Putting Others in Your Migraine Shoes… With a Game
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Explaining how migraine wreaks havoc on your life to someone who hasn’t experienced it can feel impossible. “If they could be in my shoes, they’d understand how hard this is,” people often say on Migraine.com’s Facebook page. 14 Days, a two-player tabletop game that takes players through two weeks of managing life with migraine, does just that.

14 Days focuses on the “devastating effects migraines can have on managing time and responsibilities, rather than on pain,” said game designer Hannah Shaffer in an interview. It is designed so players feel the pressure and frustration of the unpredictability of migraine. Hannah, who is 28 and had her first attack when she was 14, knows all too well how migraine can change a person’s work, relationships, and hobbies. Currently, she has about one attack a week (sometimes more) and each lasts for about 24 hours.


A brief summary of the game: Players start with goals for each day, with the knowledge every day comes with the chance of a migraine. When a migraine hits, a player must decide how to manage a limited supply of medication and which responsibilities fall through the cracks. Players then talk about the experience of the day. 14 Days is a narrative game—which means that players ask questions and talk about what it is like to experience what the players do. It really does put players in the shoes of migraine remarkably well. Some aspects of migraine have been abstracted to simplify the game, but the gist remains the same. (The rulebook explains the abstractions for those who are curious.)

One of Hannah’s goals for 14 Days is that it will help people talk about migraine with those who don’t have migraine. Her own experience testing the game has been revealing, as she said she didn’t realize “how much I’d internalized the stigma around migraines. Until very recently, they were something I only talked about with the people closest to me, and even then I was so afraid of appearing weak or being a downer. This game has been an opportunity for me to talk about migraines in a new way. The game uses some of its own lingo to describe migraines, and after people have learned that lingo, they can ask questions like, “Are most of your migraines 4s, 5s, or 6s?” For the first time I’m able to speak a common language with folks who have never experienced a migraine before.” [4, 5, 6 in the game represent a mild, moderate, or severe migraine, not specific pain levels.]

“Gah! I don’t want to play a game that I live every day” was my first reaction to the game. However, learning about the game and Hannah’s goals changed my mind. It looks to be an excellent way to get people talking about a difficult topic and raise awareness of what it’s really like to live with migraine. This comment from Hannah sums up the potential of the game well: “When I designed this game, I was thinking of my teenage self. As a teenager, I didn’t know how to describe migraines to my friends or parents. I didn’t have any tools to express what I was going through. I felt very alone. This game is my attempt to bridge that gap of understanding. My hope is that 14 Days can inspire empathy and can be a source of support and comfort to others who are feeling alone.”

In addition to raising awareness and being fun to play, the artwork of 14 Days is beautiful. Hannah’s team also includes artist Evan Rowland and editor Joshua Yearsley.

The Kickstarter campaign for 14 Days, which underway now, runs through July 28. Donations of $8 serve as a preorder for a PDF copy of the game that you can print and play; for $25, you get a full boxed copy of the game. (There are other donation levels, too.) After the Kickstarter deadline, visit Hannah’s website, Make Big Things, to find out how to get a copy.

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