I love video games. Let me get that straight right off the bat. But despite a lifelong love of video games, a toxic culture convinced me that I was not welcome. Thankfully, that all changed recently.
So indulge me, and allow me to share my story with you. Maybe it sounds a little like your own.
I was probably two or three years old when I started gaming. I used to spend entire afternoons in front of my parents’ desktop playing game after game. For the most part, they were educational in nature. Blue’s Clues, JumpStart, and Sesame Street CD-ROMS stand out in my memory. There was also a Little Mermaid game I was particularly fond of.
Then came the glorious Christmas morning when my brother and I opened up a Nintendo 64. Neither of us could get enough screen time. We adored Pokemon Snap, Mario Kart, Toy Story 2, and other kid-friendly titles. The computer — usually playing as Princess Peach — in Mario Party 2 was my nemesis and I recall the exact Sunday morning I defeated her. It was invigorating. I often begged my mom to let me rent Yoshi’s Story or Donkey Kong 64 from Blockbuster. (What an old-fashioned sentence!)
I still remember the moment my mom gave my favorite game — Banjo-Kazooie. If you don’t know it, boy are you missing out. You play as a bear who carries his bird best friend in his backpack as they try to save his little sister from a witch. It’s incredible, it is very much my brand, and I poured days and days into it.
When I got caught in Clanker’s Cavern, I would not give up. It was Peach all over again. This robot shark thing was going to be the death of me. And thus started my entry point into what I call gamer shame. (More on that later.)
My neighbor lent me his gamer guide. He never got it back. It’s still in my folks’ basement. It was a sacred text to me. It had all the secrets and it was going to lead me to success. I was gonna get out of Clanker’s freaking Cavern.
And I did. And I went further and further into the game. But friends, I never beat it. I am ashamed to say it, but it’s true. Banjo-Kazooie is my white whale. And why, do you ask? Welp, I became a teenager. Or, more accurately, a pre-teen. And everything changed.
A few years later, we got a Wii. And I was amped! More interactive Mario Tennis and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess were beckoning. And while I still love a good Tennis match, Twilight Princess pissed me off. I needed a walkthrough, and that felt like cheating.
So I put the controller down.
And somehow, in my teenage years, I never really looked back for long. Even when I saw a game that looked awesome — a new Smash Bros. or Kingdom Hearts — I didn’t linger for long. The same thought always busted into my head — “That’s not for me.”
College came around, and there were a couple options for me to jump back into gaming. A particularly s----y boyfriend I had introduced me to Halo. Or more accurately, he “taught me how to play Halo” and chided me when I wasn’t initially amazing at it. (I’d never picked up an Xbox controller in my life nor had I ever played a first-person shooter, but alright. Be an a-----e.) Needless to say, it didn’t sell me.
Then a few years later, a different boyfriend lent me his PS2 and original copy of Kingdom Hearts while he studied abroad. That was better. He’d check in and see how I was doing with it, give me tips if I needed. There was much less condesention , but not exactly an absence of it.
And that’s what kept me from diving back into gaming. There’s a barrier to entry in this culture, and the toll is even higher if you identify as a woman or girl. You have higher dues to pay and more to prove. And if you aren’t immediately good at a game, you don’t belong.
And there was only one thing that made me walk up to that toll booth with my wallet open — Star Wars.
I got a PS4 with the first paycheck I earned from my first full-time job. It was a Star Wars: Battlefront II bundle, and I was thrilled. I cracked that bad boy open and did not stop playing for days.
Did I dare play online? Absolutely not. If you’re a woman and you open your mouth while playing online, it’s open season. And I don’t need that kind of stress in my life. So with that, and the fact that this game was just not great in the first place, I put Battlefront down pretty quickly.
But this time, I didn’t put the controller down with it. I got the Kingdom Hearts Remix pack and all the Batman: Arkham games and went in hard. There are a few other games in my arsenal — Spider-Man, for instance — but my arsenal is admittedly limited.
And even so, I would not call myself a gamer until very recently. What changed? Well, I honestly owe that to the Game Grumps.
The Grumps — Dan Avidan and Arin Hanson — have existed tangentially in my life for years. Family and friends have showed me their videos and I’ve loved them. But I only dove in headfirst a few months ago. They’re hysterical dudes, and watching them play Stick Fight will never stop being entertaining as hell. And yes, I am watching them play Twilight Princess right now and it is everything.
And here’s the thing. Dan and Arin make a living playing video games. (And doing other fun stuff, but it’s mostly playing video games.) And even so, they get criticized for being bad at them. They often skip tutorials or ignore cues the game gives them and get stuck, etc. But at the end of the day, this is their job. So if they’re subject to criticism from the gaming community, we all are. And therein lies the problem, as well as my epiphany.
The point is, I’ve been gaming for most of my life. I haven’t always been great at it, but I’ve always cared and I’ve always had passion for it. Am I good at every kind of game? Absolutely not. Do I use walkthroughs sometimes? You bet your ass. Does this make me a bad gamer, or not a gamer at all? If your answer to that is “yes,” you can go f--k yourself.
The gatekeeping has to stop. The shaming has to stop. The BLATANT SEXISM has to stop. (Do I need to go into detail about GamerGate? I don’t think I do.)
Do you love horror games, but you’re not into scrollers? Do you thing, bud! Do you prefer mobile games over consoles? Great! I’d love to hear why. Do you think Pokemon is the greatest game ever made? I want to hear your passionate case, even though I probably think Banjo-Kazooie beats it and I’m not sorry.
There is no wrong way to be a gamer. Let me repeat that. There is no wrong way to be a gamer. Like what you like. Share that with others. But do not condemn others for having different tastes, skills, or gender identities from you.
So, yes, I am a gamer. And I’m finally proud to say that.
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