As a kid, I played video games with my older sibling…only to find out years later that the controller was never actually plugged in and all those times I thought I was a gaming prodigy…I was actually just a kid with an unplugged Sega Genesis controller and a lot of enthusiasm for Sonic the Hedgehog.
After I stopped not-actually-playing video games with my sibling I just sort of…stopped. By the time friends at school were asking me to play, I was so convinced that I was incapable of playing video games that I would just refuse. I loved to watch friends play (usually guy friends or my sibling) but l always sat on the sidelines. At first it was because of my own doubts, then those thoughts started being reinforced. Guys would offhandedly say the things I was already afraid were true: I was horrible at video games because girls just aren’t as good at them. And the cycle would just take another turn.
By the time I arrived at college, I was still convinced by internal and external forces that I was just too horrible at video games to try. But somehow during my sophomore year, I ended up in an Honors Hall dorm room surrounded by friends and being handed an Xbox controller to start the Walking Dead adventure game. Needless to say, it was a sink or swim situation and I loved every second of it. It occurred to me that maybe not all games were beyond my capabilities. Maybe adventure games that were mostly dialogue options could be the little niche I found for myself.
Something in the back of my mind kept me from committing, something that had grown over my entire geeky life made me doubt. Somehow I had convinced myself, had let popular gaming culture convince me that I was inherently bad at video games because I’m a woman. It boiled down to the dichotomy within geek culture of open to everyone but still often mirroring the mainstream ideas on gender and capability divides. And that just doesn’t sit right with me.
Then, a very close female friend of mine convinced me to play Dragon Age: Origins and let me tell you my friends, I fell headlong into it and have yet to resurface.
It took reading about the extensive lore and a lot of encouragement from other girls who game and have experienced similar things as I have (because sadly my experience is not unique) to get here. But with enough encouragement and learning the that the game has six different prologues depending on the combination of race/class/gender you pick for your character, I quickly became entrenched in Dragon Age.
And your Origin isn’t where the lore stops, so much else gets explored throughout the game and this convinced me that suffering through being horrible at video games would be worth it. Because after all, lore is what I geek out about the most.
And here’s the incredible thing.
I’m not bad at it.
Ok, I was. The first few days involved a lot of dying in battle and frustrated noises. The learning curve was steep and after the first day or so I really questioned why I had left the sidelines of gaming culture and thrown myself head long into a fantasy rpg that would require hours upon hours of my time. But something incredible happened. I got better. And I keep getting better. I don’t get stuck running into things, I usually survive battles, I can even plan ahead in the plot instead of focusing on “do I really need to save as often you told me to?” (The answer is yes. Save a lot, save frequently, and then save one more time just in case.)
The incredible thing that I’ve learned is that gaming is for anyone who wants to play, no matter what you’ve been told or told yourself. You don’t have to be a whiz from day one. Also that some scary, experienced gamer (probably) isn’t going to pop out of the woodwork, call you a fake gamer girl, and demand to see your filled in combat tactics slots. Sometimes, the fear of being called a fake gamer girl is enough to keep girls from actually gaming. But it shouldn’t. “Fake gamer girl” shouldn’t even be in our vocabulary as a geek community. Being a geek is all about being able to enjoy whatever we enjoy, and if there are “geek gatekeepers” that try to decide who is and isn’t a geek, that just doesn’t fit.
Sometimes geek culture inadvertently (and even sometimes intentionally) works against women who want to participate. But the incredible thing about being a geek is that if you enjoy something or if you get excited about something, you’re already a geek, and no one gets to tell you otherwise. You didn’t have to earn the title, and gender isn’t going to stop you from being a geek or a gamer girl.