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When many people hear the word “gamer,” they usually picture a person—often either very scrawny or overweight, depending—parked in front of their TV or computer with a case of Mountain Dew and a family sized bag of Doritos. And who could blame them? The way media portrays gamers does us no favors.

You know what I’m talking about...

Not a representative sample!

But, of course, anyone involved with a real community of gamers knows that there is no one type of person who loves to play. As a semi-recent convert to the world of weight lifting and working out and a lifelong gamer myself, I was interested in exploring one particular segment of the diverse and numerous “types” of gamer there are: the fit gamer. We exist! And to discuss the relationship gamers in particular can have with fitness, I spoke with Felix Schmieder, a personal trainer and fitness manager by trade and gamer since childhood. We talked about the specific strengths as well as challenges that gamers face when it comes to getting (or staying) in shape, as well as how working out and gaming can coexist to lead to a more balanced life.

Games make us feel like we can do anything while we play. From defeating monsters to rescuing princesses to saving the world, games give us that wonderful sensation of being capable, of seeing marked progress, and of growing and succeeding. I've written before about the mental health benefits of gaming, but no matter how hard we agree with each other that gaming has value and positive contributions to make to our lives, I think we can also agree that gaming shouldn't be the only source of those pick-me-ups. People are multi-faceted beings, and so too should our interests and activities be. That's why fitness, perhaps surprisingly to some, is an excellent complement to our time spent in the gaming world. In the same way that downing that raid boss makes you feel like you're on cloud nine, that you've done something amazing and now can take on the world, so too can hitting your next PR at the gym make you feel like you can achieve anything you set your mind to. “People don’t realize just how strong and powerful they are,” Felix says. "A lot of people have this mental image of themselves that they’re just a loser, a nobody, but when you start lifting weights, it’s just incredible [how that changes].” And the benefits extend beyond losing weight or bulking up. "It’s literally impossible to get physically stronger without getting mentally stronger too,” according to Felix, and in this article, we'll explore exactly how that's so.

It's no so far fetched. You know that way that you feel revisiting early zones in a video game after leveling up? Like a total badass, right? Amazed at how you ever thought this zone was challenging? Similarly, lifting weights starts out feeling difficult— like your stats are low and you don't know all the controls and combos yet—but soon becomes so natural to you that you look back at those “early zones,” i.e. the weights you struggled to pick up that first day, and realize you warm up with things bigger than those now. It's the same larger-than-life feeling. And, similar to how benefits from gaming can complement the non-gaming areas of your life, so too can that increased physical strength and new knowledge of your body's capabilities from the gym extend beyond simply building bigger muscles; it can do things like increase your mental fortitude and bolster your confidence too! Gaming has been said to have benefits for our emotional and social health, and the physical health aspect of working out is obvious to all. So together, could they make a fit gamer unstoppable?

Well, wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Don't we have a professional here to tell us all about it?

Felix's "Confessions of a Reformed Accountant and Gaming Addict"

I think of me and Felix as being very different people, but I was surprised about how much we had in common. We both started our gaming journies with the NES, playing Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt obsessively, and we both spent huge swath of our childhoods in the karate dojo and on the baseball diamond (well, softball for me). But, as I’ve written about before, my gaming habits moved from the NES straight to the Playstation and the computer. Felix, however, has a much broader gaming experience, having traversed his way through many of the consoles, from Sega, to Playstation, to Xbox, and of course the computer, starting with that old combat flight simulator, Red Barron. Felix said the height of his nerdiness had to be when he saved up his money for a dedicated video card so he could play Rainbow Six back in high school. Meanwhile, I wasn’t investing in specific computer parts for gaming until college (World of Warcraft is a hell of a drug).

Our paths diverge again when we look at our social preferences. I’ve written before about my extroverted childhood. Even gaming was a group affair for me as much as I could make it. Felix, on the other hand, says he has always been introverted and even a bit of a loner. “I hate working in groups. I had lots of friends in school, but I never really hung out with them outside of school.” His parents encouraged him to play sports and be active, and, though it might be surprising given his fitness-focused career today, sports weren’t really his passion. “I played sports but I wasn’t that good at [them] […] so gaming was just my down time and was just where I spent most of my free time.”

So how did this gamer who wasn’t into sports end up as a super fit guy, to the point that he made a career out of it? It didn’t come easy. In fact, Felix would describe himself as “pudgy” throughout most of his life. I mention this because I wonder if many of you, like me, have that same thought when they see a really fit person: I bet it’s always been easy for them. Maybe you’re not like that, but I will admit, I’m guilty. When I see buff folks and hear they’ve been interested in sports throughout their childhood, I think “yeah, and I’ve bet you’ve looked this good the whole time too!” This is ignoring the fact that I was into sports throughout my childhood. Dance, karate, softball, cheer… and getting fit was still a struggle for me. So, just in case you’re also a jerk (haha), I’m here to dispel the idea that Felix was hand delivered perfect fitness on a silver platter way back in primary school or something. He says that I’m not the only one who thinks this way. “A lot of people think, you know, that that I’m a coach, that I’ve always been fit my entire life In fact, and that’s not true at all.” Though he kept in relative shape through sports and at-home workout programs starting around late high school (Power 90 and P90X FTW), on-your-feet jobs (waiting tables is a killer), and the military, he says he was never in “crazy good shape.” Fitness has always been intertwined in Felix’s life, but he says it hasn’t always been something he took super seriously. “I was about average, really,” he says, until he got a job as an accountant, and his “not in crazy-good shape” became not in shape at all. At that point, he looked at himself and realized something had to change. “I think I was 200 pounds,” he says.

That’s when the fitness goals got serious. Felix started working out at the gym, doing a variation of HIIT, Crossfit, etc., and while he lost weight, he says he was still “pudgy,” but what progress he was making was threatened when he got injured. He hurt his shoulder so badly that he couldn’t lift his arm over his head “and that actually started my journey into becoming a coach,” Felix explained. He said he wanted to learn how to make his shoulder better, and that opened the door to better understanding fitness. Paired with the fact that he hated his job at the time, the beginning of a new career was born.

