Here’s the Thing About Video Games and Me

Posted: March 15, 2013 in Video Games
Tags: , , ,

I like playing them. A lot.

They’re fun. They’re frustrating in a satisfying way. They can be consuming if they strike the right chord.

I started playing in the ‘90s, with Mario and Duck Hunt and this really fun Olympics game that I don’t remember the name of but which had a running pad with it that we eventually hacked to make our runner run faster and our jumpers jump higher. Then there was Star Wars and Donkey Kong and Golden Eye and Mortal Combat and Zelda.

Oh, Zelda.

I haven’t played Ocarina of Time since high school, but I have kept my* N64 just in case I get the itch in the future. The husband figure tried to donate it to Goodwill because he had never seen me play it. This was a problem for me, obviously. I know, I know. I can download all those games to our Wii. It’s just not the same. Maybe one day.

For as much fun as I’ve had with games, though, there has always been a weird feeling around them for me. Like I shouldn’t be playing them. None of my friends played video games, and pretty much the only people I played with or around were my brother, his friends (all boys), and our boy cousins. I was very obviously not welcome to play with them. Usually, I just watched. If I did play with them, they made no secret about their annoyance and the fact they were only letting me play as a courtesy. Sometimes—golden times—it seemed like they would forget I was an annoying gnat mucking up their boy time. Other times, I would get kicked in the face**.

But, hey, they were preteen and teenaged boys, and I know now that they were pretty much just responding to all the messages they got, not least of all from the very video games we played together. They’ve all grown up nicely and, as far as I know, don’t seem to hate playing with girls quite as much.

Still, I think growing up in an environment of people who didn’t want to play with me because I just wasn’t good enough for them (for whatever reason—whether I just wasn’t the same skill level as them or because I just annoyed the hell out of them) is the primary reason that I shy away from multiplayer games in general, both then and now.

In fact, for a while there, I stopped playing games altogether. Sure, I was in college and needed to focus on my studies, but that was an easy reason not to engage in something I enjoyed. On top of my most available playmates never really wanting to play with me, I had parents, trusted adults, and news media saying it was a waste of time, it would rot my brain, and make me a violent killing machine. And, of course, there were myriad other social messages that threatened to cast doubt on my sexuality and/or gender identity if I kept playing. So, I stopped.

I didn’t play again until after I graduated from college—jobless, hopeless, and in dire need of feeling in control of something. Slowly, I started to play again. My husband sat me down in front of the computer one day, brought up Half-Life 2, and said, “Trust me, you’re gonna love it.” I’d never played a PC game before, so controlling my character was awkward at first. And, of course, it was scary. But I was also starting to enjoy myself again.

I failed a lot, and that bothered me at first. I ragequit more than a few times. Then, I started ragefailing—just trying insane tactics because I’d already spent an HOUR trying to SHOOT DOWN that GODDAMN HELICOPTER AND PLEASE GOD JUST GET ME TO THE NEXT PART OF THIS GAME. Now and then, insane tactics turned into unexpected successes. Then, failing became less important to me. Eventually, dying wasn’t a failure anymore. It was a successful demonstration of the wrong way out of whatever predicament I was currently in.

You bet your ass I’ve applied this skill in my everyday life. It’s not so much a matter of puzzle-solving as it is a reorganization of priorities. Finishing the task, level, etc. is still pretty important, but it’s really secondary to figuring out what you’re doing either right or wrong right now.

Then, I was introduced to Mass Effect. Hoo-boy. We’re talking Zelda-level of addiction here.

But more than the fun gaming, interesting characters, fraught real-world politics, and engaging story, all three games connected with me on a different level—the English major level.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m well aware of where Mass Effect is with respect to Shakespeare***. Believe me, most of the things wrong with those games, storywise, are exactly the sort of thing that made me want to look at literature critically in a big way in the first place.

Suddenly, I’m seeing video games in a whole new way. In an English major way. And with smart, accessible academic work being done in the area (Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, for one), I feel like I’ve met my good friend Video Games for the first time again. Suddenly, the judgment I’ve always felt—from my childhood playmates, to my parents and other trusted adults, to every person who has looked at me askance, as if to say, “But you don’t really play, do you?”—just doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’ve had a reorganization of priorities, I guess you can say.

I’M GOING TO PLAY AND CRITICALLY ENGAGE WITH MY VIDEO GAMES UNTIL I’M SATISFIED, DAMMIT!

So, what does all of this mean for you, dear Pipsqueakonians?

I’m going to start reviewing video games! Right here! Every Friday! Woohoo!

First up: The Walking Dead.

BE READY.

*To my brother who reads this blog: Yes, MY N64.

**Okay, that only happened once and it was an accident. Social cues were usually limited to eyerolls, loud sighs, “ughs,” “leave us alones,” and “I don’t want to play with yous.”

***I’ll go ahead and say that I think they’re closer in spirit than most people would be willing to concede.

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