to constantly acquire new ones. In any given week I purchase a new game, or related product, or two. But this article is not about my addiction. I don’t have a problem, I can stop anytime…probably. My argument justifying my addiction to purchasing games, is that I also enjoy playing board games. I am very proud to say that my “shelf of shame,” is very small. I have played most of my collection, and the few that I haven’t are awaiting expansions that are, in my opinion, necessary to play the game, or I’m planning to sell as I bought it blind, only to find out that it’s not worth the time to learn or play.

Having said that, this article is about how Twilight Imperium got into my collection, why it will probably never be played, and why I will never sell it.

I have constantly fought with a roller coaster ride of depression through much of my life. I’m not going to get into the origins, therapy, and many relapses I’ve had, but I will discuss a specific time around three years ago, when I had been struggling with depression, and a complete lack of friends in my life, except for my wonderful wife, for quite some time. I went years barely seeing anyone outside of work colleagues and family, and I very much felt as if I were slowing dying inside. Something had to change.

At this time, I frequently found myself tumbling down the many rabbit holes of YouTube, and at some point a few of years ago, I found board game reviews and play-throughs, which seemed a natural progression from the video game “Let’s Plays,” that I was already filling much of my time with. But there was an important distinction between the two; the board game play-throughs and reviews always pictured a group of close friends, together at the table, having friendly, competitive banter, with laughs, smiles, and the look of being content with life. I soon filled my free time watching as many of these videos as possible, desperately wanting my life to mimic the lives of those YouTube reviewers like SUSD (Shut Up and Sit Down), and the Dice Tower, who always had friends coming over to play board games, and I thought I knew how to do this in my life; I needed to buy board games. It was a very pathetic attempt at my own “if you build it, they will come.”

I know how stupid all of this sounds, but I’m not going to get into that here. All I want you to know is that I was desperate to find friends, and I somehow believed board games were the way.

I quickly began buying board games, building my collection far faster than it should have been. I frequented my local FLGS (friendly local game store), learned as much as I could about the history, present, and likely future of games, designers, and publishers, and joined a local board game club that met every two weeks. And, of course, I continued to obsess over YouTube board game channels and content creators. I was doing everything I thought I needed to do to make friends. Eventually I whittled down SUSD’s video library, and it was around this time that I first found their review for Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition, and I was in love.

Twilight Imperium is a massive space epic, packed into the biggest board game box I had seen at the time, requiring an entire day to play, and a minimum of three, but preferably more, players. Ideally these players were close friends as the game works best when friends can make an concerted effort to play the game multiple times, and to fully learn the game, it’s mechanics and all of it’s player character races. This was my ultimate goal for this hobby I was diving deep into, and I was excited.

But the price of Twilight Imperium was very expensive. None of the people in the board game club played it. And I made no progress in making any other friends in my life. So, I always had the game, it being the center piece in my idealized life, in the back of my mind, while I continued with my obsession with the hobby, trying to make myself happy.

Over the next few months, my depression persisted, and even worsened on the occasion, my job kept me from making it to the board game club, and I soon realized how ridiculous my plan for making friends through the purchase of board games, was. I soon stepped away from the hobby all together, sold my entire collection, and returned to binge watching video game videos on YouTube. I discovered that board games weren’t replacing the depression in my life, but instead, replacing the drive to find the professional help needed to cope with the depression. This was how it ended. I stopped thinking about board games.

I began to work through my depression in the smart and right way, getting the help that I needed. I opened myself up in new ways, making a better and more constructive plan to meet new people, and make friends. I changed my approach, and focused on finding a few friends, instead of the proverbial “gaggle” of friends I had originally wanted. I soon found them.

Seven months ago, my closest friend told me that he started to play board games, and asked if I’d be interested in playing. Immediately my love and addiction returned, but this time I was able to enjoy the games for the sake of simply playing them, and not for the veiled reason of longing for friends. I began to start buying new games again, returned to many of the YouTube creators that I had stopped watching, finding hundreds of new videos, and even found a love for solo board games, discovering I could enjoy this hobby even when my friends weren’t around. I was finally happy and in a good place, and one day I decided to celebrate. I bought the current edition of Twilight Imperium, excited for the prospect of playing it with my friends, but also content with knowing that it was going into my collection with the very likely chance it would never be played.

You see, Twilight Imperium used to represent what I wanted in my life; a large table with four to six close friends around it, a game taking up nearly every available space, 15 hours, or more of gameplay, and friendly, competitive banter. This was my past, and what I used to hide my depression with. This game now represents a hobby I’m more than happy to enjoy by myself with one of my many solo board games, and a life with only a couple of close friends that have no desire to learn a game this heavy, but that I am still happy to play games with. Ultimately, this game shows my growth from where I was three years ago, with an immature, idealized image of happiness, to where I am now.

I’ve met an ex-smoker who keeps a stale cigarette.

Someone who chooses no to hide the cut marks on their arms.

An ex-alcoholic who still has a bar business card in their wallet.

A vet who keeps the bullet that nearly killed them.

And I choose to keep a ridiculously expensive board game, with amazing box art.

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