Felix during his accountant days and recently while working at a fitness manager

And throughout it all, Felix remained a gamer. A lot of times, I expect fitness-focused people to frown on gaming as a pastime, because it’s almost always a sedentary endeavor. However, Felix has a more rounded view of things. Fitness, he says in a post on his page, “is not about upending your entire life, throwing away everything bad in the house, trading your Playstation for an exercise bike and only eating boiled chicken and broccoli for the rest of eternity.” Gaming and fitness can still co-exist. “I don’t think they’re at odds with each other," he says. “Gaming’s just another pastime, another hobby.” Felix continues, “Some people watch Netflix, some people go work on their car” and, of course, some people go play video games.

“I do feel like there is, in some people’s minds, like an odds,” though, Felix adds. A person who is part of neither the gaming nor the gym scene might see the two worlds as being incongruent. It goes back to those stereotypes discussed before. There’s this idea, Felix says, of the “typical bro at the gym versus the typical nerdy gamer at home” for some people. And to many, that dichotomy feels very fixed, but if we look around (and even if I look at myself), I can see that that’s not the case. It's becoming more and more clear that gamers, whether they call themselves by that moniker or not, are getting more and more diverse in every way. Perhaps for this reason, or maybe simply because he's lived it, Felix doesn’t see the two—the time you spend in your favorite gaming universe and the time you spend being active at the gym—as getting into each other’s way at all. The only thing he has to keep an eye on, Felix says, is what he eats. We were both told to clean our plates as children “because there are starving kids in the world,” and it’s easy to overindulge or feel good about eating anything, even if it’s not necessarily good for you, if you were continuously praised for the simple act of eating as a kid. “I could very easily over eat, and over eat bad food,” Felix says, “so maintaining my fitness is very important. I personally struggle with eating badly too, so I'm with him there, but I honestly feel less bad about it now that I work out. In fact, there's this meme I often see going around that says “working out is not a punishment for what you ate but rather a celebration of what you can do,” and I really love that. I love bringing my body to new limits in the same way I like perfecting those combos in tricky boss encounters to (literally) get to the next level, and I think of fitness as the thing that allows me to game guilt free. I know I’m putting physical work in outside of my gaming sessions (and let’s be honest, I’ll be gaming either way), so I let myself enjoy the time I sit still now, rather than feeling guilty about it, and through that, I have found a new, happy balance that works well for me. So in my case, working out has become a boon to my gaming life, rather than something that takes away from it, and the fact that I can squat more than I weigh now certainly hasn't made me any less of a gamer, it's just made me a gamer who is hella strong.

Felix's "Three Steps to Speeding up Your Metabolism"

When I asked Felix if he thought there were any challenges specific to gamers that might get in the way of us getting fit, it all really fell back on those prevailing stereotypes we all have a hard time shaking. Something Felix has heard more than once is that "more introverted, geeky kind of dudes” are often afraid of going to the gym and of being judged there. “I feel like it’s almost the perception that the gym is where the jocks are” and people have bad mental connotations of those sorts of people. Maybe they got teased or even beat up by people like that in the past, so they don’t want to go to the gym, he explains. “But there are plenty of people who watch hours upon hours of Netflix or go read books and ignore everything else,” so there aren’t specific challenges that would stop gamers from finding success at the gym any more than there’d be for those people. In short, it's just a matter of getting yourself to walk through the doors and do it. People who self-describe as gamers are, typically, says Felix, “a little bit inactive, generally, not very athletic, generally,” but that’s lots of people, and there’s nothing about loving games that holds a person back from getting fit, if that's what they want to do.

Be we also discussed the advantages a gamer might have over someone else when it comes to getting fit, and in some ways, we do have an upper hand. “Like, I’ll spend hours researching the perfect rotations for my dragoon in Final Fantasy XIV," Felix says, "or, you know, hours finding the perfect artefact for my characters in Genshin Impact, so researching just the most crazy details and making spreadsheets and stuff like that” is something many gamers are familiar with. He's not wrong. I remember in my WoW days doing all that math to min/max my character with each new big loot drop, and it was tedious and also weirdly addictive. “Eve Online” Felix jokes, “is like spreadsheets online,” so gamers and that personality type tend to “do lots of investigation to find what they need to do.” And, while that sounds like it’s getting us no closer to a life of fitness, Felix says that he thinks it's a good thing. In fact, that spreadsheet-loving, research-oriented mindset is actually how Felix really got into fitness himself, by “just researching and researching and trying to find out the best ways to do things.” Even CNN sees the correlation. In their article "Why Gamers Are a Great Fit at the Gym," they outline exactly the way gamers can excel at fitness:

They’ve been trained to focus for weeks at a time on a single goal. They know how to clearly identify obstacles and form step-by-step plans to overcome them. They’re obsessed with improving specific skills but judge success only by overall progress made in the world they’ve decided to conquer – as realistic or fantastical as it may be. It’s precisely these traits that make video-gamers great bodybuilders.

Felix says that those research types like him have to be careful, though. He cautions that it’s easy to get paralyzed by too much information and so many different options, leading to “paralysis analysis,” where you’re trying to figure out the best next step or end result but don't take any steps to move forward. If there are twelve ‘best things,’ Felix asks, “which one do you do?” So that expectation that gaming often creates—that there's generally one right way to do something—can “make it harder for us to implement imperfectly.” Gamers are very often into getting things just right and making the best choices, backed up by stats and figures, in order to perfect their gameplay, but Felix cautions that you can easily spend your time searching and searching and never getting to the implementation when it come to "leveling up" in the real world, because perfection doesn’t exist in fitness. There’s no one right way; there’s no one perfect workout. Our bodies aren’t computers, so they’re not going to respond the exact same way every time like our avatars within a game world, and that’s something we need to keep in mind so we don’t fall into the trap of never getting started.

