Musings: What Valheim and Jigsaw Puzzles have in common

March 20, 2021

My wife and I enjoy the occasional jigsaw puzzle.

We’re not aficionados, but we have a few puzzle options stacked in the closet at any given point in time. It’s a nice cooperative activity; no one loses; and there’s a lovely mindfulness to steadily assembling an image we’re drawn to.

My friends and I have been playing Valheim.

This brand new multiplayer video game (so new it’s still technically in development) is a game of Norse settlers and survival.

You begin the game with nothing but the rags on your back, and slowly begin to gather resources, like wood, resin, stone and animal hides, with which to cobble together a settlement.

So what could this brand new video game and a centuries-old tabletop activity have in common?

Individual contributions to a group goal.

When the six of us all play Valheim together, we delve into vicious dungeons or embark on daring adventures across the seas.

However, I often find myself with 30-40 minutes to spare at time when my fellow viking settlers are off at work or busy with life. In those times, I can log into the game* and spend a little while tending our turnip garden, or harvesting wood for the village fires—little tasks that need doing, but which are a time sink when we’re all playing together. And more often than not, when I log in to do so, I find that other little tasks have been done while I was away: our stock of carrots have been cooked into a stew, or our workshop has been extended to allow space for the new forge bellows.

In short, we can contribute to the progression of the settlement without disrupting the game for everyone else.

Now, I would argue that this is the same dynamic one experiences when working on jigsaw puzzles. My wife and I aren’t particularly speedy puzzlers. It normally takes us 3-to-5 sit-downs to complete a 1000 piece puzzle. If, between those sit-downs, she takes a few minutes in passing to work on a section of the puzzle, it doesn’t disrupt our ability to pick up and continue working the next time we both have the time.

This is a dynamic that is not shared by most games and activities.

If we left our game of Ticket to Ride overnight, I suppose I could spend two minutes playing my next turn over breakfast. But then I’d have to stop and wait for her to continue—and she probably wouldn’t be too excited for me to be making secretive moves while she wasn’t around.

Even other puzzle-like activities don’t  often lend themselves to this come-and-go contribution. Sudokus, adult coloring books, crossword puzzles… If you’re knitting a blanket, I’m not going to pick up where you left off and do a few rows for you. It simply isn’t done. (Not that I know how to knit in the first place.)

So there’s something special in these two activities, taking place universes apart, that makes them similar in this one—and probably only one—way.


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*It’s worth noting that separate players playing on the same world at different times is only possible with the extra step of setting up a dedicated game server that allows us all to access the same world when we wish.

Andy B

Andy B is our Master of Events and Online Wizardry, and that's why you see his picture at the bottom of most posts and events! You'll see him and his beard at all our locations, often with his nose at a computer, creating pages just like this one. His favorite games include The Grizzled, Guild Ball, Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle and Legend of the Five Rings.

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