Bridgid Ryan
Updated Jan 23, 2015 @ 2:28 pm

Gaming has some deeply entrenched stereotypes, and I’ll admit, there was a time when I ignorantly fed into them. I may have freaked out on my older brother in the ’90s, when I walked into his room to discover him with a brown velvet bag of 7 Dungeons & Dragons die. I rolled my eyes when a friend tried to teach me how to play Sim City, and when I studied abroad in Japan, I made darn sure people knew I was there for “you know, the culture, the fashion, but definitely not any of the cutting edge video game stuff, no way.”

Turns out, I’d been missing out all along.

More and more, shows that gaming communities can foster connections and meaningful relationships (when not steeped in harassment, of course). According to this study, video games can also enhance attention skills, motivate players in the face of failure and provide emotional comfort—because we all need a break from real world problems sometimes.

Jane McGonigal initiated the conversation with her creation of SuperBetter, a tool created by game designers to help users build personal resilience in dealing with challenges outside the virtual world. Filmmaker Andie Bolt is bringing further attention to the topic, with her upcoming documentary, WoWMoM. The movie, which was recently funded on Kickstarter, follows Bolt’s mother, a cancer patient, who finds an unexpected support network in the online gaming community of World of Warcraft.

Bolt noticed her mother was spending a lot of time gaming. She wondered if she should worry. She ended up being grateful, thrilled, even, to realize that her mom was using her World of Warcraft experience as gaming therapy, and it was working. Bolt realized that the gaming community is much richer and more diverse than she initially thought. “It’s not just a bunch of dudes in their parents’ basements; it’s grandmas on their ranches, terminal children in their hospital beds, or wives who just lost their husbands,” Bolt stated.

Despite the outdated stereotypes, online gaming is for everyone, and as Bolt proved, it can have a powerful, positive effect in the right hands.

Just as these days, you can’t throw a copy of lesser-known James Joyce without hitting a self-identifying “nerd,” being an video game fan is no longer looked down upon. In fact, it’s a badge of honor, and something women, who have faced sexism (and even threats) in the gaming community, are willing to fight for, in order to make gaming more inclusive.

“We know games can tell different, broader stories, be quirky and emotional, and give us more ways to win and have fun,” wrote feminist gaming critic and defender, Anita Sarkeesian, in the New York Times . “These days, even my mom spends an inordinate amount of time gaming on her iPad. So I’ll take a cue from my younger self and say I don’t care about being a ‘gamer,’ but I sure do love video games.”

After years of missing out, I’ll back that statement. I sure do love video games, too.

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