“You should start a blog for all the other “gamer moms” out there that feel your pain.” Yup. There’s the start of it all, right there. I’m now a Gamer Mom. I had earned a new title, and a while ago at that, but until the moment my friend said that to me, I had been completely unaware.
We need to back up a bit. I’ve taken a lot of pride in being a gamer girl or a girl gamer, even though some see the name as derogatory, for me it was a badge. A mark of honor. A verbal or written symbol that I belonged, had a place, and a unique one at that in the gaming world. That I was cool for simply being the gender I was. Let’s be honest, that was refreshing in a world that often doesn’t even listen to you just because you’re a girl
Of course my path to being recognized as a girl gamer was long, windy, tortuous, fraught with pathos and ok so it was like most girls – I didn’t grow up gaming. Closest I got to it as a child was watching my honorary cousins play Atari. They had Space Invaders. We had Christmas at their house every other year. I got to play it a few times. I have memories of Pong and Pac Man and Duck Hunt, but we didn’t own a system, so the times I got to be around games was few and far between.
Such was my interaction with games until college. College was another matter. The boys dorms had kids who owned Sonic and Mortal Kombat. I watched a few times. I didn’t get to play sonic, but a couple of times I got to play Mortal Kombat. I vaguely remember beating the boys after I got the hang of it. I didn’t get to play much after that. You pick up quickly that it was a guy’s world and while I was allowed to watch and cheer them on, I wasn’t really going to be included. So I got a game boy. Played Tetris, Super Mario and my first Legend of Zelda game. I enjoyed them well enough, though I was a total newbie and the tiny green screen was hard to take. But no one could exclude me or take the game away, so I was able to gain a modicum of confidence about my ability to play a video game. I was introduced to Myst by a husband and wife who were friends of my parents. It had been out for a year or so and it seemed that girls often were among the group that played it. After I finished it, I was talking to a friend who was also playing it. He seemed surprised I finished it as he was still working on it. He asked me how long it took me and nearly spit when I told him. Apparently it was a really fast time. I played a lot of point and click adventures after that, my mind liked the puzzles. But I didn’t much talk about them with anyone. I didn’t want to inadvertently emasculate anyone again.
Somewhere during that time, I got married. And we bought a PS2, and then an X-Box and finally a Game Cube. I started to gobble up games. Jak and Daxter, Windwaker, DOA 3, Sly Cooper, Psychonauts, Final Fantasy 10, Oddworld, Kingdom Hearts, Ratchet and Clank, Ico and so many others. I played more than my husband who up until then had played more games than I ever had. In my mind I had started identifying as a gamer, not someone who played games. Then came boy number one. I could continue to play a bit, but eventually we sold all the consoles – they no longer worked with a growing, social and curious little guy around.
In need of an outlet, and some human conversation, I got into MMORPGs. It was a strange experience. At first I didn’t speak as I was afraid to wake the baby and no one knew I was a girl because a fair amount of guys like to play as girl characters. Eventually it would become known and it was like I was suddenly granted unicorn status. Guys thought it was cool. And truely I was a bit of a rarity. I only met a few other girls. Boys would hardly believe me till I voice chatted in a mission and then I heard omg she IS a girl more than a few times. I became aware of the status factor of being a girl gamer. The people I played with wouldn’t have played with me if I was a poor player, but having a girl in the group definitely added something for the male players. Eventually the game I was playing sent out a new version and the vibe changed drastically. All the coolness factor of being a girl gamer was gone. Now it was more along the lines of being treated with skepticism like girls can’t play, and anger when I could do better than them. And there were a lot more girls, but they didn’t treat each other well. They wanted to be the only girl in the group of boys. I’d been there done that with girls in real life, including being THAT girl, and I wasn’t interested in trying to win over those kinds girls in a game. Or fight for the boys attention either. I already had all the male attention I needed. I dropped out of the online scene.
Which was fine because boy number two had shown up and boy number one was old enough to play games. So we went out and bought a Wii. All of a sudden I was all about showing the kids the best games. Playing with them; watching them play. When they were old enough, I introduced LoZ, and then we got a PS3 and a WiiU and the boys got 3DSs. All the time I was guiding them, cultivating in them a love of gaming, leading them to quality games and being delighted when they would ask me to help them solve a puzzle or beat a boss. Unconsciously or consciously, who can really tell, I was raising them to not have any kind of reaction to girl gamers. Instilling in them the knowledge that girls play just as much as boys and that they are both equally good at them. I hadn’t even realized I had morphed into a new kind of gamer. But I had.
I took the boys to Target one day and we were hanging out in the video game area as we were wont to do. There was another boy was hanging out in the games and as kids do they started talking about their favorite games while I wandered over to the next aisle. As they were talking about what they liked to play, the kid asked my guys who the gamer in the family was. Both boys turned and pointed at me and said “Our mom is.” The “cool!” look on that kid’s face made me feel the same kind of pride I used to feel being a girl gamer. But now I wasn’t just cool for being a girl, or being a girl gamer, I was cool for being my kid’s gaming mom.