Felix's "What Leveling up in Video Games Has Taught Me About Fitness"

But when you do get started, rewards abound. In a previous article, Lennon, a front-end web developer and former weightlifting coach, discussed how he felt gaming and fitness reward systems can overlap:

Lennon likens this process to getting a good workout in. He explains that since he’s not a competitive athlete, when he’s at the gym, the progress he makes doesn’t have some huge, over-arching significance. What he does each day is self-contained, and in the end, it only affects him. It “isn't part of some larger expectation," as he puts it, “so there's no pressure. But it's progress, so it feels good.” He surmises that this is comparable to the feeling of advancement and growth that video games can elicit in players. Whether it’s a great workout, an achievement in your favorite hobby, or downing the next raid boss, they all provide a feeling of accomplishment, a boost to morale, and a feeling of being capable of success, and that can mean all the difference in a person’s life.

We three aren't the only ones to see the connection, of course, and I think it's no surprise that the gamification of fitness has been on the rise for a while now. While he’s not into that concept as much personally, Felix understands why it works so well, likening the milestones of increasing weight to leveling up, and he thinks that gamification can help a lot of gamers. “You get that kind of dopamine level when you level up. We all get it,” he says. “Whether it’s an aura that jumps up or big numbers that flash across the screen,” Felix continues, there’s a lot of dopamine there, and it can be useful to use that to your advantage. When it comes to trying to emulate that gamified dopamine rush in the real world, “I can definitely see the appeal," he says. And it does appeal to a lot of people. Games like Pokemon Go, Wii Fitness, Ring Fit Adventure, and the new Alter Titan, currently in beta, are dong their best to make the gamification of movement and fitness a real thing. Shoot, somebody even made it so they can play Overwatch by jogging and doing squats! I think gamers will always be tuned into keeping an eye out for progress markers, both in their games and outside of them, and Felix says “there are always milestones when it comes to lifting weights, so I think there are similar [...] leveling up experiences when it comes to that.”

Felix's "The Number One Thing I Learned about Fitness from Dungeons and Dragons"

Felix says of gaming and fitness, “at this point they’re just a part of who I am.” Since probably four or five years old, he says, “they’ve always been my identity,” but as far as gaming in general, “it just goes back to the escapism, right? Fantasy worlds, you’re a hero, you’re doing great things versus the normal world,” he says, laughing, where "you know, I’m on Reddit all day.” It’s also just fun, he admits. Felix's face lights up as he talks about pulling off perfect combos is Ghost of Tsushima, which he's recently started playing through again. “Hitting a perfect block and parrying and stuff like that, just pulling off some fun perfect combo, perfect block,” he says, “you know, it’s very rewarding when you reach different skill levels in the game and are doing things subconsciously and you get into that level, that state of flow, that a lot of people talk about, that athletes get into,” for example sinking basket after basket, because they’re just so zoned in, he says. Felix thinks that state of flow, just like in athletics, “is very easy to get with games,” and “you feel very rewarded.”

But even though that flow state can exist for gamers and athletes alike, it still feels like people generally think of themselves as one or the other, and there isn't much crossover in people's minds. “I think there is an ownership that people take upon their identity,” Felix says, like “well I’m a nerd, and only jocks lift weights and I’m definitely not a jock so I definitely don’t want to lift weights because I don’t want to be that person.” But as we discussed before, there are always myriad types of people comprising any hobby or interest. Not every gamer is that guy from South Park, and not every weight lifter is the person you see giving swirlies in every movie about high school bullies. (I know I'm certainly not that person. I'm the person who wears my Aperture Science shirt to lift weights. And believe it or not, I've made friends because of it! Gamers, we're lurking everywhere.) But the fact is, you don't have to give up that gamer identity to get results at the gym. There are tons of streamers who also focus on fitness (one of my favorites is @streetgrind_ on Twitter), and it's becoming more and more common to be a person who enjoys the benefits of both.

And those benefits are extremely high. I’ve written before about how I think in-game achievements can give you a sense of accomplishment that extends beyond your computer screen, and I’ve found my progress at the gym to be an even stronger connection to that radiating sense of accomplishment that spreads throughout the rest of your day. And if you’re interested in getting into better shape, Felix says people “absolutely need to be lifting weights, because the benefits are crazy.” But in the end, “just being active,” whether it’s hiking or biking around, “is literally better than nothing.” I can attest to the sense of pride that comes with “leveling up” at the gym and how it extends into the rest of my life. Felix says I'm not alone and discussed many clients' out-of-gym success stories, from promotions to social successes, which he (and his clients) believe stemmed from the added confidence that comes from those gym-based accomplishments. “It’s crazy the correlation between people hitting PRs at the gym, lifting heavy weights at the gym, and then going and getting a promotion, meeting their significant others, or just feeling better about themselves and about life in general,” Felix explains. “I think strength training is literally life changing if you let it be."

I know that if you're reading this, you're likely already aware of how much value gaming can bring to your life beyond being just a way to pass the time, and the mental and emotional benefits are getting harder to overlook. Pair that with something like lifting weights or working out in general, and it's amazing the way your confidence can soar when your mind and body feel challenged, supported, and rewarded. It's not "jock or nerd" anymore: it's be who you want to be and own it, no matter what mix of hobbies and pastimes you love, because what's important is that you're in a place where you feel good and are getting what you want to out of life. And when it comes to working out, Felix believes that it absolutely leads to being “happier, healthier, demanding more for yourself, and holding yourself and people around you accountable.” And the best part? You don’t have to leave gaming behind to do it.


For fitness advice as well as intermittent gaming, nerd, and Star Wars talk, follow Felix on Facebook.

