Watch someone playing a game from a distance, and it may be hard to recognize the ways in which they are part of a community, but if you listen to the women, femme-identifying gamers, and nonbinary people comfortable in spaces that center women who have shared their stories with the*gameHERs, it becomes more and more clear that gaming can be a central component to connection.

Gaming brings people together through its inherent accessibility; it’s global and lower cost than physical travel. If what it means to be a strong community member is to show up consistently, the ability to show up from anywhere in the world with an internet connection and an account makes it easier to do so. The pool in which you can find “your people ” becomes an ocean.

With the multiplayer games and online modes easily accessible for more people than ever before, gaming has become inherently more social in its nature. This has allowed for in-game friendships to form, anchored by in-game activities. As we’ve learned from our community members though, those in-game activities aren’t just limited to raids or in-game missions; the virtual worlds of games allow for friends to offer support, care, and community in players’ times of need. 

RELATED: Critical Callouts: How Gamers Survived Lockdown With Communication

In her piece Playing to Acceptance: Video Games and Grief, gameHERs community member Jackie Sieks shares about a scenario in which gaming allowed her to memorialize and grieve her stepfather after his death. She writes:

“When I lost my stepfather in February of 2020, I went onto Minecraft with my friends, and they helped me build a memorial. They allowed me the opportunity to talk about him, remember him, and cry about his loss. Each time I log into the world, I see the memorial we built together as a group. Despite the pain I felt, and all the complications that accompanied his loss, I was able to mourn him in my own way, on my own terms, surrounded by friends.”

Here the game itself provided a shared space for people to come together and honor a very real life moment. Because the space was virtual, it allowed for people who may be limited by any number of factors, geography being one of them, to provide support. The game allowed for Jackie to more easily connect to her friends, and it also removed barriers to make it easier for those friends to provide support to Jackie.

In addition to the correspondence within a game, structured gaming communities such as the*gameHERs allow for people to find one another and discuss their real world experiences via external forums like Discord. The*gameHERs Discord server allows for its community members to connect with one another via channels that center different topics including games, allyship, advocacy work, health, and wellness. Though most participants join the server initially citing their love of gaming, the friendships and conversations span many subjects beyond the specifics of the games they play or the logistics of arranging times to play together. Here we have a community of people brought together by gaming who have found support and understanding with other people outside of specific games but still within a gaming-centric virtual zone. 

As we’ve seen at the*gameHERs, connecting with someone over gaming first can be the easiest way in when it comes to building a social support base. Members already have a love of gaming in common to talk about first, and the tougher topics (e.g: mental health struggles, racism, financial struggles, just to name a few) can come next. Gaming community forums expand non-gaming communities.

This phenomenon of expansion extends beyond forums like the*gameHERs. Within the LGBTQ+ community, the world of gaming and gaming organizations can provide a way to connect with other queer folks whom one may not find in the wild. As gameHERs community member and C9’s Head of Coaching for Training Grounds Bethany Pyles shares, I’ve had the opportunity to work with gaming organizations that brought women and LGBTQ folks into my life that I wouldn’t have otherwise met!” 

As the world emerges from a COVID-19 era characterized in large part by isolation, we can thank gaming for consistently growing and feeding our ability to form social connections and community. Gamers were already able to find one another even when they couldn’t leave their homes throughout the pandemic, constantly expanding their circles and building new ones even when in-person meetings were limited.

At the*gameHERs, we are excited to see what the members of these gaming communities can do as they continue to be seen and supported by each other. Gaming has allowed for a collective strength and confidence among its user base that has real power for social impact, and we are thrilled to be here to see what our community does as they continue to lift each other up.