The Power of Games

In absolute seriousness, games saved my life. 


Years ago, I was in a really dark place. I was in undergrad, struggling with anxiety and grown-up life, trying to keep my head above water with classes and failing friendships and the fresh, poignant pains of early adulthood. 

But I had a cure that worked better than my Prozac prescription. Games. I spent my weekends eschewing parties for basement game nights, playing everything from Dungeons and Dragons to Risk. Board games kept me from sinking too deep into the dread. Instead of feeling frustrated, bored, sad, or angry about the slow progress of life, my studies, and my relationships, I could pretend to be a settler on the distant island of Catan, building roads for the honor and glory of my people.


I was pretty good too; I won one Settlers of Catan tournament, and I made the semifinal in another. 


I’ve recently gotten into more computer-based strategy games because *gestures to COVID* and, thanks to the patient coaching of my husband, started playing Magic the Gathering. Before the world as we have always known it ended, he and I did some formal drafting and informal EDH games, and I really enjoyed it before someone in the all-male playgroup made a weird comment about my breasts, and I decided I wasn’t comfortable enough continuing to play with those guys. After that, I switched to playing Magic online. 


I’m not the only woman in the game world to have been the target of uncomfortable comments, sexist language, and unwanted sexualization. Gamer friends often feel pressure to either lean into the “sexy nerd girl fantasy” or repel against it by dressing “down” and trying to appear as unsexy as possible. One Twitch streamer I’m friends with talks about how she tries her best to avoid unwanted comments and sexualization by beating her mostly-male views to it, making self-deprecating comments on her own intelligence, or drawing notice to sexual innuendos herself so she can help direct the conversation.


But it seems like, no matter what women do, our bodies are commented on and judged. 


And yet, somehow amid this misogynistic weirdness, there seems to be an incredible diversity in gaming, especially among the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t have statistics more than anecdotes and experience, but I’ve noticed a huge amount of gamers who identify as something other than straight, cis, and heteronormative. Something about the escapism of games lets one play around with identity and preferences without making full commitments. 

This, I believe, is the true magic of games. How, even in a rough, tough reality–whether that’s a dark phase or an identity crisis or even a weird comment from a weird dude–gamers find joy, creativity, and expression in their games. Reality can be dark and strange, but in a game, the rules are clear, and everyone has a chance to succeed. Games, from classics like Dungeons and Dragons, to trusty Catan, offer a different world, even for a moment, and that world can be good.