Thursday, 28 May 2015

How I ended up gaming

The first friends I made in an online game. Here back in 2007, after beating Annúminas.

I've really enjoyed reading people's tales about their gamer history, so I thought it would only be fair to return the favour. Behold the story of how I ended up gaming (because there was no grand plan or dream involved, really).

This is my belated contribution to last week's Talkback Challenge "What made you a gamer?", including scouting some possible trends (if you may call them that with the NBI's relatively small dataset), my personal story and some thoughts about gamer as a label.

Tabletop games vs computer games

A lot of stories of my fellow NBI participants mention tabletop games (and D&D in particular) as their point of departure. For me this was very surprising: I never made the connection between the two. In fact, I dislike offline games with a passion. My friends will confirm this. When I was in my teens, I used to go camping with other young people regularly. It was a hardcore kinda thing, so our facilities were usually pretty primitive (no electricity, sometimes not even a loo). In the evenings, people tended to start playing cards, much to my dismay. I think I picked up playing the guitar and singing only because it gave me something to do those evenings. But that is for another story.

Online games, or computer games in general, create a totally different experience to me than tabletop games. (Obviously, otherwise this blog would've been subtitled "the rants of a masochistic girl"; or, more probable, wouldn't have existed at all.) For me, they represent two entirely different worlds.

My first "alt", rune-keeper Ravalinde, finishing the Barrow Downs with my kinnies, April 2009

The birth of a gamer

When I grew up, I did not game. My friends were into nature, pets; they weren't interested in games all that much. My parents allowed only for one hour behind the PC a day, which I mostly spent browsing the wonders of the early internet, which was new and exciting at the time. They were of the opinion that games were a waste of time, which I believed. I could be quite hard on myself and always would feel slightly ashamed if I had spent time doing something (I considered to be) useless.

My younger brother was more rebellious in this regard. He asked, and got, a Gameboy for his birthday. He saved up money to buy an XBox. It was through him that I was introduced to videogames: we both played Ninja Gaiden on the XBox and I eventually bought my own Pokémon games to play on his Gameboy. I still have fond memories of those gaming sessions. However, I would never have thought of myself as a gamer at the time.

It was only when I went living on my own that I developed gaming as a valid hobby. It happened during my first year at university. I was doing two studies instead of one and was studying until deep in the evenings on a daily base to keep up. I lived alone in a small room at the attic and was too exhausted to go anywhere in the one hour a day I had left to myself. Playing my newly created lore-master in the Lord of the Rings Online was extremely relaxing. It allowed me to immerse myself in a completely different world: one without stress and assignments, and one that offered new friendships. And somewhere during those first years of playing that MMO - I wouldn't be able to tell you when exactly even if you'd put a gun to my head - I started accepting that gaming was something I enjoyed and was worthy of the title hobby.

Like Paeroka of Nerdy Bookahs, it was only when I started playing an MMO and got in contact with other people through games that I could consider myself being a gamer.

LOTRO, 2010, making music in the 21st Hall, Moria, with members of a befriended kinship.
I am still hanging out with some of these guys as of today.

Last week, I wrote about how I generally don't like labels and don't identify as a geek or a nerd. I do, however, identify as a gamer. Why exactly is something that puzzles me up until today. I do have a theory.

Ever since I started gaming regularly, I've had to defend it as a hobby. In the offline world, I run into people who think of gaming as dangerous/addictive, unsociable or a waste of time (or a combination of the three). All the time. Women especially always seem to have their verdict ready (fellow women, we really need to relax a bit more) and I feel gaming is more easily accepted as a hobby when men admit they're into it.

When I started raiding, meeting up with people I knew through games in the offline world and, most of all, started living together with someone I met in an MMO, I gradually got more and more tired by avoiding gaming as a topic of conversation. It gets tiresome, too, to answer the question of how I met my boyfriend enthusiastically and get met with incomprehension over and over again.

 "But surely you can't form equally real relationships through gaming?"

I do understand the dangers of gaming addiction, and they shouldn't be trivialized. But, like Roger Edwards of Contains Moderate Peril said, everything you do in obsessive amounts is bad for you. The utterly negative stereotypes I get confronted with regularly don't do justice to gaming as a whole. Gaming is so much more.

