Games Can Heal

A picture of mercy from Overwatch with her hand outstretched toward the viewer.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing Super Mario 3D World with my brother. There is something about Mario’s wonder at itself that is remarkable. This is a storied franchise with dozens of entries and a massive fanbase, but most of the games seem wide-eyed and enthusiastic. They introduce new game elements with the glee of a child showing you their favorite toys. Their joy is inspiring and infectious. My brother and I worked together and competed. We laughed at our mutual mistakes. We tried new things and found secrets. We high fived and squealed with joy. It was a kind of bliss, being there with my brother, finding out that we could, and would, overcome challenges together.

In a similar event a few days ago, I invited 20 or so friends over and we spent the evening and part of the night playing games. Before the party started, I was worried that not enough people would come or too many or too many at the wrong time or enough people would come at different times and all miss each other. When the time came we all sat down and we just played.  We laughed and chuckled. We bluffed and witnessed. We mentally danced and pranced around each other. We saw new things in old friends and made new friends quickly. It was exhausting, the party went for 6-7 hours, but it was a life-affirming exhaustion. We were all experiencing something together. Games bring a room full of strangers to each other and bring them all to laughter. Tongues are loosed and thoughts are shared. People open up and you see them really smile.

All this occurred just a few days after the horrific shooting in Orlando. When a space that should have been a safe place, where people could be themselves, was attacked. I’m straight, but my girlfriend is bi.* Everyday after I heard the news, I imagined her going to a club or a meeting and never coming home. This was a place where she could have been. It was also a place where she should have been able to be safe.

The game night and the time with my brother were little things. I am under no illusion that they helped end or even fight the horrors of hatred that fueled such an attack. What they did do was remind me that safe places do exist. That they will continue to exist. That we will fight for them. That every living room can be a place where people find themselves anew and where they can be accepted. They reminded me how easy love can be, when we simply get to know our fellow humans. We can remind others of love through the things we make and consume. Games can do that. Art can do that. We can do that.

Games can be good, even great. They can foster joy and friendship. They can remind us of our humanity. They can act as lights or pleasant stops as we work through challenges. In a time that seems so irrationally violent and in a culture that can be so polarized and petty, it felt important to me to take a step back and remember that good things are abundant and ready for us to find them. Remember that those things can invigorate and prepare us to move forward and love one more day. Remember that we can build a new, better world.

Here’s to those reminders and the people behind them.

*For those of you that know her, she is publicly out and I asked her permission before mentioning her.

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