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Tanner Tomassi is a Fortnite streamer who has really perfected his craft. His setup is crisp, with a cutout of him on the edge of the screen and a second shot of his fingerwork below so you can watch as he WASDs his way around the map. His energy stays high throughout every broadcast—each kill is exciting; each win is an explosion. Every follow, tip, and comment hypes him up further, and promises of dance parties and other celebratory antics abound. Frequently self-deprecating humor and raps of new followers’ names complete the experience so viewers are treated to a constant but entertaining barrage of goofiness, right up until it’s time to get down to business and win the game. You really feel like he loves what he’s doing every second the camera’s rolling, and, darn it, he’s really good at Fortnite.

Tanner streams Monday through Saturday for a couple hours both in the morning and evening. His streaming page on Facebook, BalencisBattles, has over 2.5k likes and 21 thousand followers. He notes on the page that “when you tune into one of [his] streams, you will witness the MOST ENERGETIC stream to date.” He guarantees “you will instantly fall in love and mistake [him] for your morning coffee” and that “you will smile within the first 10 seconds of joining and never look back.And I’ve got to tell you—he’s right. I was an instant fan.

But even a streamer who loves what he does can’t be there every single day, and while Tanner immediately won me over with his off-the-wall antics, boisterous personality, and genuine connections to his viewers, what led me to him in the first place was a rumor I’d heard and something I had to see for myself: when Tanner can’t be there, his mom streams in his place.

Now, most people reading this likely have parents who still don’t understand you can’t pause a multiplayer game, so you can understand why I found this so exciting. To play something as complicated as Fortnite while keeping up with a live chat is pretty impressive no matter who you are, of course, but I had to know how Tanner and his mom came to this unconventional and delightful arrangement, so I reached out.

First of all, and perhaps unsurprisingly, streaming isn’t the only thing that takes up Tanner’s time. Not only is he finishing up at college for business management, but he also loves playing pickleball and has been taking part in paintball tournaments competitively for many years. With paintball, he says, comes an amazing feeling of brotherhood and the opportunity for travel. And with travel comes, of course, being away from your stream.

But for Tanner, streaming is a priority, as are his fans. Not to mention he knew being away for days at a time during the five times a year he leaves to compete in paintball tournaments would be a detriment to his brand. “The way the Facebook algorithm works for gaming,” he explains, “is the more you are online/active, the more it rewards you with sending you more viewers.” Tanner explains that the days he might take off for paintball would result in the possibility that his viewers would no longer be notified that he’s live, and he’d have to work hard every time he got back to build his viewer count back up and get the algorithm working for him again. So rather than lose those viewers, he and his mom came to an agreement: she would stream in his stead. And it works really well, Tanner says. “Having my mom stream helps with [the algorithm] aspect, as well as gives the viewer a new perspective and change from what they are normally used to.” Basically a win-win. But what of Tanner’s mom, lovingly titled MamaBattles when she streams under the BalencisBattles umbrella?

A MamaBattles stream

MamaBattles, who goes by Pam offline, is a craps dealer and certified tax collector. She spends her free time biking, hitting the beach, and playing pickleball, which Tanner taught her, as well as reading and baking. She says she is almost never found without her Kindle and reads even as she fills up at the gas station. As for her cooking, “I’m not that great of a cook,” she says, and adds “just ask Tanner,” but she enjoys making fresh muffins for her family every week as well as “all kinds of biscotti.” Pam also takes time to knit and crochet for Heaven’s Baby Angels, a South Jersey group that donates bereavement outfits, blankets, and hats to local hospitals.

When I asked her about streaming, she admits she “definitely had reservations.” In the beginning, she didn’t even know how to play the game, though Tanner assured me they spent some time playing off stream so she could get the hang of things. “I couldn’t figure out the keyboard,” Pam says, but one of Tanner’s moderators sent her a controller, and that made things a lot easier. “Being a streamer is so much harder than you can imagine,” Pam continues. “I had no idea the amount of work it takes.”

And work it is. Tanner says right now streaming is his job. He's also got a twice-a-week gig working for his dad’s vending business, which he says he enjoys as a way to break up the gaming sessions, but streaming is number one for him right now. “Although it seems like an easy gig,” he says, “it can be extremely taxing on your body gaming right when you wake up and right before you go to bed every day.” With the amount of engagement and energy Tanner puts into each stream, not to mention the tense, heart-pumping excitement of the game itself, I can believe it.

Tanner’s been a playing games since the days of Halo 2, but his mom says gaming wasn’t quite the family affair in those days that it is today—back then, she only watched. Tanner stopped gaming in high school, but then, similar to what happened for so many of us, the pandemic hit and changed everything. Tanner’s sophomore year of college, he and his classmates were sent home to do school online, and Tanner found himself with a lot of time on his hands. “I started playing Fortnite,” he said, "and reconnecting with people from college/high school virtually.” After a while, Tanner says, “I figured I might as well stream it,” because he was playing what he calls “a fair amount” (and what I personally assume is actually “a whole heck of a lot,” but no judgement here!), and the rest is history.

Kind of.

A clip of Tanner's first ever stream. Get ready for lots of frustrated cuss words.

Watch more BalencisBattles streams here.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing from the start. “For my first experience streaming,” Tanner says, “you may think as it being super cool and nostalgic; however, it is quite the opposite.” Tanner explained how his computer couldn’t handle gaming and streaming at the same time, and it took some work to get the settings optimized. He adds that, “since you have to build your viewers up,” he had nobody watching his first stream. “It felt as I was just playing the game normal,” he says, but it didn’t stay that way. “As my community began to build,” Tanner explains, “I started averaging 5-10 viewers and I absolutely loved it!” So he kept at it, and now he truly does run one of the most fun and high-energy streams I’ve seen, and his view count on his videos has ballooned into the thousands. “I saw a future in it for myself, so I stuck with it” Tanner says, and that now, “people look forward to me being online as well as look forward to getting to know me better and see what I had in store for the day.”

