The Videogame That Changed My Life

I’m not a gamer.

I didn’t even know what IRL meant until a few months ago.

Shameful, for a girl from Seattle.

But then, I came up against a challenge that nothing but a videogame was going to get me through.

In July 2013, I was in excruciating pain. I couldn’t turn my head more than 15 degrees in either direction without sharp pain. Sitting, standing, walking–all of it left me exhausted. My energy depleted, my emotions drained, I finally went to the doctor.

Arthritis. Spinal discs closing in on each other.

And the pain?

Welcome to your new life.

If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a chronic condition that can change your life, you know. Heartbreak. Depression. Grief. Even if it’s not life-threatening, things change. You lose your old body and find yourself living in a new one.

I was scared. And as an athlete, I was devastated.

Quite suddenly, my bones were eroding my able-bodied privilege.

In addition to the mental and emotional challenges of chronic pain, I was soon to take on outward signs of being differently abled—from a lumbar cushion to a wheelie bag. Which strangers feel themselves at liberty to comment on.

In August, a friend invited me to GaymerX, and as a straight woman, I learned a lot about privilege at the convention for “queer geek culture.” It was a space of healing in itself. Of dialogue and play and community.

One of the many lessons I took away from the panelists and attendees is that if you feel marginalized or just exhausted by the difficulty setting of your own life, you need a space at the end of the day where you can have a few wins. Somewhere you can be a hero. Not a victim. Not a target. But the agent of your own life.

When I got back home, I signed up for SuperBetter, a game developed by Jane McGonigal during her own recovery from an injury.

And it changed my life.

The game offers Power Packs, which run players through a series of quests—everything from the Stress Buster to The Power to Quit Anything (my favorite Power Packs so far: Mind Master and Being Awesome). I rack up points by completing Power-Ups (like a workout, hugs, or chatting up friends), battling Bad Guys (like the Cookie Monster and the Couch Potato), and completing Quests.

You can tailor all of it to your Epic Win and your challenge–whether that’s chronic pain, depression, or any other struggle.

If it sounds like another goal-setting program, it is.

Except it’s a videogame.

Not so different from most videogames.

Except this one? Your quests happen IRL.

And that’s the game-changer. I’ve got the same body with the same problems–and I’m dealing with the same ableist society. But gaming has taught me that the win is in my approach to the problem. Not the problem itself. The pain is here to stay but, with my daily dose of heroism, so is the optimism.

More about the benefits of games:

Published by M.C. Easton

Novelist and teacher.

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