A few months ago I was playing World of Warcraft — as is my wont — and was mindlessly listing gemstones in the auction house. Though I usually try to ignore the in-game chat channels, I couldn’t help but notice one shaman asking for help with his gear. Now, if you’ve ever been on the internet before, you may know that asking even reasonable questions to a group of anonymous people will likely result in some or all of the following: insults, incorrect answers, deliberately false answers, and more insults. The shaman was asking what sort of gear he needed to play his character with a particular specialization (shaman can be either healers or they can deal damage via melee attacks or spellcasting). His questions weren’t being answered and people were mocking his spelling. The shaman apologized, saying he was a 79 year old man and didn’t type very well. The people in the chat channel then mocked him for this.
I looked up the shaman’s gear and found he was wearing a hodgepodge of items that weren’t itemized very well for his intended role (a melee damage-dealer). I bought him several pieces of gear off the auction house and mailed it to his character along with a note with a few tips. I also told him if he ever had any questions, he could ask me at any time.
I got an in-game mail back from him later that day. He said that it’s hard for him to play this game since the younger players don’t have patience for him. He never learned to type in school and his reflexes were slower. “I went through Korea and Vietnam and they were good enough then to keep me alive,” he wrote. He thanked me for helping him and for changing his mind about his fellow players.
Now, whenever I get frustrated with a player who isn’t playing well, I just imagine that the character is being played by my own Korean war veteran grandfather, who will be 83 this summer. I keep checking back on my little shaman friend. He only has two more levels before he hits the level-cap. I think I’ll buy him a present for when he does.
My father is a 70 year old Vietnam War veteran and he has played World of Warcraft with his slightly younger wife for much longer than I ever did. Growing up with a war vet as a parent makes you acutely attuned to their PTSD symptoms, stress levels, and ability to handle their surroundings and daily life, as well as their ability to cope with the demands of their children. I can tell you with no hyperbole that playing video games—first person shooters, MMOs and everything else—has given my father, by his own admission, an astonishing tool for self-therapy, stress management, and the easing of painful memories in the context of “play”. He is likewise slower at typing, and more easily distracted by the eerie beauty of the environmental art (which the rest of us are already spoiled to!), and in general approaches video games slightly differently than people in their 20s.
Laying aside the other thousand good arguments for accessibility in games wrt all people with disabilities (I can’t speak for them because I am average-bodied), consider the medicinal benefits of video games to people with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and to the elderly, who have a far far better chance fighting off Alzheimer’s and dementia with the proper brain stimulus. Video games can provide that, and do.