Gaming in a Mental Hospital
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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Some of you may have clicked on this thinking it will be a heartwarming tale of sharing our hobby with those less fortunate than ourselves.

This is not such a story.

On a cloudy Tuesday morning a week or two ago, I was stopped from killing myself by a friend, who ordered me to follow her to the local A&E (ER, for American readers). In a daze, I did. What was happening? I was supposed to be dead by now. She spoke to the staff at the hospital for me, and they promptly called a psychiatric nurse for me. We spoke, as if in a duel, me constantly batting back his questions with sarcastic replies. Unsure as to whether to admit to hospital someone who was coherent and fluent but clearly suicidal, he called for a doctor. Her perspective was less ambiguous, as was her ultimatum: I could go into hospital voluntarily or I could be taken there against my will. "It sounds like I'm going in voluntarily, doesn't it," I answered, bitterly. They put me in a taxi and whirled me to a local mental hospital. At the hospital I said goodbye to my friend and to the nurse. "It'll get better," he assured me. I smiled politely. "You don't believe me, do you?" he asked; "No," I replied, simply. He looked at me sadly. "Give it a few weeks." And I was committed.

The nurses on the ward confiscated belongings like money, wallet, and mobile phone, in case I took photos of the other patients. I was shown to my room before being rushed down to have dinner. I looked at the food available and chose a bowl of salad. "At least I might lose some weight while I'm in here," I said to the student nurse who was keeping watch over me; she laughed. I tried not to look at the other patients. After food I sat in my room for a few minutes staring at the wall before being taken to a meeting room to be assessed. The Chinese doctor was looked tired and like she wanted to go home, and particularly enjoyed her pat question "How do you feel about that?". I didn't help matters by answering with my most scathing sarcasm in full bloom, ignoring the sound advice my friend had given me: this is not the time for your humour. The male nurse and the student nurse smiled at my jokes at first, until the jokes became so intermingled with my grim back-story that they became horrors themselves. The more frustrated by my willfully stupid answers the doctor became, the more acid I became in my replies. "Stop rationalising everything!" she almost shouted at one point. I shrugged. At the end of the session she stood up and shook my hand. "I've enjoyed talking to you tonight," she told me. "Have you? I doubt that," I muttered. As I was walked back to my room the male nurse patted me on the shoulder. "I don't think she got your sense of humour, mate." I went to bed with sleeping pills in my tummy, which helped to distract from the guards outside my door peering in at me.
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1. Board Game: 3D Pool [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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I woke up and felt different. For the first time in some years I joined my hands together and murmured a decade of the Rosary. At breakfast I smiled at the other patients and at the nurses, who had returned for their shift. The food was not restaurant-quality. After breakfast, there was a mass meeting, where the nurses announced the day's rota, and organised leave from the ward for the patients. "You've got no leave, so you're going to be in here all day, okay?" they informed me brightly. I shrugged and smiled at them. They gave me my happy pills, an SSRI. I popped and left the pharmacy.

After the meeting I wandered into the pool room. Bob was in there, holding a cue and looking excitedly at the balls. I smiled and introduced myself. His excitement turned out to be because of the ward's acquisition of a black ball. True, the "white" ball was a yellow ball with the paint scratched off, the baize was ragged and the cues had no tips - but Bob was still a mean pool player. As we played a few games, he suddenly stopped and pointed at the picture on the wall. It showed a generic image of the Rat Pack - Frank and the boys relaxing with some drinks over a game of pool. "That picture proves that Peter Lawford murdered Marilyn Monroe," he insisted urgently. "He's the only one without a drink, Sammy's looking down and the balls form an arrow pointing at him." I held my breath for a moment; "Hey Bob, can you help me with this shot? I'm a terrible pool player!" He smiled happily and showed me how to hold my cue again. I lost badly, again.
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2. Board Game: Admiral Ackbar "It's a TRAP!" GAME [Average Rating:3.72 Overall Rank:14678]
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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I wandered into the lounge and chanced upon a cupboard full of boardgames. "This is more like it!" I exulted. I found a Scrabble set and opened it up. No one else was around, so a solo game was required. I tipped out the pieces and turned them over one at a time. Unfortunately I had to play the basic game, sans punctuation, and, as a beginner, decided to use the blank as a blank. I also decided that shouting "It's a trap!" wouldn't necessarily be understood in the right way here, so I simply mumbled it guiltily, eyes glancing at the door to see if any nurses were observing my strange behaviour. It occurred to me that perhaps playing the Admiral Ackbar "It's a TRAP!" Game constituted sufficient evidence of total insanity. My score was really not very good, which was frustrating until I checked the pieces and found that there were only two S's and one blank.
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3. Board Game: Scrabble [Average Rating:6.29 Overall Rank:1521]
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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As I was about to set up a third game of the Admiral Ackbar "It's a TRAP!" Game, Hicham walked in. He'd introduced himself to me earlier, with the exhortation "Call me Sham, or some guys call me Shamrock." Now he walked in with excitement. "Scrabble!" he said, "I'll kick your ass, man." He went back to his room to get a pen, and I wrote the scores on the previous day's Guardian that I'd brought in with me. I was using the blank space on the front of the Education section to note down the games that I was playing for logging on here later - discreetly of course. ("Patient displays compulsive desire to make notes on the boardgames he plays...")

