Four years ago, on New Year’s Day, 2016, I wrote the following piece about a board game called “Pandemic”:

“You mean we don’t play against each other?” I said to my kids as we set up the game “Pandemic.” Two days earlier, my son & I went to Barnes & Noble, where he bought several new board games. He is a 24-year old high school algebra teacher, who runs an after school board game club. It has become the most popular extracurricular activity in the school. As a proud mother, I tell him how great I think it is, and he responds, “Mom, it’s not a big deal, we just have fun playing games.” When we had this conversation, I had not yet played Pandemic, or known about “cooperative” games.

Pandemic is a game where deadly diseases break out all over the world. The object is to eradicate these illnesses before they become so widespread that they kill everyone on the planet. As we sit down to play the game, my first question is, “What do I have to do to win the game?” I guess I’m a little competitive. My son, daughter, and her boyfriend look at me, and laugh. “Mom, we don’t play separately, we play as a team, working together to eradicate diseases and save the world. What?? A lofty goal, no doubt, however, the concept of not competing in a board game is foreign to me. I am a product of the Monopoly, Scrabble, and Candy Land generation. The object of every board game I’ve ever played is for one player to win.

“What are you talking about?” I ask in dismay. How can there be a game where the object is not for one player to win? My daughter and her boyfriend, both 26 years old, proceed to tell me that most of the games they play are cooperative games. The two of them sometimes spend a Saturday night out at the gaming store, playing the new generation of board games…Dungeons and Dragons, Forbidden Island, Shadows Over Camelot, Castle Panic. All cooperative. Now, learning this new bit of information about the evolution of board games, I say to my son that his after school game club is a huge deal. He is teaching the next generation how to work together, not against each other. I say, perhaps this is even more important than the academic subject he teaches to them.

In our generation and the generations before us, games taught us about competition and winning for ourselves alone. The next generations are learning cooperation and working as a team to achieve a common goal. The focus is taken off of the individual. We learn that the only way we can win is by working together. This comes at a time in history when our world sorely needs this message. For me personally, these are spiritual teachings I have learned over the past ten years. We are all connected. We are all one. The new board games are teaching our children the same concepts. Cooperation, teamwork, and unity.

I am hopeful that life will imitate art. It is said that play is a child’s work. The shift in the way the younger generation is playing just may translate to real life. It’s possible that the next generation is evolving into one who knows how to cooperatively solve problems better than our generation and the generations before us. Who would have thought that a board game could give us hope for increased unity and cooperation on this planet?”

Fast forward to March 2020. COVID-19. This pandemic is not a game, it has become our reality. Yet, the same cooperative principles apply. To successfully come through this and ‘win’, we need to look at what we all must do, on the part of our governments, as well as on the part of each of us as individuals. It’s clear that it will take all of us working together to stop a global catastrophe. Life has profoundly changed. Our crisis will only be solved by the unified efforts of all of us. People are opening their hearts and reaching out to help each other in any way they can. The virus has gotten our attention and has removed our apathy. People everywhere are being forced to stop what they are doing. Now, by heeding the guidelines and taking this opportunity to just be, we can be safe and avoid the negative effects of the virus. Except for essential workers, we are being asked to stay at home with our loved ones to ‘flatten the curve’. By taking a deep breath and cooperating with the guidelines and with each other, we can make a difference in this pandemic. I pray for all those who are sick and recovering. I pray for the souls who have lost their lives to the virus. I pray for all of the brave helpers on the front lines. We will get through this and we will be okay. It’s no longer ‘us against them’. We’re all in this together.

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