Maybe it’s in response to the recent controversies in gaming revolving around journalism, sexism, and criticism, but lately I’ve noticed an uptick in articles around the blogosphere about why folks game and why video games are important to them. These articles aren’t meant to stir the angst-ridden pot any further, but rather serve as affirmations of community, inclusivity, and positivity. Seeing as how United We Game revolves around these very principles, I thought I’d post my own story. I know that I’ve touched on points from my past here and there in my Internet ramblings, but I don’t think I’ve ever compiled them all together into a cohesive narrative. So here goes.
I was born in…
Uh…well…maybe I don’t need to go back that far. I fact, I know I don’t. Because my life, while it includes video games, did not revolve around video games from birth. Unlike those of you who may have been lucky enough to start playing video games as soon as you could wrap your tiny hands around a controller, my journey to finding them took a little longer. I was introduced to video games and computers generally in the early to mid 1980s, between the ages of eight and nine, and I didn’t really begin gaming in earnest until I hit double digits.
I had the good fortune of growing up in a household that appreciated the crazy new world of “home computing” and “video game consoles.” Our first computer (or the first one that I remember actually using) was the TRS-80 Color Computer. It was a brilliantly awkward device that connected to the television. Using the TRS-80, I learned basic computing skills and, um…BASIC, the programming language. Without too much trouble, I memorized programs that made the screen turned different colors (nine total…wow!), made an electronic ball bounce across the screen, and created a simple game of text Russian Roulette, which was in no way inappropriate for a young girl who didn’t know any better. If I wanted something more from the TRS-80, I could use its cassette player, and you better believe that I did. A lot. Thought not as much as I flew through floppy disks once we upgraded to an actual PC.
I did some gaming on the TRS-80 – pinball, there was some sort of Pong game, and I already mentioned the number one children’s game Russian Roulette (/sarcasm, just in case) – but it wasn’t until we got the Atari 7800, which was cobbled together with joysticks from the Atari 2600, and a whole slew of game cartridges, that my descent into gaming began in a meaningful way. But with hindsight being what it is, it was also meaningless. I mean, everybody I knew had a game console. They were as ubiquitous as VHS players and coffee makers. I didn’t know that gaming was then on the decline (after the “crash” of 1983), and it didn’t really seem to be in my neck of the woods. Kids and adults played games at home, and some of them played in video game arcades, the noisiest and most compelling corner of any mall, gaming arena, or movie theatre. Me, I was pleased as punch with the 7800in the comfort of my house, playing games like Robotron, Pole Position, Joust, Galaga, Xevious, and yes, even E. T. I played with my parents. I played with my siblings. I played with friends. But I mostly played alone, and I liked it that way. Just as with our home computers, our gaming consoles were upgraded from time to time. We ended up on the Nintendo track, but I had access to Sega games through friends.
Throughout middle and high school, I played games pretty relentlessly. I was never very good at keeping up with the latest and greatest, so I played whatever we had available, and that often meant replaying old favorites like Super Mario 3. Once video games appeared for in our local video store, we began renting them almost as frequently as we rented movies. I played a lot of games, but only a handful of them became long-lasting memories.
Things changed pretty drastically when I started college. I didn’t move away to school with a game system, so almost overnight, I stopped playing. Only during weekend, winter, and spring breaks at home did I game. And then college ended, and an upheaval occurred once again with another move, only this time into the real world for a real job. But I made a conscious choice to include games then, and I bargained removing our aging Super Nintendo from the house since we had already upconverted to the Nintendo 64. It was me, the Super Nintendo, and Super Metroid – that was all I needed. Except through my new job I also became a part of a community of eccentrics and thinkers and doers, some of whom were quite fond of video games. Many of us played together, and one of them stayed. (Till death do us part, and all that jazz.)
If the first ten years of my life with video games were regular, the next ten were hit or miss. It wasn’t that I didn’t have access to games – video game consoles were a given in our house – it was that my attitude towards them fluctuated greatly. Sometimes, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with games, gaming, or the people who played them. Other times, I just wanted to curl up under a blanket, in quiet solitude, with Mario or Mega Man or M. Bison. These years were heady, confused, packed with ecstasy, and fraught with peril. If you had called me a “gamer,” I might have hugged you or punched you, depending on my fleeting mood. I felt very strongly that some video games were not, in fact, “video games,” and that some video games could never be surpassed in quality. Thank goodness social media was not yet a perpetual calling or nascent thought, otherwise, I might have done some very…dumb…things.
Now-a-days, my approach to gaming has mellowed, and thanks to blogging, I happily feel much more a part of the gaming community than I ever have before. But my core values, they haven’t changed all that much. I game when I have time and I try not to fret too much when I don’t. When I game, I am a gamer. But like most, I live under a host of monikers. You can call me whatever makes you happy, because I know how to make my bed and lay in it. And I decide whether to sleep or not.
They say with age comes wisdom, but I don’t know that I feel all that much wiser these days concerning my gaming efforts. I read now about to vitriolic state of the gaming industry and community at-large, and all I can think of is “boy, I can’t wait until Dragon Age: Inquisition comes out!” Because that’s just it. I have to keep playing. We all have to keep playing. I realize that there’s as much power in words as there is in silence, and sometimes saying nothing is on the downside of being stuck between a rock and really loud rock that likes to hear itself talk. But as long as we keep playing and sharing and writing and believing, eventually we’ll all have the right is say “I’m getting to old for this [bleep],” because we have better things to do. Like playing video games.