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Gaming Therapy

Don't hate the players—just enjoy the game!

Games have helped me more than I realized.

This is another topic that is near and dear to my heart, as well as my analytical left brain. As a young child, I always enjoyed playing many different board games and video games, as well as allowing my overactive imagination to invent brand new games of my own with my friends.

Since I experienced so much anxiety as a child, gaming became a staple in my life, a means of relaxing and coping with my difficult emotions. It was very easy to lose myself in games at that time. I could basically suspend my entire inner-world and just immerse myself in another reality.

Of course, this can obviously become problematic in itself. As a teenager I found myself gaming long into the night, but not really enjoying myself very much. I had taken gaming to an unhealthy level where I was simply escaping pain rather than having fun.

That is why the cliché of, "everything in moderation" is still so applicable in daily life. Just like everything else in life, it is up to us to cultivate a healthy relationship with games and entertainment in general. They are meant to be a garnish or dessert as a part of the main course of life, but many people today are treating their favorite games as more important than their daily lives.

A big problem in the general gaming community today is that people are willing to become more and more socially isolated in order to lose themselves in their world of choice. I used to play chess in downtown Toronto, which forced me to break out of my comfort zone in front of the computer or TV.

Playing with people live and in-person offers us a lot of opportunity to build our social skills and make new friends. Board game cafes can offer a cool alternative to the usual pub scene, and it is often more fun to actually be engaged in an activity than merely watch it on TV.

As a social worker and helping professional, games and recreation in general have been a cornerstone for helping people recover from various issues in their lives. I've worked at retirement homes as a recreation coach, and I was happy at how much a game of chess or Scrabble could bring joy to the elderly folks in my community.

Before the internet and video games came along, different games have been played across every culture, with lots of room for variation and creativity. For instance, chess is very popular in Eastern Europe. There are many great Russian players of the past and present, and I feel a reason for this is that chess has actually helped people survive harsh times.

Imagine living in the former Soviet Union: The grip of communism pervades the land, and families wonder how they will survive and thrive. The frigid winters add a new level of despair in already hard times. What can one do, besides set up a chess board, grab a bottle of vodka and wile  away the hours with your fellow comrades?

In Toronto I worked at a homeless shelter and soup kitchen. The nearby park was where the local chess aficionados would pit their skills against each other with the hopes of winning drinking or drug money.

One day I sat down across from an older Russian man whose teeth looked like they were just about ready to fall right out of his face. He chain-smoked profusely as we played, and cigarette butts littered his little corner of the park. The look of despair and anguish on this man's face was so pronounced. I had seen him earlier at the soup kitchen, and he seemed a little embarrassed that I knew of his dire situation.

He muttered that he plays, "five dollar games, minimum!" He also took the liberty of letting me know how high his chess rating was, and how he sometimes worked as a chess coach for those with more disposable income than himself.

A few moves into the game and I knew I had a lost position, but I kept playing on with a grim determination to not lose my five bucks. I realized that I needed it to take the bus home, and so I tapped into my inner chess guru and prayed for a miracle.

A few moves later and my finger deftly flicked the white king over; I know when I've lost. The man joylessly accepted my five dollar bill, and I began asking random strangers for a subway token to get home.

It is my theory that being good at chess is saving this man's life, as well as his fellow chess brothers-in-arms. A person without this proclivity towards games may well be laying in an alleyway with a needle in his arm rather than scraping by as a chess hustler.

This principle can be applied broadly across many different games, as well as people from any walk of life. Many families enjoy board game nights where everyone takes a much needed break from their screens.

Groups of friends are getting more active in their lives and finding fun ways of enjoying themselves in their free time. Gaming has a great way to take the serious edge out of life, and sometimes we may even get the sense that life itself is the greatest game of all. Truly, we are meant to engage the game of life with vigor and passion rather than just being mere spectators.

I encourage many of my counseling clients to get into a hobby or game that they may enjoy. Those of us who have suffered from depression will know that it can be very difficult to enjoy even our most beloved past-times when the demon of despair takes hold.

From my own experience, it is always better to simply go through the motions of playing anyway—hopefully with some good friends and family. I would often catch myself smiling through my depression after a great game. Before long I would forget about how bad I felt and just enjoy the excitement of settling Catan, or perhaps channeling my inner Trump and devastating my family on the Monopoly board.

I wanted to share some of my own positive experiences with playing games over the course of my life. Achieving a healthy balance isn't always easy; people are very susceptible to bingeing out on Netflix, games, and other entertainment.

That is why I feel as though this time is one of live, in-person action steps. I'm in the process of organizing a board game club in my town as a means of meeting new people and having some good, clean fun.

I hope you enjoy a sense of fun and lightheartedness in life, and are able to share it with your friends and loved ones. It's important that we come together in our communities, and games offer a great way of forming healthy connections.

Seeds Of Love

Michael Thielmann
Michael Thielmann

I am a counselor, spiritual mentor, and writer living on Vancouver Island. My passion is to help people get in touch with their own love, creativity, and empower them to live in alignment with their highest wisdom. www.seedsoflove.ca

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