People sometimes ask me how I got into gaming, as if woman only get into it by being tricked, coerced, by pretending, or perhaps by being raised by a pack of Quake-addicted wolves.
Article by @bhaal_spawn
It's fair to say that, as a shy and anxious child growing up, I sometimes kept my interest in games to myself to avoid attention; positive or negative.
It's hard to remember precisely why now, but it was likely because games were (and are still) largely marketed at guys. I remember in the 90's there was even more of a pink/blue divide than now - and the less said about some of the stereotyping of characters, which still goes on, the better.
But, that's another story and it says more about the presumptuous ways businesses try to sell games to us and how little they sometimes care about who might want to play them, than it does about how much fun video games can be.
In terms of the actual act of playing a video game; well, there is nothing inherently masculine about waggling a joystick and... let me rephrase; there is nothing inherently masculine about simply enjoying a computer game.
For me, I think that pretty much anyone who gives games enough of a go is going to probably find something they enjoy. And so it was with me. Growing up in the 80's and 90's, I was exposed to computer and video games, I think, even more often than I remember. It was unavoidable really: I have a brother and... let me see... about 35 cousins, who are mostly male and almost all older than me, and its fair to say computer games was a popular thing at the time.
So, my mum and dad would take us on visits to family in Derbyshire and of course, in an attempt to keep us all quiet, we were encouraged to ;play hide and seek' upstairs (i.e. "Go away."). And so I got to play with the exciting toys we didn't have at home. At various different times during my early years, I remember a Simon Says (a sort of deranged circular traffic light, so damaged that it that can only communicate by teasing you with music), electronic keyboards, an Amiga 500, and a NES.
There was even a sinister brown box that projected He-Man cartoons and Pong or something else onto the wall, like an enormous 80's Victorian puppet show.
Nintendo Game and Watches were everywhere in my youth. All my older cousins seemed to have one; I remember Octopus, Mario Cement Factory and Donkey Kong. Shamefully, they were dust-gatherers on their shelves and I longed to pick them up and play them. I would come home from these temptations to my Play-Doh and it would leave a sour taste in my mouth (even when I didn't eat it). Eventually I bullied my parents into getting me one. It still works.
Having one of these made you an instant hit on the playground. Annoyingly, I was a pushover in most respects, so kids would be leaning on my shoulders, all "Can I have a turn. Oh go ooooon..." and I'd usually say yes.
At school, my best friend had an Atari ST and I would be invited to play at his house most days. It was probably a blessing for my mum, who would have me out of sight most of the time and it meant she would be able to get on with... whatever mums did. Going through old photos, it was probably making all the ridiculous costumes you had to come up with for school events back then.
But little did she know that I was absorbing the sights and sounds of Gauntlet 2, Dungeon Master and Double Dragon and drawing up insidious plans for the contents of my dad's wallet.
Eventually my dad succumbed to my charms and decided to buy a computer. It wasn't the Atari ST I wanted though! No, our first home computer was an Intel 8086 which ran at 8Mhz and was so slow it made flick-scrolling dungeon games like Eye of the Beholder look even more flick-scrolling than they inherently were.
My dad bought it in 1990. I assumed it was a work computer and was disappointed. In my eyes it was inferior to an Amiga 500 or Atari ST in pretty much every way, but, once I got my first game, I suddenly didn't care. I would sneak downstairs into the dining room where we had our computer at 6am in my pyjamas to play Castle Master and Lemmings, to the tune of 'She'll be coming round the mountain'.
My brother basically played only FIFA 95 on the Megadrive and it would be a few years before secondary school where I even spoke to another PC gamer. I didn't know there were rivalries or console wars at all. In my world, Nintendo and Sega fans, Commodore and Spectrum... everyone held hands and danced in a circle on a hill top. Such naivety.
But since those days, gaming has pretty much meant the same to me as it did back then. Games can be absorbing, addictive and fun. Puzzle games can frustrate and FPS games can excite. But for me, the best games are the ones which absorb you into their worlds. RPG's do this particularly well, where you play a role and become a different person. For someone who lacks confidence, playing a heroic monster slayer within a proper narrative and detailed world can be quite therapeutic.
Recent news has criticised gaming for being addictive and there is some truth in that. But so can TV be, and even exercise can take a hold of you (albeit in a good way). Basically, anything which you find enjoyable. Most people can manage their lives without letting their hobbies control them. And gaming has a beneficial side. For me it was therapeutic and it helped reduce my anxiety. I mean, who doesn't feel less stressed after they've punched a Doom Hell Knight to death?
Escapism is harmless and by the time I was nearly 20, gaming was helping me deal with university at the turn of the millennium, by giving me a familiar and fun world I could turn to when the prospect of socialising and study became too much.
Along with my first ever teddy bear (which I still have), my constant companion at uni was my dad's second computer, a 486 DX2-66. In 1999, games like Half Life had already blown me away at home on his more modern machine. But when I was at uni, I retained my aging old 66Mhz friend to keep me company and send the soothing sounds of LucasArts TIE Fighters screeching down the hall corridor.
Even now, if I have important deadlines or perhaps a job interview, I find playing something which can transport me to another place nicely comforting. I'm sure I'm not the only one!
Article by @bhaal_spawn