MamaBattles’ first stream wasn’t exactly smooth either, but she says “Tanner's community is full of great people and they seem to have liked me from the beginning.” His setup has advanced a lot from those days where his computer couldn’t handle two things at once. “Tanner has three screens set up, and that is a challenge for me to have my eyes everywhere, play, read the chat, make sure the green screen is properly situated make sure my face is in the camera, make sure the microphone is positioned properly,” etc., Pam says. She adds that despite having done it several times now, she’s still a nervous wreck at the start of every stream. However, she appreciates the community her son has built and adds that “luckily, Tanner has great moderators and they calm the crowd and get me going.”

In spite of her nerves and the fact that MamaBattles isn’t the expert at the game that her son is, she is a crowd favorite nonetheless. She also often ends up surviving pretty late into the game. “I am very basic in Fortnight,” she explains. “I rarely have any kills and I do a lot of hiding, but it works out ok because I think I placed second one time and usually am in the last 15 people alive.” Despite that unconventional success, she says “I get so nervous when I have to shoot someone that I can't aim and I miss them.” I honestly don't blame her for that one, though. I’m the exact same way any time I play a battle royale too! That stuff is stressful.

But even though it seems all fun and games, this is still a job for her son, and Pam explains that “Tanner takes pride in having everything just perfect.” In fact, she says, “the last stream I did while he was at a paintball tournament in Florida did not go as well as he planned and he canceled me!!! Lol.”

MamaBattles streaming while Tanner was away.

Despite that, Tanner says “I knew it would be a good idea for her to stream, because everybody on my stream knows who she is because of skits I’ll have her do. Whether it’s her cracking an egg on her head, dancing, or telling a joke, people love to see it, so having her stream gets the viewers to know her better as well as build a connection with her.” He explains that this also leads to them appreciating Tanner more “because it makes them feel like they know me better [too].”

From what Tanner tells me, though, Pam is perhaps being humble when it comes to her streaming skills. Tanner says “she picked it up immediately.” He adds that he wasn’t worried about it, though, because that it didn’t really matter if she ended up not being great at the game. “I had no stress because I knew people would find it entertaining either way.” It was less about her skills and more about providing “just a different experience,” and he was right not to worry. Tanner told me that his viewers’ reaction to the maiden MamaBattles stream was that "everybody loved it!" He says "they showed her huge appreciation with giving her tips for questions she had in the game, as well as boosting up her confidence with positivity and making her laugh. People also sent her plenty of stars (a form of tipping) so she enjoyed it and felt loved.”

A quick sampling of the stream chat while MamaBattles is signing off. Catch BalencisBattles streams live here.

It’s no surprise Tanner’s fans were kind to his mom, because Tanner seems to be kind to his fans. They’re important to him, and it’s clear he values and appreciates each and every one. “For me, I love streaming for being able to meet new people literally every time I log on and potentially add them to our community for future streams.” The admiration truly goes both ways. “People treat me with great respect and look up to me,” Tanner says. “Having fans message me really motivates me to keep playing and trying my best to be the best I can be.”

Tanner’s love for his fans is made clear in the way he tries to include a little something for everyone during his streams. “Everybody enjoys my banter and competitive gameplay,” he says, but he also likes providing tips and tricks that his viewers might not know unless they’re extremely experienced players like himself. “There are humorous as well as instructional aspects of my stream depending on the mood I am in,” Tanner says. In the end, Tanner also enjoys being the conduit through which people can enjoy the game in a new way. “The majority of viewers of my stream,” he says, “are somewhat newer to the game or simply don’t have the time to be the competitive player that they aspire to be because of work/kids/ responsibilities, so they live that out through me!”

And the fact that he has the privilege of having none of those responsibilities right now is not lost on Tanner. “I’m a super firm believer,” Tanner says, of "traveling as much as a I can and doing as many things as I can before I have any real responsibilities, such as a job, kids, and bills.” Tanner believes in celebrating all stages of life, and this one, it seems, is about taking advantage of the things that might become difficult to enjoy as fully later on. This is something I think a lot of us wish we'd had the same wisdom to do at certain points in our past. “Life is so short,” says Tanner. “I’m a huge advocate for taking risks, because who really knows what the outcome can be?"

Watch Tanner play more here.

And for Tanner, despite his youthful, seemingly carefree take on life, streaming isn’t just a fun thing to do on the weekends. Since he’s made it his job, at least for now, he also sees the hazards that come with that decision. “A challenge I face,” Tanner says, “is definitely the mental aspect of it. Streaming is a huge risk, especially at my age.” Tanner’s 21 and will be graduating college next year. When he imagines a life where perhaps he is a successful streamer for five years—an impressive run—he understands the possibility that it could eventually all come to an end. “Then I am 26 years old with no job experience in my field of study from college, looking for a job,” Tanner says of this imagined scenario. Even when focusing only on the present, he says “days and weeks with poor performing streams, it really makes you think and question what you are doing wrong.” He explains that a lot of times, low points like that aren’t necessarily your fault. “The algorithm just favors another streamer for that time period,” he surmises. Nevertheless, this mental hurdle can be a hard one to clear. “The mental game is HUGE for every streamer and no viewer understands it until they personally experience it as a streamer themselves.” But despite worries for the future and questions about the present, Tanner says it’s all worth it. “I am a big advocate for risk like I said earlier, though.” He says that nobody knows the future, so going with the flow is best, and if nothing else, COVID showed many of us that sometimes, that’s the only choice we have. For Tanner, though, that choice worked out, at least for now. “If you are at a 9-5 job, you know what to expect. Every day until you quit that job, you are in that office living only for the weekends. With my stream," he says, "I can live every day to the max, because with no set hours and boss, I’m free to do whatever I please whether the day is Tuesday or Saturday.”

