I have been a gamer almost all of my life. I was 4, maybe 5, when a cousin who was staying with us introduced me to Dragon Warrior. I could barely get my character around the world, but I was in love. I played with my mom, I played with my best friend, I got calls from the elder brother of a family friend when he and his friends were stuck in games like Zelda. When I was old enough, I started playing them by myself. I bonded with many of my friends over my Nintendo, or Genesis, and later my SNES.
It wasn’t until high school, though, that I realized I wasn’t quite welcome in the greater gaming community. I would be at a party held by my male gamer friends and they would all gather around the N64 and play Goldeneye or Mario Party and I wouldn’t be welcome. It’s not like they said, “No, Andrea, you can’t play this,” but if I tried, they’d do little things like forget my turn, or gang up on me first, etc. I don’t think they meant to do it, but they still did. So I started just playing games alone. If I got to the parties early enough, I could hog the big TV and play Space Channel Five or whatever, but if not then I was stuck in another room playing whatever PSX game was available. Unless people were in there trying to play Marvel vs. Capcom or Street Fighter or something. Then I just sat around and watched. Which suited everyone just fine. Everyone, except me. Fighting and shooting games are probably the most shitass boring things to watch.
It wasn’t all bad. In university there was a year in which a group of us would head down to an internet cafe every friday and play Counter Strike with each other. I would play games like Resident Evil and Tales of Symphonia with my cousin. Although he was just a casual gamer, John (he was my boyfriend for two years) and I would play things like Half-life and Alice together. During those times, I didn’t feel excluded, or ignored, or not welcome.
Not long after John and I broke up, I brought an acquaintence of mine into the friend group. We had known each other for a while, but for various reasons we would only really see each other in school and at parties. It seemed like a good idea at the time: he liked to game, we liked to game, he was nice, we were nice… he seemed like he would fit in. And, really, he did. He fit in so well that the whole community I had created changed. He liked to play things like Smash Brothers, and he brought in a few (male, of course) friends of his who felt the same. Suddenly it was High School all over again. At first it was just something little, something stupid. He invited my cousin to his birthday party, but not me. I confronted him, he said it was an honest mistake, and things seemed better for a while.
Then the guy and I entered into a “friends with benefits” style relationship, which meant that I saw more of him, and I realized that it hadn’t actually gotten better. They had just gotten better at excluding me without my knowledge. Now, if I wanted to spend Friday nights with my cousin, I’d have to put up with them, too. And they would get vicious when we played games. So vicious it would make me vicious, and I’d end up feeling shitty afterward. It was like playing Carcazzone and getting into Sheep Wars with another friend of mine. It made the game not fun anymore. All of this, plus other personal shit, led to a spectacular blowup between me and this guy. That fed into a blowup with my cousin.
Suddenly I didn’t have a gamer community anymore. I still don’t. I’ve actually met a few geeks since coming to Japan, so I’m hopeful, but all of them are men. And I’m afraid of getting back into the pattern. Afraid that, even if I’m the one creating the group, that ultimately I won’t be welcome because I’m just not like them. I am, after all, a woman.