"What did you do this weekend?"

"Oh, not much. I did some work around the house, watched some TV." I say. This is my go-to answer. No one usually asks for more details, and, if they ask about TV, I have plenty of answers, even if I watched no TV at all that weekend.

What I don't talk about is the hours I played Minecraft or what I did in The Sims or how I decided to tinker in Civilization. I don't say anything because I'm 55 and 55-year-olds don't play video games. And yet, playing a game online is just as legitimate a pastime as watching a sports game on TV, something millions of people do every weekend (not to mention during the week). Gaming is challenging, engaging, and social. But it suffers from old stereotypes. When you picture a gamer, I bet you picture first, a boy, and second, a teenager.

I've been playing video games since I was about twelve, from Pong at home to games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders at the arcade. Gaming has always offered me a unique opportunity for both self-improvement and social interactions. Playing both arcade games and console games with friends and family, I kept trying to get better, to beat my competition, or when playing on my own, to beat my last high score or get to the next level.

During my teens and young adult years, when I felt a lot of anxiety about whether I was good enough, gaming offered me a clear-cut picture of how good I was. There were scores and levels. But because it was low stakes, I could strive to be better, risk trying new things, and not worry about failing. Because it didn't really matter.

When I went off to graduate school, computer gaming exploded. My husband introduced me to Rogue, the original, and we also started playing the Sierra games: King's Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Space Quest. We often played these games together, working out the puzzles and following the storylines sitting side by side. I enjoyed the challenge of the games themselves, but more importantly, working with my husband to solve those challenges. Some games, like Myst, were true mind-benders, forcing you to think in different ways.

Eventually, the Internet expanded who you could play with. My husband and I began playing Doom with each other over a local network, often turning out the lights to make it even scarier. And we discovered some other online games we could play together like You Don't Know Jack. We still talk about those years, when I was pregnant with my son and we sat in our shared home office playing games together.

When my husband took his first job, we moved away from all our graduate school friends. I didn't have a lot to do. We didn't have much money, and we didn't know anyone. I felt lonely and without direction, so I began playing Quake (a newer version of Doom) with a group of other women. While my son napped, I'd hop on the computer to play Quake with my female teammates and take down teenage boys who thought they were good at everything. It was a way to feel connected to others and have something to look forward to after taking care of a toddler all day.

Once I got past my 20s and into my 30s, I kept gaming. It remained both a personal and family pastime. We owned a couple of consoles and played games like Dance, Dance Revolution, Tomb Raider, and Skyrim together as a family. We challenged each other to Wii Sports. In my early 30s while I was working on Ph.D., I took up playing World of Warcraft, joining a group of other academics who enjoyed playing games. Many of the people I played with studied games and gaming as a research topic, or, as I did, incorporated gaming into their teaching.

Those years of my gaming were some of the most fun. I felt connected to a lot of people, and we had fun together, playing about once a week as a team. I could hop on to the game at almost any time and one of my teammates would also be on and we'd chat, either by in-game text or by TeamSpeak, a precursor to Discord.

In my 40s and now my 50s, gaming has remained a preferred leisure activity. I don't have the quickness and hand-eye coordination to do well at some of the more competitive games. I'm not playing Fortnite and never got into Halo or Call of Duty. But my daughter and I have played Overcooked together which requires some speed and skill, and is also a cooperative game. The whole family plays Minecraft together. We even have a family server, and we often chat over Discord while we play. I mostly play creative simulation-style games that are more open and allow me to explore and set my own goals and challenges. I appreciate some good competition from time to time but the creativity and personal challenge are what keep me coming back to play.

All these years, I've been doing this activity that I see as creative, and fun, and that connects me to people, but I have rarely mentioned it when people ask what I do for fun. Unlike mindlessly watching TV, gaming challenges my brain to solve problems and maintain some level of hand-eye coordination. But telling people I spent the weekend playing Minecraft feels verboten. Watching the local team play football or basketball? Fine. Playing a round of golf? Also fine. Navigating the family dynamics of your virtual people in The Sims? Say what? Not okay.

Video games are a young person's game, literally. The vast majority of gamers are aged 18–34. Only 9% of gamers are between 55 and 64 and only 6% are 65 or over. As I get older, I imagine I'll be part of that 6%, but actually, I hope that that number increases, for my own sake and the sake of older adults' cognitive and mental health. Some studies have shown that video games improve memory function and keep older adults connected to others, which increases overall mental health. Playing video games is good for you and yet, not many older adults are playing.

I might test the waters and the next time someone asks me what I did over the weekend, I might tell them the truth. I could tell them how a skeleton killed me and I lost my diamond sword or that one of my Sims cheated on her husband and now the whole family is upset. Or I might say, "Not much. You?" Only I will know I was working out my brain, tending to my mental health, and hanging out with my kids.

Click here to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter of Crow's Feet: Life As We Age.