And, of course, Tanner couldn’t do it without his mom. “I believe I have the most supportive mom in the world!” Tanner says. “My dad as well. They both believe in me and do believe I can stream as a career. No matter what I chose, they both always are supportive of me and want me to succeed whether it’s school, sports, a hobby, or streaming!”

MamaBattles has her own final thoughts to share. “I think it's really important to support your children in whatever they are doing,” says Pam. “Sometimes I am like ‘what is this crazy kid doing now?’ but once I figure it out, I am IN.” And, sounding a little bit like just about every mom I've ever known, she adds that “sometimes I might get a little too involved, but I am working on that.”

From where I’m sitting, though, it looks like they’re both doing everything just right.


You can see Tanner stream at BalencisBattles on Facebook Monday through Saturday at both 9:00am and 8:00pm. There's also a chance you might catch a glimpse of Pam joining in for a celebratory dance, singing happy birthday to a fan, doing an egg challenge, or even strapping in for a whole MamaBattles stream when life calls Tanner away from the computer.

You can read more about Heaven's Baby Angels, the group Pam knits and crochets for, here. If you'd like to volunteer with the group yourself, you can find their contact information here.


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We've already discussed the way gaming helps us create lasting connections and the value that games bring to players' lives, but I've saved my favorite—and perhaps the most controversial—topic for last. In this post, we're diving into something that many of us swear by and others insist doesn't exist: The positive effects that video games can have on our mental health.

I’m no psychologist, and I’m not trying to pretend that there can never be a negative correlation between a person’s gaming and their mental health and social life, of course, but in this post, I aim to celebrate all that gaming has to offer in a positive regard. I’ll relate my own experiences as well as the experiences of several gamers who have found gaming a boon to their social adjustment and psychological comfort, and I’d like to think of us as a representative sample, though of course our stories here are nothing more than anecdotal in the scientific sense. Either way, I feel strongly that whether playing alone or in a universe populated with myriad avatars from all over the world, many people find gaming to be the thing that helps them take on real-world responsibilities and the face challenges of the everyday, and we are often better of because of it.

It's been clear to me for a while that the way I game has been influenced by my social needs at the time. Before I left Arkansas, I’d have described myself as an extrovert. Back home, I’d lose my mind if I spent an entire day at home. I had to go out and be social at some point. I needed to be around people to be energized and enjoy myself. Similarly, gaming in Arkansas used to be an in-person, multi-player experience: having friends over for DDR dance parties, playing against each other in NES basketball, Half-Life played on multiple computers at friends' houses, and even just handing the controller back and forth with each death in Tomb Raider. Back then, I made gaming a group activity as much as I could, because I wanted to be in groups as much as I could. I wanted noise, excitement, and people around as often as possible.

But moving to New York City changed that. Between the NYC's go-go-go atmosphere, the never ending physical and mental exertion of navigating the city, the constantly being surrounded by strangers (NYC alone has nearly three times the number of people as my whole home state), not to mention being in grad school and working as a server—let’s just say I couldn’t wait to get home and shut the door of my tiny, dark, absurdly expensive bedroom at the end of every day. My gaming habits reflected this period in my life pretty perfectly, too. After that move, gaming became my quiet time. It was my escape from the hustle and bustle, and I suddenly wanted nothing more than to do it alone. I don't live in New York anymore, and my social life has evened back out to what I've consider a happy medium, but even so, gaming has remained my way to unwind at the end of a long day. It's my me time, and I love it for that.

This is true, too, for Patrick, the paramedic and gamer who was first introduced in "How Imaginary Worlds Can Lead to Real-Life Connections." “I’m a ‘homebody,’” he says. Patrick enjoys his time alone, and he says that gaming online “allows [him] to be alone, while still socializing with others.”

Like me, Lennon used gaming as a way to be social as a kid, but for him, it became even more than that. “I've been a gamer since I was like... 8, way back in the early 90s when I was playing Paperboy on my NES or playing 2nd Edition D&D with my buddies,” Lennon explains. “I've always enjoyed exploring worlds other people built, and this especially kicked off when I discovered Diablo and my parents indulged me by letting me load it onto the family computer. It was D&D... On a computer! And I got to explore this incredibly cool world which is very exciting for a young kid who grew up reading and imagining fantasy worlds to finally see one built in great detail.” But for Lennon, gaming went beyond simply enjoying the images on the screen and the story that coincides. It was an escape. He explains that “for a smart kid with depression who feels like his hometown is shrinking as he goes from middle to high school [experiencing this fantasy world was] a bit of a relief." For Lennon, his games were "somewhere else [he] could mentally go and experience to relieve that boredom.”

Tragger, the freelance graphic designer you met in the "Is There Value in Gaming?" post agrees. She says unequivocally that gaming has helped her social life. She’s a member of several women-centric gaming groups on Facebook and says that “being able to talk about games with other nerds is great.” She says the communities have gotten even better over the last year. Louie, the business owner and avid gamer featured in both of the previous posts, says gaming has been somewhat of a lifeline for him over the years. “I don’t think I would have survived many of the challenging parts of my life if it wasn’t for gaming,” Louie explains. “From Halo LAN parties to long sessions of StarCraft with people I would never meet, I think I learned how to interact with a lot of people on television screens.”

It’s not all about whom you interact with, though—sometimes the games themselves can be an escape that reinvigorates a player, making it easier for them to return to interacting with the real world. Similar to how an introvert might need to “recharge” with some time at home before going out to a social event, many folks use games for all sorts of revitalization. Joey, an avid gamer since the days of Rollercoaster Tycoon, has a healthy social life that his single-player games don’t infringe on—rather, they enhance it. For Joey single-player games can be a place of refuge at the end of an otherwise anxious day, enabling him to have renewed energy to face the world when it’s time. I can relate completely. Some time around the end of high school, I developed anxiety. Panic attacks used to rule my life (and sometimes still do). But I can feel that tension, that spring wound tight inside me, release its charge when I settle in in front of my computer and click on the icon. I’m similar to Joey in that my favorite way to unwind at the end of the day tends to be playing something alone, like clearing out my daily quests on Hearthstone which, while not technically single player (though there is that option too), acts as my happy place as I only have to interact with the gameboard, not the person on the other side of my opponent’s deck. Playing makes me feel refreshed, it lets my brain settle, and it leaves me feeling soothed and rejuvenated. I don’t make friends through Hearthstone (I could, but I choose not to—it’s my “me time” game, after all), but it helps me unwind and recharge my social battery for a new day, and that’s exactly what I need from it.

