Gaming was a way for me, even as a child, to escape into a world where bullies and catty girls with awesome hair could not follow. I always felt that from the beginning of my youth that I was more than just the average individual with mediocre perspectives on life experiences, I wanted more than all of that. I never consciously thought that I wanted to be unordinary, but I found myself later in life dreading a life of normalcy. I realized in my teen years that I would never be the girl that went to football games, flirted with the cool kids or showed off their mid-drift. Instead I was the girl who ate cold pizza, wished for rainy days and would do anything to have just one more minute to explore the Water Temple, even if that meant being late to school.
In middle school I was weird. I wore the same Invader Zim shirt every day and would use hair gel to slick my hair into a bun so that I could look like Trinity from The Matrix. When people would approach me I would usually yell something absurd like “DELICIOUS MEATIES!!” or refer to them as petty mortals. It’s safe to say that I didn’t have many friends, but the friends I did have were amazing. Together we played Dynasty Warriors for hours on end, rented Super Smash at the local Blockbuster every weekend and drank more Boba Milk Tea than our stomachs could hold.
I found so much solace in gaming when I was younger. The relationship between Riku, Sora and Kairi reminded me of my two closest childhood friends and us three girls would make each summer like Kingdom Hearts 2. I’m still upset that we never used popsicle trays and blueberry syrup to create our cheap imitation sea-salt ice cream pops, but we did take several trips down to the beach. This blissful time was before boys, puberty and awkward early adulthood.
It wasn’t until high school that I met the bully that would change my life; Rudy. It all started in class when he crudely shouted at one of the African girls in our class, “Hey nigger! Get a new weave!” and I completely lost my mind. I knew he was a jerk, but this was going too far. I got up close to his face and told him that I was going to kill him, although he was nearly six feet tall (I stood on my tippy toes). He was the most revolting person on the planet who had no concept of other people’s feelings, and I wanted him to know that. I still remember the intimidated look in his eyes when I called him on his hate speech. I may have been young and a little odd, but I knew no one deserved to be talked to like that.
Rudy had no idea that I was a member of Peer Mediation in high school, which was a program that allowed students to counsel other students, and that African girl was one of the people that I counseled. She had mental issues and was sexually abused as a child, along with having other severe problems with her self-esteem. Knowing all of this about her, I nearly blacked out when I told him I was going to kick his ass.
Being one of the kids who was exceedingly popular-among-the-unpopular, Rudy had a vendetta against me, and he had a good portion of the entire juvenile delinquent student body at his side. Rudy spent nearly three years ruining my life. Everywhere I went he would yell crude things at me and went as far as to spit on me when I passed by him in the lunch area.
After a long period of time I began to avoid Rudy, and his presence kept me from doing things that made me happy. Even though I have been a vocalist my entire life and had always dreamt of singing the National Anthem at my high school graduation, I wasn’t able to because I knew he would yell something terrible in the audience and humiliate me in front of my peers. When I thought Rudy had finally taken the high road and matured somewhat, he prove me wrong at my high school graduation, by yelling “FAT BITCH” as I walked down from receiving my diploma.
Rudy ruined high school for me, and my self-esteem. I still deal with it today.
As I grew out of being exceedingly strange and heavily anti-social, I became angry. I was no longer able to exist as teenager the same way I was able to exist as I did as a kid. You had to be beautiful, you had to be sexual and you had to be willing to take risks. I felt incredibly out of place. To satisfy my frustrations, I played first person shooters and listened to loads of Mastodon and Slayer. I know that first-person shooters are not meant for angry people, but they were meant for me. I craved the action, high energy and skull splitting rush. I still get those satisfying tingles thinking of the blood blast after shooting someone with a shotgun head-on in Gears of War.
In wasn’t until a few years after I hit puberty that boys even wanted to look at me. My personality never changed; I was still cynical, silly and extremely strange— so what about me made me socially acceptable? Boobs? Spending a majority of my life at the butt of every joke, I was the last person to suspect being the object of someone else’s affections. I spent most of my school years hiding in Tolkien text and comic books in class to keep me sane and I was ridiculed for it, until one day it made me “hot.” That transition is still one that I don’t entirely understand.
As the years went on, I dated …and I dated, and learned so much. I found an entire world outside the realm of single gaming. I was playing online co-op with men I was interested in, spending hours in cafes discussing the rarity of the Black Lotus Magic the Gathering card and visiting all of the local arcades for Friday fun. I started to notice a strange pattern—do men love me for me or for what I’m interested in?
As I matured and those around me matured, I noticed the gender gap between men and women getting smaller by the year. Years ago it seemed as if being a woman in gaming was far more important than what you actually know on the subject, and if you knew anything it didn’t really matter because you were still a woman. Working in video game retail for years I was constantly overlooked as someone who could potentially know what they were talking about. Customers would ask, “Is there a guy around here that I could talk to?” and when I would sadly direct them towards a male co-worker they would end up having to tell the customer, “JRPGs? Ask Steph, that’s more of her forte.”
But let me try not to dwell on the negatives, the past is the past… so back to my first statement before my small venting session. I’ve noticed this gender gap growing smaller and smaller. I feel equal and confident without having to convince myself that I am. I know that deep down; I am an original gaming gangster. There is no amount of makeup or fake eyelashes that could ever hide who I really am. I take pride in knowing that every weekend I’m spending exuberant amounts of time on things that make me happy. I love knowing that I am me and that when people do come and go, I have my video games to take care of me.