Video Games. Millennials are arguably the first generation to come of age with consoles and cords cluttering up their living rooms. We love Nintendo nostalgia – Mario, Pokémon, Zelda. Well, many Millennials, not all. Not every family had enough money to purchase consoles or computers and a lot of grown women report that growing up, they felt like gaming was more likely to be discouraged for girls than for boys. My family was part of the former – while I have fond memories of playing Mario and Pac-Man, we often didn’t have the money to buy the latest consoles or games. However, I enjoyed playing the games we did have, borrowing friends’ consoles and games from time to time, and was a TOTAL computer nerd.
The Early Years
Much of my love for computer games was kindled by my elementary school. First Oregon Trail on the old Media Center Macs, the ones that were green and black and only used floppy disks, already ancient in the late 90s. Then, something magical happened – our classroom was given a brand new PC! Kids in the class could take turns playing it one at a time or in small groups. That classroom PC is where I fell in love with simulation games, spurred by the oft-forgotten classic, Sim Town.
Despite my family not having much money for consoles and games, I was lucky enough to have access to a PC that had been gifted to us by my grandparents – a trusty Packard Bell complete with Windows 95. I mostly played educational games that we got for free, that was until my obsession with Sim games. I continually scoured the bins at TJ Maxx for any Sim games I could find and began to amass quite a collection. Sim Tower, Sim Golf – a relative even gifted me the new SimCity 3000! I learned that Sid Meier was the creator of most of the Sim games and he became a role model to me – right up there with Bill Gates. I even watched documentaries about him! What can I say, I was a strange kid.
Then our PC got old, too old. I remember when the original Sims came out. I saved up my birthday money to buy it from Costco. I was so excited! Except, then I got home and discovered it wouldn’t run on the trusty old Packard Bell. Cue disappointment. I held on to the game, though, and a few years later when my family invested in a new PC, I was finally able to play it!
I spent much of high school playing The Sims, Windows Pinball, and plenty of free AOL games – my favorite of which was Bejeweled.
Leveling Up into Adulthood
After I left for college, I played games less often. At the recommendation of my program, I had bought a Mac laptop – not ideal for gaming in the late-aughts – and even if my laptop had been a more ideal gaming machine, it’s not like I would have had the spare change lying around to buy them anyways – the typical life of a poor college student. Despite this, many of my friends ended up being gamers (not incredibly surprising for an introvert) and even though I didn’t play the games, I started to understand their references. On rare occasions, someone would invite me to play something. Though, I did have several friendships sparked by a mutual love of the Sims. The Sims are awesome! Have I said that enough yet?
A New Identity or a Rekindling of an Old One?
By the time I reached my mid-20s, I was married to a gamer, but hadn’t played much myself, aside from a few Sim games that ran on my Macbook. My husband and I used to spend a lot of time together going on long walks, but the Houston summer heat was making our walks shorter and less frequent. So, I decided that maybe we could start gaming together as a new way to spend time with each other.
By this point in my life, I was pretty clueless about games. My MacBook was ancient and could hardly support word processing and Internet browsing, and I had spent much of my free time going back to school or working overtime.
We started by having me play the tutorial of the latest game he was into on his PC. Battlefield something or another. I did not like it AT ALL. I tried to play a few times, but it was just not my thing. We didn’t give up hope, though! Instead, we turned to the Internet for advice. I found an amazing community at r/girlgamers and learned something interesting.
Gamer was never a word I would have used to describe myself. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Legend of Zelda lore, nor did I ever own a GameCube. The wonderful folks at r/girlgamers made me think differently. People who loved Sim games were still gamers, they said! Who cares if the last console you had was an N64! It doesn’t matter if you don’t like Battlefield! I definitely felt embraced by and a part of this community. Perhaps being a gamer is not part of my core identity, like it is for some, but it’s nice to know that I am still welcome in the community.
Trying Something New for Both of Us
With the help of the Internet, my husband and I embarked on new adventures. We tried out League of Legends because it was popular, free, and neither of us had played it before (something that is hard to find in a game for my husband). I LOVED it and quickly started working on leveling up, discovering the roles and characters that I liked, and reading strategy guides. My husband, not so much.
So, we tried other games. Many of these games were also not matches. Or we would find games that we both liked, but our very different skill levels made it hard for us to play together (at least on a regular basis), like Overwatch. Eventually, we had to accept that we had two very different gaming styles. My husband had succeeded in helping me become a gaming wife, just not in the way that either of us expected!
I needed to upgrade to a new PC anyways to prepare for grad school, so I upgraded to a gaming PC and I continued to discover more games and styles that I liked. Cities Skylines reminded me of my childhood days playing SimCity. I started playing a lot of episodic games, like Life is Strange, that were easier to fit into a busy schedule (plus it reminded me of a 90s TJ Maxx discount bin staple – Purple Moon games – does anyone else remember those?). I discovered there was an entire genre of games called walking simulators – perhaps many find them boring, but I loved being able to escape from daily life in smoggy Houston and explore the beautiful Rocky Mountain landscapes depicted in Firewatch.
Embracing a Discovery
It’s been a couple years now and I’ve been learning to embrace this part of my identity. It doesn’t feel foreign, it feels like me, like something that’s been there all along, just waiting to be allowed to flourish. There are times when I wish I had found this part of me earlier. I’ve learned there’s so much knowledge, skills, and joy that can be gleaned from games that I think many people can benefit from. Whether that’s teamwork, feelings of belonging, critical thinking skills, better motor coordination, a sense of accomplishment, increased confidence, relaxation, or some of the many other positive benefits that go hand-in-hand with gaming.
Personally, I’ve noticed that it’s helped me increase my confidence and become more comfortable with myself. Aside from being incredibly popular, League of Legends is also known for having a very toxic community. Oddly enough, playing League helped me ignore the haters in chat and focus on having fun and continually improving my abilities, regardless of what random teammates and opponents may have been saying. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and not feeling “good enough,” this practice was valuable and I feel like it helped me become more confident in other aspects of my life.
So, I will keep having fun and learning new things. Society may still think that the average gamer is a teenage boy, but statistics show that it’s actually a mid-30s woman.
Do you identify as a gamer? What are some of your favorite games to play?