I guess the sad truth is that by feeling forced to defend my gaming activities, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what games mean to me and how I perceive them. Now if you'd recreate me as a character in the Sims, I would have the trait 'stubborn'. The more you tell me gaming is weird or otherwise an unwanted characteristic, the more convinced I become of the opposite. I've always strongly believed that everyone should be allowed to express themselves in the way they want (unless, of course, this is harmful to others) and should be accepted doing that, and gaming is no different.

The funny thing is that I'm certain I wouldn't have given gaming so much thought without meeting resistance. In the end, it is non-gamers that made me identify as a gamer.


  1. I've been a gamer pretty much as long as I remember because I was still very young when we got our first computer (a Commodore 64). It was always that thing that my brother was playing games on and I loved watching him and yearned to be allowed to play myself. Several years later we got a PC and of course that was even cooler.

    My mother always hated them though, and to this day she thinks that the internet is full of criminals and liars and is corrupting society. :P

    1. Most people that participated in this Talkback Challenge have similar stories to yours. I guess I'm lucky that my parents got to use internet for their work, so they didn't end up having those kind of ideas. My mum still doesn't like computer games, but I think she is more okay with them now.

  2. It may be even more important (if tiring) to tell the story of your gaming and your romance, so people will see that yes, such relationships are real, and that "normal" people play games online, too. Too many people still think that gamers are pimply-faced, socially awkward kids sitting (living) in their mom's basement. My favorite response to the "waste of time" statement is to question many hours the person I am speaking with has watched television—and especially sports—this week. Gaming is a more involved activity than either of those, though perhaps just as sedentary.

    1. You're absolutely right, and sometimes I do indeed explain what gaming is like from my experience. And why it's in a way even nicer to date someone you already know compared to dating a complete stranger. ^^

      It sort of depends on the occasion, too. I don't mind it at all when someone asks what it was like out of curiosity, but often people don't really say anything and just give me a weird or disapproving look. I think most of it is left unspoken (although the sudden silence or awkward atmosphere is clear enough for me). But just in case someone will actually dare say "what a waste of time" in my face in the future, I'll definitely remember the watching television response! :D

      On that note, I barely watch any television these days: I enjoy gaming much more. More social interaction (if I want that) and much less brainless. Only if I'm so exhausted that I can't muster the concentration needed to play a game I'll resort to the telly. Or when I'm eating, because I find gaming and eating very impractical (call me a filthy casual, if you will). ^^

  3. I am surprise you despise offline games so much since in the other post you were wondering if you were missing out anything by not having played D&D. So much that I thought you had some curiosity to give it a try. I am also surprised that you didn't start playing at an early age but that is something I tend to assume mostly because I grew up with games and that is the usual story I hear too. I suppose that kind of assumptions are just as bad as the some people make that all who play games are socially awkward shut-ins.

    Anyway, interesting story, thanks for sharing it and I am 100% with you in that people should be allowed to express themselves in anyway they see fit (as long as it doesn't do harm to themselves or anyone else) and gaming can be a pretty joyful way to do that. :)

    1. Haha, I don't mind someone assuming I have played games for a longer time than I have, so please don't feel bad about that! It's not like there are any negative connotations attached.

      Also, I *was* curious at the D&D thing indeed. I don't think it's something for me, but it may be something I could enjoy on occasion in the right company. I'm just not often in the mood for a tabletop game.

  4. The Annúminas screenshot was the first thing that grabbed my attention on your blog (mainly because I never completed it!), and what a great story it goes with! I say great, of course, because of how closely I identify with it: I too grew up around non-gamers and technophobic, anti-gaming parents, I too hate it when people break out the card decks at gatherings, and I too developed as a gamer through the resistance I met - in my case, from the casuals and e-sports types that fill the local gaming circles.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. *highfives* Sounds like we do have a lot in common. Thanks for dropping by!

  5. I'm inclined to think that people put as much time into mobile games, like Candy Crush or Clash of Clans, as some people put into PC/console gaming. But society doesn't give them flak for it because it's seen as a "casual" game! I wish they'd look at things more as a time investment...and not judge anyone for how they want to spend their free time. We have the luxury of free time and it should be spent doing something fun!

    Similarly, I don't like most table top gaming. Too slow and, oddly enough, too much socialization sometimes. I've paid far more attention to the snacks than the game sometimes....

    1. That's an interesting point about mobile games. In a way they're even more 'tricky' because you can do them in between things; you don't need to consciously sit down and start up your gaming PC for it. You might spend more time playing them than you're aware of. Luckily I'm not very interested in mobile games. I think I've been spoiled with PC games too much! ;)


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