It wasn’t so long ago that gaming was a fringe hobby with a negative reputation. In ye olden days, many people thought of gamers as scruffy, unsocialized nerds who lived in their parents’ basements and spent their hours in pursuit of “useless” achievements like high scores. While gaming and those who play games generally aren’t thought of in those terms anymore, there are still people out there who don’t see the worth of the hobby. Some may have been introduced to gaming through news horror stories about players who suffered physical or mental health consequences after allowing their play to go unchecked, while others may just be tired of their kid talking endlessly about Fortnite or Minecraft.

During my time at Ritual Motion, I’ve always tried to angle my writing around dispelling these stereotypes and sources of misinformation, proving that gamers can care about their physical and mental health while still, you know, playing games. While there will always be a few edge cases, the truth is that gaming is an extremely positive force for many of us. I’ve had the privilege of gaming for almost two decades now, and it still astonishes me just how much games have improved my life in every conceivable way. For my last piece for Ritual Motion, I want to expand upon what games have done for me and hopefully change a few more minds out there. (I promise I won’t talk about Fortnite, though Minecraft will get a mention or two.)

Get up and go

I’m going to be honest: I wasn’t a very physically active kid. I tried a couple sports, but nothing stuck. I “ran” a 15-minute mile in elementary school. It wasn’t that I didn’t like kicking balls at people; I just wasn’t really good at it and I didn’t like it enough to want to improve. As a result, much of my time was spent hanging out on the sofa and playing my GameCube on Saturday mornings. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I learned that I could get my lazy butt up and moving and play games at the same time.

My first interaction with exercise and gaming was at a friend’s house. She owned a PS2, a copy of Dance Dance Revolution, and one of those plastic dance mats. We spent hours upon hours dancing, getting a workout, and learning all the lyrics to our favorite songs. We even used her flip phone’s camera to take pictures of the game’s music videos. When the Wii came out a couple years later, my dad took a real liking to Wii SportsThough it wasn’t as much of a workout as DDR, it was still a reason to get off the sofa and get your blood flowing. We poured untold hours into Wii Sports, laughing about our terrible putts in golf and taunting each other after getting strikes in bowling. Much more recently, my roommate let me use his copy of Ring Fit Adventure, which I’ve written about many, many times here. As of this writing, I’ve spent 119 days working out with Ring Fit, doing more squats and mountain climbers than I ever thought possible while saving a cheerful virtual world from destruction. When I’d rather be outside, I listen to gaming music while I run to pump me up.

It’s amazing how much games have pervaded my exercise habits, and I’m all for it. Combining something I love with something as important as physical activity has made me look forward to those times when I have to break a sweat. There’s no doubt that games have put me in better shape and made me love exercise. They’ve given me a reason to get up and move with friends and family, giving me memories that will last a lifetime. Sometimes I wonder if my friend still has those pictures of DDR‘s music videos on her phone.

Slow down and think

While it’s important to get up and move frequently, it’s also important to slow down and reflect every once in a while. Just as games have helped me get fit and stay in shape, they’ve helped me through tough times and given me something to look forward to. Much has been said about the negative effects that games can have on players’ mental health thanks to ongoing issues like toxicity, but for me, gaming has consistently improved my mental health, both in the short term and long term.

As a lifelong fan of cozy games, I know just where to go when I need to relax and decompress. Games like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moontwo franchises I grew up playing, are perfect for this. Instead of bombarding you with action or objectives, they simply let you be. I have many happy memories of laying in the late afternoon sun like a cat, making my character run around in Animal Crossing and enjoying the peace of the day. Stardew Valley and so-called “walking simulators” have given me this same sense of peace in more recent times, and I’m so happy that the genre is finally getting the recognition – and respect – it deserves.

There’s also value in more action-packed games. Titles like Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and Apex Legends have given me hours upon hours of stress-busting fun in the form of brutal team competitions. I find that competitive games require me to focus more, forcing me to kick distractions, worries, and other detrimental thoughts out of my head in order to perform my best. Spending hours ranking in Overwatch in college let me temporarily forget that I was at a school two hours away from my family and all my childhood friends, for example. It’s an activity that’s brought me more than a little peace and respite over the years, and I couldn’t be happier that I discovered these games and methods. While games won’t solve your troubles for you, they can take your mind off things and give you a little break for a while, which is just as important in the grind that is daily life.

Bring it together

Never let it be said that gamers are nerds who can’t make friends – or don’t want to make friends. I’ve met so many incredibly kind, talented people through games who have supported me through many a trial. I met my partner of eight years back in high school when we got into a conversation about RPG classes. Almost all of my friends are gamers – it’s something we all have in common, and it colors our conversations, jokes, get-togethers, memes, and more. When I joined a competitive team in college, I became friends with my teammates and so many other people in the wider tournament network that I’m a part of.

So many of my favorite memories involve me and five friends just hanging out in a Discord server at night and playing games together or streaming for one another to watch. This simple activity was a lifeline during the early days of the pandemic, when we weren’t able to see each other nearly as often as we wanted to. I spent my birthday in 2020 on Discord with these five people playing Among Us, Minecraft, and Jackbox from my bedroom. For just a moment, it made me forget that there was a deadly virus out in the world and that I myself was in the middle of a COVID-19 scare. Everything just felt right.

I really learned the power of gaming and social connection when I started a club in college to bring together women in gaming. I met a lot of people who told me that they’d never been able to feel like they were part of a group before, particularly a group that valued and supported their favorite hobby. One of my hopes for the future of gaming is that everyone, no matter their gender, race or ethnicity, background, sexuality, or socioeconomic status, can find a comfortable home in gaming with people who value, respect, and support their contributions. We’re not quite there yet, but we as a community have made some great strides and I’m confident that we’ll get there in my lifetime.

There are a myriad of other ways that gaming has changed my life for the better that I could talk about. Gaming has taught me about myself and how to be more introspective. It’s taught me how to think critically, solve puzzles, and help other people. It inspired me so much that I made gaming my career – without games, I wouldn’t be here writing this article right now, and I’m still amazed that I can make a living talking about my favorite hobby. It’s impossible to overstate the influence that games have had on me, and I’m sure that many game developers, professional players, content creators, journalists, and fans could say the same thing. Sometimes it’s important to sit back and reflect on just what gaming has given all of us: incredible adventures.

Thank you to all my readers at Ritual Motion, and I’ll see you elsewhere on the internet!