Mai, the gaming mom and entrepreneur first introduced in the previous post, has similar experiences. “I play for fun and to help pass time, but I notice that I tend to play a game to help me process current stressors.” She adds, “I think being proactive with my mental health helped me identify this,” and I believe that’s the key. Gaming can hurt, sure. We’ve all heard those stereotypes and stories, but gaming can also help, as long we know how to make proper use of it.

Lisa, the video game producer you met in the last two articles, doesn’t usually play a ton of multiplayer games either. Lisa explains, “when I do, it’s usually either a roleplaying game or a strategy game, both of which I often prefer to do alone—in my own way and on my own time. (I also like traveling solo, so that might just be me.)” She adds, “I think I avoid many multiplayer games because [feeling left behind when friends play at a quicker pace] happens often—I prefer to really absorb the environment, make discoveries, and complete areas before moving forward, whereas friends frequently get into ‘rush to the end’ mode.” In my very first post here, I waxed poetic about the beauty of taking games at your own pace and avoiding the pressure of racing the masses to the end, so I completely understand Lisa’s preference and playstyle. What’s important to note, I think, is that despite the previous two articles' focus on the in-game and real-world connections gaming can bring, it doesn’t have to be a group experience to provide players with myriad positive attributes.

Lennon’s experiences seem to corroborate this. “As for mental health,” he explains, “I actually find gaming does me a bit of good. I've long carried the diagnosis of major depression and one of the symptoms is that anhedonia you feel towards hobbies and people and experiences. And that’s really true, you just kinda lose interest in everything. Except I never really lost interest in gaming. It's always been a bit of lifeline that I clung to.” Lennon continues, “One of the non-medical treatment strategies that really worked for me was establishing an ‘anchor’ point in your life that let you organize the rest of your life around it so you could build focus and purpose. And sure, it would probably be healthier if that anchor was, like, work or the gym (which it eventually became) but at the time, it was gaming. I could always count on wanting to grind something, levels, gear, crafting materials, whatever in an RPG game. So no matter how bad it got or seemed to start spiraling, I was like ‘I can anchor to this.’”

As Lennon said, this “anchor” doesn’t have to be gaming, of course, but for many of us, it is. It ends up being the life raft we cling to when we feel like we’re out at sea. Before I had any idea about how to be proactive about my mental health or a notion of what a “healthy coping mechanism” might be, I knew gaming was certainly a place I escaped to when the real world at home, at school, or with friends became too much. It wasn’t conscious, and it’s only now, looking back as an adult, that I can see the way that little-kid me clung to that raft when I needed it, and now, as a grown-up who is much more cognizant of mental health and coping strategies, I do the same thing, just with intention. I can see the reliability, coziness, and security gaming can offer, and I make good use of each, as many of us do. Perhaps nothing but this past year dealing with COVID could have made it even clearer: In a time when our work, our relationships, our safety, and our whole world was in flux, gaming was a constant, a comfort, and a connection. Through the rest of the uncertainty of the past year, gaming was the thing that remained, reliably providing many of those day-to-day comforts and securities we were suddenly missing out on.

But as much as gaming can be a cozy escape, it can just as equally be a place to face new challenges, test yourself, and grow. Lennon explains one theory of how gaming can bolster our sense of achievement. What draws many of us in, Lennon says, is that “there's an established progress of a character, and so it's something that’s in a continual state of movement towards a goal—and that larger goal of ‘progress’ is made up of much smaller goals. Some of these goals are fairly quick and easy, which is good for a nice morale boost." He continues, "But others might require a long bit of kinda mindless grinding, whether you're trying to get mats for crafting professions or fish up a rare fish, and these are kind of my favorite way to relax on a long weekend. I can put on a podcast, do a pretty mindless grind and enjoy a level of progress that’s expectation free.”

If you’re a person like me who often tackles busy days by making lists of every little activity ahead of you, from simple, gimme-type of items like “eat breakfast” to the brain-meltingly awful, like “file taxes,” then you understand the draw of this particular setup. Crossing off the easy items feels good, and it encourages you to go for the difficult ones. It’s a process of building and growing, not unlike questing in World of Warcraft, honestly. The feeling of accomplishment at each step encourages you to keep moving forward, and regardless of whether it’s a pen-and-paper checklist or one generated as part of a game on your computer screen, the boost of confidence it provides can be similarly valuable.

Lennon likens this process to getting a good workout in. He explains that since he’s not a competitive athlete, when he’s at the gym, the progress he makes doesn’t have some huge, over-arching significance. What he does each day is self-contained, and in the end, it only affects him. It “isn't part of some larger expectation," as he puts it, “so there's no pressure. But it's progress, so it feels good.” He surmises that this is comparable to the feeling of advancement and growth that video games can elicit in players. Whether it’s a great workout, an achievement in your favorite hobby, or downing the next raid boss, they all provide a feeling of accomplishment, a boost to morale, and a feeling of being capable of success, and that can mean all the difference in a person’s life.

Lennon adds that this sort of thing can be particularly beneficial to one’s mental health, especially “when it feels like you're spinning your wheels sometimes or watching helplessly as the world backslides.” We discussed in the previous article how this can be especially beneficial during something like COVID. I personally don’t know how I would have coped with the additional time alone at home, with a pause in my career to boot, if I hadn’t had gaming to act as a throughline.