It quickly emerged, unsurprisingly, that a former Scrabble champion was, even with only half a set of Scrabble pieces, going to beat an average player. The main challenge ended up being using only words that he would definitely recognise but that would still win me the game. I ended up winning comfortably - but it had been fun. No pressure to win. He looked approvingly at the board and congratulated me on my win. "But we'll play chess later, yeah?" I smiled and agreed.
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4. Board Game: Who's the Richest? [Average Rating:4.42 Unranked]
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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While I waited for Sham to get back, I busied myself with tidying and ordering the games cupboard - it's my greatest vice. One game I'd never heard of before, some kiddie game called Who's the Richest. I sat on the sofa and happily sorted out the pieces and the monies. Here was the small cardboard money for Who's the Richest; here was the old money for the cheap Monopoly set; here was the fancy money for the expensive Monopoly set. Here were the houses and the hotels and the checkers and the Othello disks. The process of ordering soothed me and gave me something to focus on, though I did wonder what I would do once the cupboard was in order.
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5. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:420] [Average Rating:7.09 Unranked]
 
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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The chess pieces were in most disorder. I sorted them out methodically into the different sets. It emerged that there were pieces from six completely different sets there. One set had only two white knights remaining. Most intriguingly of all, not one set had a white king: for some reason it appeared that one of the patients - who, coincidentally, were disproportionately black - had something against the concept of a white king. As a republican I could only sympathise.

Sham returned and we took the board out into the corridor on his whim. He'd obviously played before, but happily I was better. I won twice with what I hoped was easy grace, pointing out his good moves. Again I felt relaxed and happier than I remembered feeling for a long while.
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6. Board Game: Busen Memo [Average Rating:4.81 Overall Rank:15230]
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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(It has to be on every Geeklist, right?)

As I walked aimlessly up and down the corridor for a spot of exercise, a vision appeared before me. Long blonde hair and big blue eyes, with her black polo-neck straining, I knew immediately that here was my Busen Memo entry. Her badge told me that she too was a student nurse.

"'Ello!" she greeted me chirpily. "'Ow are you?" I dropped some dry comment or other and she smiled, having clearly been warned about me by the other, dark-haired, student nurse, who stood with her, watching me wryly. The blonde nurse took me down to a late lunch, where she sat listening as I explained the finer details of Kantian ethics. Michael, an severely alcoholic patient, came and joined us, gazing agog at the 19-year-old beauty, and fetching her unwanted glasses of water. She started asking me how Kantianism applied to medicine, and I tried to answer as best I could. Finally she asked how a paedophile with no concept of the wrongness of it could be affected by the theory. Michael laughed abruptly and regaled her with a story of having been offered a blowjob by a ten-year-old; she blanched, and I felt sorry for both her, in the awkward situation, and him, unable to realise that his story wouldn't impress her. It impressed upon me that for all my depression, I was still able to understand and relate to the world and I felt a wave of gratitude for that realisation surge over me.
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7. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:72] [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked]
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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The friend who'd rescued me arrived shortly after with her husband, bringing with them some clothes and books for me, and also a Dominion set for us to play. She left fairly promptly, looking understandably tired and stressed, but he stayed long enough for us to play three hands of Dominion. I was groggy by now from the effects of the anti-depressants kicking in, but still played well and won two. It was nice to play the game, and again, even against a regular opponent, I still felt the lack of pressure to win. Where normally I would have felt bad about losing a game, I smiled through my loss and simply dealt out the next set. He left and I sat down to read my copy of Chekhov's short stories. Dinner came soon and I again picked the salad. I was starting to feel hungry.
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8. Board Game: An Enchanting Evening [Average Rating:5.31 Overall Rank:13268]
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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That evening I was visited by my best friend from university, who I'd phoned the night before (the conversation ran, "Hey, remember how you said you'd come to my funeral?" "Err, yeah...?" "Want to come visit me in hospital instead?" "Why are you in hospital?" "So you don't have to come to my funeral."). He looked relieved to see me, and we chatted quietly for a while. At one point he said, "I'm glad the hospital is okay - I'd worried it would be all screaming madmen." (They were in the ward downstairs - I was in the more stable secure ward.) "You weren't worried about me, then?" I teased him. He looked at me seriously. "No," he said, "because I know you: once you get over the bump, you're okay." I nodded.

