*Blog originally published by the incredible & inclusive gaming community TheGameHers.com.
Without hesitation, every person I’ve met that considers themselves to be a Gamer has an opinion on what a Gamer is. A few define it reasonably as just a word that represents someone who likes to play games, with the possible addition of playing them regularly. Dictionary.com simply states a Gamer is “a person who plays games, especially computer or video games.” Makes sense, right? By this definition, it’s a very inclusive group to be a part of that seems accepting and easy going. This definition even allows Tabletop Gamers a seat at the “table”.
Ah, but as words often do, the question invites each individual asked to apply every filter they’ve assimilated on the topic to their answer. When I asked the question “What is a Gamer?” on Twitter and of my own Gamer friends, I got a huge variety of answers. Many included long lists of requirements that reflected their own style of game play as though they were a part of some exclusive club that had benchmarks for membership. Some seemed to almost be name-calling with the word “gamer”, as they listed nothing but negative stereotypes. A few responses I got were as follows:
As a Female Gamer, I look at these definitions and realize that many of them largely exclude women from the “Gamer” title or “club membership” mentality. Why? Women often have real life challenges that keep us from being able to invest the time and energy needed to gain the kind of exclusivity that these narrow definitions allow.
It is hard to game as primary entertainment when you have kids watching Disney Movies on TV or playing their own games on your gaming system. And what of dance recitals and soccer games and school functions? Many Female Gamers are of child-rearing years. Considering raising children covers a considerably long span even with just one child, this might keep us out of the Gamer Club for most of our adult lives. Never mind adding careers to that busy schedule. As for Easter eggs, they take a long time to find and are very elusive unless you are of the “youtube the spoilers” camp.
Women are often attracted to fantasy games rather than first-person shooter games. They are still difficult, in spite of their less aggressive appearance. They require a great deal of finesse and effort to master gameplay, the same as shooter games. However, I suppose killing things as a beautiful elf or adorable gnome is somehow not to be taken seriously enough to gain Gamer status in some circles. The characters we choose are often sexualized by Male Gamers as well, which forces us Female Gamers into sexualized roles we didn’t seek out, or excludes us altogether from general Gamer status. And there is no guarantee when playing a game that a female character will even be a female. It is many times a Male Gamer who “would rather look at a girl’s butt instead of a guy’s butt” or who says that female characters are smaller targets in games, so they use them to avoid getting shot. Interestingly, you rarely see a Female Gamer choose to play a male character, if given a choice. We tend to want to express an empowered version of ourselves more times than not.
As for the stereotypes mentioned, maybe the Gamer Club isn’t so attractive after all. If being a Gamer means that I don’t bathe or know how to dress myself or am completely ineffective when dealing with humans in daily life, maybe I’m just a female who plays games. No. I don’t believe that. The truth is, I *AM* a Gamer and I *AM* a female. Thus, I am a Female Gamer. I choose to embrace the simple “person who plays games” definition and give each Gamer the space to be whatever kind of Gamer they want to be. It is in this place of freedom from judgment or requirements that we can all make the most friends and have the most fun. As for me, I release myself from the expectations of the “Gamer Club” and embrace confidently being a Gamer who is female.
*Blog originally published by the incredible & inclusive gaming community TheGameHers.com
We live in an ever-shrinking world. People are connecting with one another across screens everywhere. As a result, pieces of our lives are intersecting in new ways all the time. I am an assault survivor with PTSD. I’m also a Gamer. Since my assault, there are certain times of the year I struggle with my mental health more than others. In years past, I’ve gotten very dissociated during those times. This year, I leaned heavily into gaming and things went differently; better actually. This, of course, really got me thinking.
I spent some time talking about gaming and mental health with my Twitter friends, thinking I probably wasn’t alone in observing the intersection of these two topics. Over and over again, people commented that gaming is a go-to for distraction from mental health challenges. They didn’t seem to give it much thought beyond that. I am noticing that, like many things in life, you get out of gaming what you put into it. Gaming has much that is positive to offer our mental health, if we treat the intersection between the two topics proactively. There is also some negative, should we miss or ignore their coexistence. My Gaming Community friends are likely experiencing more mental health effects than they realize.