But, as always, gamers are pressured to assess whether they're spending their time wisely. Lisa says that even she has questioned if she’s spent "too much time" gaming, but she has since come to the conclusion that her time in front of a console or a computer has been time well spent. “I have gained so much from those experiences, both personally and professionally," she says, "that it feels inaccurate to say it amounts to nothing.”

It's not only the in-game work that can bring us satisfaction and success, however. In my previous article, I wrote about how Mai has, through gaming, come upon the hobby of refurbishing old Gameboys, and it reminded me of a recent PC Gamer article I read that outlined gamers' relationship with their hardware. The article says that making decisions about and changes to our computer's hardware gives us a sense of control through all the adjustments and modifications we can make. By taking a hands-on approach to the device that brings the games to our fingertips, we can access another rich and rewarding way to get in touch with gaming, and with ourselves.

PC Gamer continues that “PC gaming is a craft we practice. It's a rich hobby with its own traditions, and its own long-running debates (AMD or Nvidia; watercooling or air cooling; Quake or Unreal?). Through the sum of that, PC gaming gives us the choice to be more than passive consumers of entertainment, but active participants in making our own fun.” Louie agrees, saying “if you are a person who at all enjoys gaming and enjoys working with your hands, [he] can’t suggest enough building your own gaming PC.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sense of community and connectedness that games provide can also be fostered through PC building. In the same way that games give us a common thread, so too can troubleshooting our builds—and simply showing them off—bring us to other like-minded communities and people. PC Gamer points out how, through gaming and working on rigs, “our in-game experiences bleed outward into communities, where discussion, troubleshooting, easy file sharing, and organizing on Discord, Reddit,, or Tom's Hardware are all an Alt + Tab away.”

Louie has his own take on the value of this hands-on approach to owning and molding your personal gaming experience on the PC. "I can’t think of a more rewarding facet of the gaming industry," he says. "I don’t want to sound dramatic, and I don’t want to be weird, but you learn to understand your machine in ways you never could a console. Your gaming computer begins to take on a personality of its own. And I don’t mean in the obvious ways—I don’t mean the color of fans or the LEDs you picked out—I mean things like design, cable management, chaos or order." Similar to what Lennon said before, like going to the gym or completing a quest, getting the build just right provides its own sense of self-contained accomplishment. "I look at my computer with pride now," Louie says. "Sometimes it can be a reflection of what I am right now, sometimes a reflection of what I want so bad to be, and other times an homage to the person I once was and the road that lead me to where I am today." And the work he puts into this hobby, similar to gaming for many of us, fills in some of the gaps that life might not otherwise be providing at the moment. "When large things are changing in my life (pandemic, business, relationships, etc.), I tend to upgrade aspects of my computer," Louie explains. "Sometimes its as easy as a coolant flush and new colored coolant to reflect something new that I want. Sometimes is hardware, and upgrades (like everyone else, lol) that can reflect the 'gotta have it' aspects of my personality." He recounted an experience where he changed a motherboard "for no reason other than [he] found one that incorporated gear graphics into its design and that design just spoke to [him]." He says the board wasn't cheap, and it wasn't the best on the market either, but it inspired him, gave him something to focus on and build around, and he says that reflects his current journey in life. "At this moment I feel like I am building things gear by gear, and this computer reflects that and reminds me of my mission everyday I look at it."

All in all, gaming has myriad ways to bring value to our lives. Whether it’s making connections or giving us space from all our connections, providing an excuse to rest our tired bodies and minds or pushing us to new challenges, managing complex substitutions or inspiring creativity (whether in the games themselves or on the rigs that we access them through), gaming can be what we need when we need it.

Lisa recounted some of her feelings to me about the importance of gaming and how those feelings have developed over time. "When I was first breaking into the industry,” she says, “I remember joking (with you actually!) that you were ‘doing good and making a difference [through becoming a teacher], and here I was just making video games.’” Lisa continues, “I didn’t actually feel bad about this—having majored in ethics in college, I’d already put a lot of thought into my obligations to the world, and was at peace with the decision to pursue making games for my career—but I did also see it as ‘not doing much good in the world,’ and a somewhat selfish choice.” Over the course of her career, however, Lisa’s feelings evolved, she said she began to think differently. “Games mean a lot to me, and I’m happy to provide that to others,” she says, adding that one of her goals is to make the video game industry a better place for other people. She had an experience recently, however, that really cemented the importance of her work for her:

I’ve always felt happy to provide experiences that others are passionate about, but it didn’t really hit me until I shipped VALORANT (during COVID). Shifting to working from home was really hard, and we had to do it about 3 months before launching the game! We decided not to change our launch date, which initially surprised me and then led to me questioning why, despite how tough things were—but then I thought about how hard and scary everything was at the time (June 2020), and how video games helped me during hard times. I also know that many people use games to connect to others, even though I don’t do this as much personally. Reflecting on this gave me a renewed sense of purpose that made me feel better about making games for a career than I ever have.

It's nice to know that someone behind the games that mean so much to all of us understands their important role in all our lives. Whether gaming for you has always been a solo experience or if it’s the place you’ve made every single one of your friends, whether it’s the place you learned the skills and connections to land your dream job or if it’s the place you go replay your favorite RPG alone and on easy mode for the 100th time, whether it's the place you go to turn your brain off or the place where your brain fires up ready to take on new experiences—if you’re a gamer, you don’t need to be convinced of the value that lies within. For most of us, gaming has been a constant, a refuge, a connection and an escape, and many of us would quite possibly be worse off without the games that have shaped us, been there for us through everything, and been exactly what we needed when we needed them. From formative childhood memories to building new friendships to being a parent and making new memories with your kids today, gaming has been a throughline in many of our lives, and its importance cannot be overstated.

So tell me, what does gaming mean to you?


This is Part Three of a three-part series. Here are parts One and Two.

Need some more fun gaming streams from cool folks? Find Lennon at


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