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Meet the NASA Engineer Who Explores How Games Impact People In His Podcast

Meet the NASA Engineer Who Explores How Games Impact People In His Podcast

Games are excellent tools for learning how to solve problems, communicate better, and explore real-world world applications. A NASA Engineer by day, Ches Hall started the +7 Intelligence Podcastrecently launching their second season, which is investigating gaming and mental health from several perspectives.  We got a chance to chat with Ches to talk about the podcast and the impact of games on our mental health.

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For those that may not just dive in, can you give me a brief overview of how you view your show and its importance?

Ches: +7 Intelligence exists to challenge the idea that video games are separate from the world we live in. It stands as proof that because of games, no area of life will be the same again.

We’ve all heard that gaming is a waste of time and that we need to get back to the real world. We lament that non-gamers are so dismissive – but many gamers themselves buy into that, as well. They have a low opinion of themselves because they see their own gaming as holding them back.

The stigma blinds us from seeing from the true impact that millions of gamers over decades are having on the world – and the impact that games have had on us individually.

+7 Intelligence shines a light on those people at the intersection of life and gaming. Each guest is just a sampling of the amazing gamers influencing the world.

Given your formative history with games, what sparked you to reflect on mental health coupled with games?

Ches: Gaming is a huge part of my identity. And at one point I believed that meant that I had thrown away years of my life playing them – and that made me a loser. That I would never amount to anything – not unless I magically became a workaholic and stopped loving games.

Once a friend commented that he learned good business instincts from playing strategy games. From that, I began to wonder what I had learned from games. I realized that my gaming experiences pointed me towards the same lessons and concepts that I was learning in my efforts to combat depression.

It became clear that to understand gaming – why I am so passionate about a virtual world – was the key to understanding myself enough to improve my mental health.

The whole show contributes to that understanding, and the series on mental health is a chance to dive into that with experts who use those ideas actively to help people.

What has been the greatest experience related to creating this podcast?

Ches: Early in production of the show, I wrapped up an interview with a guest. Back then I had no idea whether anyone would care about my perspective. I thought the interview was fun and informative, but she had criticism that I didn’t expect: My ideas were great, but I didn’t commit to the ideal of my show. That I needed to double down on the hypothesis that games were fundamentally changing lives – because by shying away, I was depriving the world of something important it needed to hear.

That validation of the wildest idea I ever had was empowering.

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Since doubling down on this idea, what have you found to be the most empowering takeaway? Besides creating an awesome experience, how has this slipped into your everyday life? I know a lot of projects I’ve taken on have come to reflect back on my daily tasks and it’s always interesting to look back and see what’s changed.

Ches: When I applied for engineering jobs – I was careful to avoid talking about my video and board gaming habits. Under no circumstances would I mention it – even in passing.  I was too afraid of the stigma. But immersing myself with gamers who are doing incredible things has given me the courage to flip that. I became much more confident because I knew I had an army of counterexamples at the ready.

Once, a new manager asked to meet with me. He needed to get to know his people to ensure everyone was on the right track. He asked me what I would do if I weren’t an engineer. I talked about my dabbling in game design – something I would never have mentioned before.

He actually interrupted my answer – which had devolved into ranting about the paradox of creating something challenging while also inspiring bliss – to tell me that he realized that I was in the wrong role. Immediately, he moved me to an analysis role – which has been a revelation career-wise. So the empowerment through the gaming community changed the way that I spoke about myself – which in turn led to a significant life shift.

What was the most important goal for you when creating this project and what did you hope to attend?

Ches: My goal was to steer gamers away from the path that I had taken – believing that my gaming habit was a sign of weakness. That idea – that gaming is not a valid part of a healthy life – contributed to my depression, and made me feel that no employer, no counselor, or any potential partner would take me seriously.

Breaking free of that idea helped me to embrace myself, and land a job as an engineer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. I wanted to replicate that change of mindset in others – by presenting them with the people and ideas of gaming that had altered me.

If my show could help a gamer accept themselves better, and imagine great things for themselves – that would make me happy.

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What experiences or opportunities have happened, that you may have never expected, since starting this venture?

Ches: The experience has overwhelmed my expectations in every way. Getting to meet people I had been following for years was incredible. To talk to them about a gaming quirk we shared was surreal. For them to recognize me as a peer was even better.

Having the show featured on Apple Podcast’s New & Noteworthy was something that I never expected to happen. Every podcaster starts out dreaming about it – but I had written that off in my mind until it happened.

When I started, I was just a mediocre gamer who needed 7 takes to record an intro – now I have connections around the world that help me push my show to the next level.

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Those are all amazing accomplishments! A lot of those experiences can be humbling and help you realize you only need try to achieve. With that, what goals do you have going forward? What do you hope to accomplish beyond just helping others realize gaming is not a weakness, but a potential strength?

Ches: Helping gamers overcome stigma and self-doubt is a crucial first step towards other goals. Like many feel, the issues I had might be decried as “first world problems” – but getting over them enabled me to transform into a problem-solver for big ones. For instance: helping my wife raise money for hospitals through Extra Life, or advancing the space program.

The latent potential of gamers under the thumb of uninformed prejudice is a cataclysmically powerful tool against the world’s biggest problems. That may sound hyperbolic but look at the chess players and crossword solvers who helped end World War II by breaking Axis communication codes. The gamers of the day took on the most challenging and serious problem and won.

I opened episode 1 with that story.

My goal is to expand on the avenues that +7 Intelligence can reach gamers and highlight the influence of gaming. That’s why I’m doing a series on games + social change. I want to push today’s billion or so gamers to tackle the world’s problems.

What are some thoughts you have that you find important in regards to this topic, but may not have been asked?

Ches: I get asked frequently how video games factor into my day job as an engineer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

In my role – it can be as exciting as a job in manned spaceflight would seem, or it can be uninteresting entirely. But in almost everything I do, there is potential for someone to get hurt if I don’t do my job to the fullest. As an analyst, that means I must have a mastery of math and physics – but it also means being willing to go the extra mile to account for every contingency.

This was overwhelming at first – but preparation comes from the strangest places. As strange as it sounds, I tap into my gaming skills to accomplish that. I treat a project as a new boss for my raid group – with unknown challenges ahead that will be the downfall of the overconfident. That passion that drove me to min-max my character in preparation for those battles, I steer toward finding every adverse condition that threatens my designs.

Within games, I have encountered and overcome seemingly impossible challenges a hundred times over – so I adapt those techniques to the real world.

If you could leave readers with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Ches: This may be preaching to the choir, but – Geek out on the games you love! Playing a game that brings you joy has magical powers transport you to another mindset – game designers literally call it the “magic circle.” When you are in the flow of a game, your mind works at maximum efficiency and minimal stress. Playing games with people builds trust and kinship faster than almost anything else.

Embrace the benefits that games have on your life, then use them to become overpowered in the so-called “real world.”

How have games helped you? Tell us about it in the comments!

More Gamer Self-Care Goodness!

Image Credits: Ches Hall & +7 Intelligence

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