Games can provide a lower stakes environment to practice social skills, build social resilience, and find social connections.
Along with being an activity for self-expression, creativity, and fun, games also provide social benefits for many players in powerful ways. Gaming as an act of self-care doesn’t end with relaxation; the time you put into it can also be an investment in your social wellbeing.
For gamers who find social interactions challenging, gameplay provides opportunities to develop and experiment with social skills, or take social chances that may feel overwhelming in other real-life situations. In her piece for the*gameHERs blog, “How D&D Changed My Life,” gamer Caitlin Drummond shares how playing tabletop RPGs has helped her try out interactions that don’t come naturally to her as someone on the autism spectrum.
She writes: “A social fault I have is that if someone asks me to put myself in their shoes, mentally I cannot put myself in anyone else’s shoes… Playing role-playing games gives me the creative license to put myself into my character, but my character still does things I can’t do and really isn’t me. I can experiment with parts of my personality I can’t appropriately show in actual society.”
Tabletop RPGs give Caitlin the freedom to explore the characters she plays while also allowing opportunities to practice back-and-forth conversations, speech, and organizational skills. Within the safe space of her gaming group, she can experience numerous social benefits like these, plus the added confidence that comes with her passion for the game.
Even when gaming is not all fun, it can still present opportunities to build social resilience. Online gamers, especially women gamers, often encounter trolling, griefing, or just plain rudeness as they move through online worlds. In her blog for the*gameHERs, writer and gamer Shannon Hunt explains how she has reframed these encounters as a “Mental Health Workout” when encountering those who treat her disrespectfully online:
“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… I’m learning a healthier way of engaging others through safe, repetitive, perspective-filled gaming interactions.”
The lower-stakes setting of the game allows Shannon to build up greater social resilience and skills through practice. Gamers who frame their online interactions with Shannon’s “Mental Health Workout” mindset while gaming may find that among real-life trolls, they are better equipped to tolerate, interact, or walk away, depending on what the situation requires.
Gaming can be an excellent way to build social skills and resilience individually, but it can also be an incredible way to find social community. Whether you are bonding with players you meet within the world of your favorite online game, regularly meeting with a group of friends for a D&D campaign, or connecting with a worldwide network of like-minded people through an online gaming community such as the*gameHERs, there are so many ways to form friendships and find support through gaming. Finding common fandoms is a balm for loneliness and a source of joy for many gamers. As Caitlin puts it in another gameHERs blog piece, “Communities like these make us feel like we are a part of something.”
In the heat of a celebrated win or infuriating loss, the phrase “it’s just a game” may be frustrating for many gamers to hear. But sometimes, the low-stakes nature of gaming is exactly what allows for powerful social benefits that come with trying on new social interactions, building resilience, and approaching new potential friendships. The real world can be an overwhelming place, but the world of your favorite game can be a fun and exciting alternate space for social growth and self-care.