After he left, the blonde nurse came in and chatted to me. She told me about her life, her roots, how she looked after her elderly grandmother in her spare time. I contributed interesting facts about accents and dialects. She told me, in her rough Essex accent, how glad she was not to have an Essex accent. I nodded seriously and agreed with her. Eventually she sprang up, realising that she'd stayed chatting to me for a full hour after she was supposed to leave, and left. Night came and I made an excuse to the duty nurse to get more sleeping pills, and I was soon asleep.
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9. Board Game: Pylos [Average Rating:6.31 Overall Rank:2510]
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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I woke up and prayed the Rosary again. I had a light breakfast of cereal, and then went to the one working shower. I first squatted over the toilet, which had, like the rest, had the seat removed, why I don't know. I showered quickly, and shook my head at how the floor was tilted the wrong way so the water ran away from the plug. As I left the shower, my wet feet slipped on the smooth tiles of the corridor and I fell hard, twisting one hip and bruising the other. I gathered up my towel and hobbled, humiliated, past the nurses and the other patients to my room. I took my anti-depressant again.

My friends had left me a copy of the abstract game Pylos, which the brunette nurse agreed to play with me. As I explained the rules I felt the now-familiar tingling in my face and light-headedness. The blonde nurse turned out to be a natural abstract player, and ended up dictating my opponent's moves. I lost the first game, and, amused, focussed a little more to win the second. We packed it away and they returned it to their office, in case I use it to harm myself somehow.
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10. Board Game: The Longest Day [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:2661]
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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I met with an Indian lady doctor, who was very gentle and kind. I talked freely and honestly with her, and she encouraged me to see the possibilities ahead. She told me that I could leave now if I wished, but that her recommendation was for me to stay one more day to see the consultant and get his advice. I agreed to stay. She did however say that I could have leave during the day whenever I wanted it. I phoned a friend, who didn't know I was inside. "Hey, are you doing anything for dinner tonight?" "Well, we're meeting some friends at the cinema, why?" "Oh, okay. I've been admitted to hospital on suicide watch, and they're giving me an evening out tonight and I was phoning round people to see if any of them didn't have any plans for tonight. Don't worry about it." A pause, then he spoke. "Did you stop to think that maybe your friends would change their plans after hearing what you've just said?" I was taken aback - I hadn't considered it, and suddenly felt very humble and loved. We went out for a pleasant dinner, albeit teetotal since I had been warned of a urine test on my return.

On my return, I was shipped off for the night to an "open" ward in order to save space on my more severe ward. The new room was sparse, but when I saw the seat on the en suite toilet my heart leapt. This would be an improvement. But with no sleeping pill and with the prospect of discharge the next day consuming me, I slept little.
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11. Board Game: Exit [Average Rating:5.92 Overall Rank:11873]
In Quiet Thought
United Kingdom
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Morning came and I was escorted back to my secure ward. I ate a small breakfast, hunger pangs now quite painful, and then took my meds. The Indian doctor reconfirmed that I could leave all morning until my appointment with the consultant. I wandered aimlessly around the area, uncertain of what to do. I bought myself some sweets and gorged on the unfamiliar sugar. I went to an internet café and wrote some quick messages of reassurance to people who had had an inkling of my plans and would be worried about me. Finally I returned to the ward.

I played two more games of chess, against one of the general staff. I was more focussed today, and played ruthlessly and won crushingly both times. After the games I paced up and down in the relaxation room, looking anxiously out of the door at the clock, which ticked so slowly towards my appointment at 2.30. Finally the hour came, and I entered what felt like a final exam. I answered his questions politely and calmly, and he told me he was happy for me to go, and agreed to contact my local mental health services to start up the care routine. I left the room in a daze, and gathered up my stuff and said goodbye to my new friends, especially Hicham, in what felt like a whirlwind. They let me into the secure ante-chamber, and the door behind me shut; the door in front of me opened and I walked through it. I turned to see the student nurses smiling at me through the windows of the door. I smiled back and jumped up in the air, waving my arms in victory. I was free - and alive.
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