That being said, I definitely appreciate the distraction factor. Sometimes, we just need a break from our struggles. If that’s my goal, story mode of a beautiful game like Red Dead Redemption 2 takes me there. There’s nothing like riding a horse through the Grizzlies to get my mind off things. I can use that time as a very positive mental health break and come back to my real world refreshed with new clarity. This kind of gaming experience can be positive for us gamers whether we are proactive about it or not. Maybe that’s why it was the biggest intersection of Mental Health and Gaming that people mentioned.
The need for proactivity changes entirely if I go online and add other humans to my gaming experience. The real opportunities for growth also emerge. People are such an unknown variable during game play. We can be sure of two things, though. Some people will give us a chance to practice responding to positivity and others to negativity. While I’d like to rid the online world of trolls entirely, that is definitely not in my power. They make up a large percentage of the negative mental health challenges found in gaming. I choose to view them as a Mental Health Workout of sorts. Gaming is a safe environment to practice dealing with triggers and negativity. Not everyone in our day-to-day life will treat us with kindness and respect our mental health. Often, we live or work with people who do not, and we are quite stuck until we figure out how to make a change or get along with them. Online gaming is a safe place to practice effective strategies for dealing with all kinds of behavior.
I don’t try to change trolls. The more I learn, the more I realize that acceptance is a primary key to mental health. When confronted with trollish behavior, it is myself I am proactively working on during the interaction. I observe what I’m feeling, internally acknowledge it, and let it pass. That’s an important skill facilitated by the common sense realization that “it’s a game”. I can walk away from this moment with no actual consequences to my real life. That fact reminds me that I don’t need to take things so seriously as my triggered brain fights overreaction. It allows me to stick around long enough to practice things like conflict resolution and standing up for myself. This helps me in my daily life where the stakes are much higher. I’ve grown as I’ve applied this tactic. I’m learning a healthier way of engaging others through safe, repetitive, perspective-filled gaming interactions.
The boundary I set for myself in order to keep this a mentally healthy exercise is that if I begin to observe myself feeling more than observationally upset, I pull the plug on the exercise. Sometimes there is no redeeming the negative. At that point, I stop playing or play somewhere else. The ability to walk away is crucial to our mental health. Just stop. Again, it’s a game, so the roadblocks to walking away healthily are minuscule at worst. This isn’t a job where you could lose your livelihood if you accidentally walk away with more than your intended intensity in the name of your mental health. However, it is a great opportunity to practice walking away calmly and respectfully to both parties, in a way that doesn’t burn bridges. If you fail, you observe that and try again another time. Human interactions we have in games, if had with intention, are all practice levels for the boss fight of real life. Practice may not make perfect, but it definitely makes habit.
Gaming also affords us the opportunity to find new friends. That is difficult, but precious, for all of us. It is especially difficult for those with mental health challenges. It is hard to trust people. There are a lot of amazing people out there, though, and this is where the shrinking world syndrome I mentioned shines brightly positive. You can definitely find your tribe online. The whole world is at your fingertips. There are people sharing similar struggles also navigating the Gaming Community looking for new friends. If making friends online seems scary, this is another area where the common sense “It’s a game” logic helps us.
I’ve made a lot of gaming friends since acknowledging this. What have I got to lose? Most of them are compartmentalized in the game worlds we share. However, they’ve become friends outside of our shared games at times too. In either case, those friends are good for my mental health, safe, and help me feel loved and supported in my life. They do that most often by simply sharing a positive gaming experience. Sometimes, though, they do it by providing me with a safe place to proactively learn to be a better version of myself.
The truth is we are all, as we travel through our game experiences, intersecting with other players’ mental health. I hope we give them a safe place to practice being a better version of themselves. The intersection of Gaming and Mental Health has helped me make a better me. I intend to pay it forward to someone else by being part of a positive gaming experience that grows them too. You never know. It might even inadvertently spread to the trolls! Who’s with me?