If you’ve been following me on Twitter over the last month or so, you’ve probably seen me tweet about weird things: making a sculpture of actor Jensen Ackles out of nothing but raisins and glue, gold leafing a toilet plunger, looking desperately for someone to devour a giant jar of gefilte fish while I videotape. All of these tweets were tagged GISHWHES, which stands for Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen. But it’s more than that.

As I sit in LAX after a day of building concrete flower beds and stopping only when a man in the linen suit commanded me and fifty strangers to dance, I feel it is safe to say that GISHWHES has changed my life.

The brainchild of actor and fellow former Greenfield Massachussetts resident Misha Collins, GISHWHES immediately hooked and impressed me with its game design— starting with an ARG-like ramp up to a list of globally diverse challenges that cleverly reinforce connection, interaction, kindness and artistic revolution.

I’m pretty new to Silicon Valley, and I’ve only been working at Loot Drop for a few months. I tend towards awkwardness, and would rather skip eating lunch entirely than either grab food by myself or GOD FORBID ask to eat with someone I barely know. This scavenger hunt, if you can call it that, brought me closer to my coworkers in ways I never imagined. I am so incredibly lucky to not just work with talented people, but with game lovers willing to lay down in wet, cold grass to spell GISHWHES with their bodies, or cover themselves in bacon, or try to catch Cheez Whiz in their mouth when it’s being sprayed from a fourth story balcony— or yes, eat an entire jar of gefilte fish. Every time I would ask for help and say “it’s for a game,” my request was treated with the same gravitas as if I had said it was for the future of the free world.

It also gave me a chance to reconnect with friends far and wide— including a fellow Greenfieldian game designer who made the Lebanese flag out of Legos for me. I am terrible with keeping in contact when I move, and it was a wonderful reminder that there are people who care about me everywhere.

And, of course, meeting new people. Before the list was even released or teams were made, I’d already met  a wonderful person I now consider a good friend, and my teammates are fierce and fun. But when I bought a plane ticket on a lark for the mysterious item #21 – show up to a house in South Pasadena at a certain date and time and follow the instructions given there – something magical happened.

I’m not just talking about the eyeball balloons or the bubble machine, the mysterious man in the linen suit or the Russian counter-intelligence. Being surrounded by strangers, doing the manual labor of digging ditches, sorting concrete chunks and pouring mortar, and stopping to sing and dance was surreal and beautiful.

I mentioned my PTSD in a previous post. I’m not going to get all sob-story; something bad happened to me near Thanksgiving when I was eleven, and for the longest time my PTSD was misdiagnosed as seasonal depression. None of the SAD treatments worked, of course, and for a long time I just stopped functioning for half the year. It’s one of the reasons I left college, and for a long time I couldn’t even hold down a job in the winter months. It’s not that bad any more, obviously, but the months of November and December are still fairly difficult and excruciating.

I called my husband from the house in Pasadena to let him know I was safe and neither axe murdered nor called upon to axe murder anyone else. I tried to explain what the mood was like, what this culminating experience of GISHWHES meant to me. My voice cracked a little.

“I can’t ever remember being happy, even for a moment, this close to Thanksgiving.”

Games, man. I know I say it a lot, but sitting in this airport still tasting concrete grit in my mouth I will say it again: games matter. When done well, they distract and entertain; but games can also rearrange your priorities, teach you things you thought you understood, and connect you to the world around you. And sometimes, if you are very very lucky and the game is very very good, a game can make old, painful wounds hurt just a little less.

I am already looking forward to next November, and that is something I never thought I would ever say.