Photo Courtesy of Google Images
By Maryam Shah
Sometimes the first thing we do in the morning is play. We’ll wake up after a night of gaming online with random people. Before Jen Chung sets the kettle on the stove for our morning coffee, I’ll have the controllers ready for a quick split-screen match.
When people ask me what I do in my free time, I answer with “killing zombies, you?”
I started playing video games when I was young. My father had bought a Nintendo and my older brother wanted to play Super Mario all day, every day. There were two controllers, and even though he hated sharing his things with me, he felt it was necessary to have a partner when it came to killing the “boss.”
Gaming. It becomes a lifestyle at some point, yes, even for a girl. You’re either a gamer or you’re not. You either love to kill digitally animated art for points or you give up after the first three tries and say, “Who the fuck plays this shit?”
Chung is my housemate from Vancouver. We didn’t know that we both liked playing video games until my boyfriend brought home a PlayStation 3 to amuse himself with Call of Duty: Black Ops. It’s the new edition of the game. We looked at each other and if I didn’t know any better, I could’ve sworn there were tears in her eyes.
“COD BLOPS!” she screamed, calling the game by its popular nickname.
“We’re playing first,” I said, grabbing a controller from my stunned boyfriend. He thought he was bringing us Netflix and a media server (the PlayStation can do many things, including download movies and TV shows).
Instead, he effectively resurrected two female gamers away from home and pining for some onscreen action (and not the romantic comedy type).
Most female gamers start young. Almost all of them have older brothers or brothers close in age to them, just like Jen and I.
We both started with Sega and Nintendo, moving onto PlayStation 1 after it was released in 1994. Even though we come from opposite ends of the globe, from
Vancouver to Pakistan, our gaming experiences were surprisingly similar.
We didn’t know any other female gamers growing up. I occasionally had my friends play with me when they visited on play dates but otherwise, it was the boys who hankered after a spare controller more than anyone else. I made more twelve-year-old male friends as a sixteen-year-old girl than anyone else. I played games that involved unlocking entire worlds within worlds, the most memorable one being Spyro the Magic Dragon. At the peak of what I reluctantly call my addiction to gaming, I even had dreams of being in the game and playing not as an avatar but as myself.
When I told my brother, he laughed and said I was probably playing too much. Then he switched on the console for a quick Need for Speed race. He didn’t have many friends, although the ones he did have were all gamers. Playing with his little sister made him feel like he was doing a good job “brothering” me.
Jen was luckier when it came to finding fellow gamers. She has one hardcore gamer friend, Brianna Braun. She played World of Warcraft. That’s when you know you have a problem.
“I’d say I started when I was 4 or 5,” Braun said.
Her father introduced her to video games. She currently has five gaming platforms at home, as well as two portable ones. When I asked her to list the games she owns and plays, she went on for a good page and a half.
A self-described heavy gamer, Braun doesn’t know many female gamers herself.
“[It’s] really disappointing,” she said. “But when I play a game online and I’m getting beaten by another girl, I feel way better than when a guy beats me. Shows that girls kick ass too.”
I began gaming again after a long time. Somewhere between grade seven and eight, I gave up on PlayStation 2, the bestselling console of all time, and concentrated instead on my grades. I was a nerd as a gamer, so much so that I left it for school.
My parents bought me a PlayStation Portable for my sixteenth birthday. For a brief period of time, I joined the boys in my high school under the neem tree with their
Gameboys and DSs and PSPs. I felt smug, enjoying the male attention, the shock and awe you inevitably receive as a female gamer.
Then I came to Toronto. I didn’t have a television here for two years, much less a gaming console. I still had my PSP and whipped it out on a date with the boyfriend.
He looked at me as if I had just whipped out male genitalia.
It’s a typical male reaction to 19-year-old girls playing video games.
“Some guys who aren’t my friends think it’s awesome, while others don’t think it’s me playing at all,” Braun explained. “I’ve beaten guys many a time and they won’t believe a girl played, but that I’m just talking into my brother’s or friend’s mic.”
I felt the same reaction from my boyfriend when I beat him at a game on my PSP. It was maybe our tenth date and we still didn’t know each other that well. He loved the fact that he lost to me though. I would call it a defining moment in our courtship.
“Ignorant bastards can’t lose to a girl,” Braun added.
All of us have heard our mothers yell at our brothers for playing video games too long. I never had that problem. I’m a girl. I would play for hours in the living room upstairs and nobody would suspect a thing, thinking I was making tea for my dolls.
Christine Kozovski is another female gamer, one with a slightly younger brother instead. Her boyfriend introduced her to gaming.
“When I was in school, I would play a lot,” she said. “At least a few hours a day – give or take. Now it has decreased drastically to about 30min -1hr about twice a week.”
She works now. There’s hardly any time to game anymore.
“The first game that had me hooked was the game my brother used to play when he was younger,” she said. “When he talks strategy, I definitely listen and try it out.”
When Jen and I play online, we quickly get frustrated with players who don’t know strategy. This means that everyone died quickly and you don’t get past the first difficult round. Playing well means pacing yourself, defending in certain areas, getting the right gun, making good use of your bonuses. Most people we play with online don’t know these things due to their young age. The voices that we hear over
the shooting (gaming consoles allow you to set up a Bluetooth microphone and talk to other players) usually sound prepubescent.
It’s another thing that shocked me as a female gamer. I have played with seven-year-old children online who know strategy better than their fractions. Since I don’t have a microphone to communicate, I end up listening to them while we play. They almost always talk about killing as if it’s grocery shopping.
“My friend was saying that she was watching her younger brother play a World War II game,” Kozovski explained. “One of his teammates ran in front of his crosshair as he was pulling the trigger and his response was ‘what a fucking idiot.’”
Video games have been a controversial topic on and off, depending on which murderer is on the news that week and what games he played as a child.
Kozovski feels that there is a lot of violence in video games and they desensitize you to a certain extent.
“That said, I don’t approve of the stigmatization that games get either,” she added.
Brianna thinks that video game violence is great for a certain age group.
“I wouldn’t let little kids play where they can shoot people and their guts go everywhere,” she explained. “I don’t think that violence in video games directly has an effect on kids being violent. I think that parents just need to be better in judging what games are appropriate.”
Last night my boyfriend and I were playing in order to let off some steam. I was unwell and had spent the whole day running around school, so naturally, all I really wanted to do was kill some zombies.
I was having an off day and almost quit the game in a rage. He was shocked and reminded me that a game is a game and I shouldn’t take it so seriously.
“It’s just a game,” he said, hurt that I had sworn at him for not killing enough zombies. I put the controller down and started my homework instead. That was enough killing for the day.