The Daily Worker Placement

Monday, April 22, 2024

Hygge and the loss of community

by | published Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Taylor G and I have talked recently on the Table Talk podcast about what makes a game good, what makes it replayable, and while there are lots of technical reasons for those things, I’m on the record that it’s the people you play with that make the most difference. There’s a cozy conviviality to even the most competitive games when you’re playing with someone you care about, whose moves you might not necessarily be able to predict, but have a familiarity to them, whose conversation is lively and comforting, even when it’s swearing about frustrated game play. This is the essence of the Nordic experience of hygge, the warmth of hot beverages on a cold day, fuzzy socks, people you love nearby, rooms lit by firelight, and cozy conviviality. It has, apparently, a bit of a middle-class privilege cache in Nordic circles, which I can totally see, but this hygge vibe is my whole game aesthetic. Even when I’m crushingly competitive.

I mentioned in the podcast (search “Daily Worker Placement” in your podcatcher of choice and find the “Table Talk” episodes!) that I’m generally pretty bad at purely strategy-based games, but I love playing them with Taylor and with friend Isaac. It’s very possible that Isaac and Taylor don’t like playing them with me because I struggle to make my strategy more nimble, but perhaps that’s a subject for a future podcast. I love watching them do the things they do and heckling them, particularly when I’m losing. I love drinking bourbon or espressos, eating together beforehand. I love the ups and downs, the goofy faces, the time spent in each others’ presence.

Gods Love Dinosaurs game showing tiles, animal meeples.

During the Covid quarantine, playing games with people–any people, much less people I cared about, much less in a cozy fashion–became something I longed for. We could play on Board Game Arena, some games could be played over Zoom calls, but the physicality of being around a table, being able to touch the bits, and see another human’s actual reactions was acutely missing. At the Edge House where I worked, gaming happened in a public space where you were surrounded by people you loved, but also other community folk would wander in to comment on the game, to shoot the breeze, or just to sit nearby, coexist. The organic nature of that, the hominess, was missing during that period. And I find, now that I don’t work at the Edge House any more, that it is missing now, and is a deep ache.

The games themselves are beautiful art objects, interactive, complex, ridiculous, even transformative. But that could be true of plays or dinner parties or concerts. It’s the people who make them worthwhile. I have hundreds of games and just to look at them on my shelf brings me joy. And when I look at them now, I think about having played them around that one table, about teaching someone new who then immediately trounced me (ahem, I’m looking at you, Rover), about discussing game designs (“Convert the Pope” among others) and designers and in all of this, learning how each of us ticked. Board games were ways to get to know each other, not just our gameplay, though that’s illuminating, but the other person’s soul. 

I know not every gaming moment is like this–sometimes it’s a meet-up with strangers or a perfunctory opener game before the real meat of the evening, sometimes we end up playing with people we don’t like much and we’d rather be doing literally anything else. I know this. But I also know the sweetness of playing with people I love. And I know the pain of not being able to.

The games I play now in this transitional space are fewer, but no less sweet. I play with Taylor, of course, shown in these and many, many more artful game photos with her blurrily ridiculous in the background. She’s my nemesis and my partner, always willing to try something new, always willing to critique the rulebook and the box liner, always ready to talk about our lives while destroying each others’ chances of winning. I play with my children, mostly King of Tokyo and Flamecraft with the younger one and “sad dying guy” (Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr) with the older one and I adore seeing them grow in their understanding and strategy. I play with my 11-year-old next-door neighbor who, like Taylor, is always willing to try something new, so he’s my guinea pig. I’ll play games with people at my new job, I’ll start a gaming group in my neighborhood, I’ve already met many folks who are excited to meet another gamer and want to play.

I’ll find ways to play with others, because that’s what humans are built for. I hope you do, too–whether it’s inviting someone new into your established game group or mixing up how you do meet-ups at your FLGS, whether it’s gathering some friends you’re already close to and introducing them to the world of gaming or playing 10 hours of Rummy with your two closest friends in all the world–I hope you can be loved and filled by the presence of others.


  • Alice C

    Alice Connor has been playing board games since she could walk, and wondering about why they're so compelling since the day after that. She wrote a book called _How to Human: An Incomplete Manual for Living in a Messed-Up World_. Alice is also a certified enneagram teacher and a stellar pie-maker. She lives for challenging conversations and has a high tolerance for awkwardness. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, two kids, a dog, and no cats.

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