I refuse to game online. Does that mean the trolls win?

By now, even if you’re only vaguely connected to the gaming community, chances are you’ve seen them. The rape threats, the vitriol, the blatant disregard for the possibility that a woman can create video games, or work in the industry as a whole, or even just be a gamer without the core goal being to “impress men.” In case you need a primer, or if, like me, you were uncertain of the specific cause of the most recent nastiness, I refer you to an article from the always-excellent Mary Sue which summarizes what’s been going on the last few weeks.

First of all, my whole-hearted support and a massive thank you goes out to every single woman mentioned in that article, as well as the many other women who have stepped up and spoken out, only to receive the same harassment themselves. (I’m looking at you, Sam Maggs.) The amount of bravery that it takes to stand up against those threats is nearly unimaginable in and of itself, but these women all keep themselves safe while holding their heads high and that’s just damned impressive.

I hasten to add that I haven’t had any sort of experience as traumatizing as the women mentioned above. I’m by no means in the trenches on this. But, it does have me thinking about my own, quieter experience as a woman gamer. And here’s the thing: I’ve always been a proud, vocal gamer, and I have argued in the face of men who’ve told me I wasn’t a real geek for a wide variety of absurd and inherently sexist reasons. I don’t by any means hide from those fools, or avoid calling them out on their behavior. But I also don’t game online. I actively refuse to take part in MMO’s, and can’t imagine changing the decision I made over a decade ago to pass on any games that required interaction with people I don’t know. When I was younger, that decision was made for one simple reason – I genuinely don’t care for MMO’s. I loved LANs, and smaller gaming nights with my friends, but when it comes to depending on some random person I don’t know to help me storm a castle, I’m not interested. For me, gaming is solitary and quiet with a few rare exceptions. I just prefer it that way. Plus, the sorts of games I like to play don’t tend to be the ones where you need that sort of online interaction – sure, fighting games are fun, but I’d rather run through at least a marginally solid story while I shoot things, thankyaverymuch. Only very very recently, with predominantly next-gen games like Titanfall and Destiny, have I been even remotely tempted to game online.

But I still haven’t done it. As I’ve gotten older and (theoretically) wiser, I’ve read and thought about the assaults that women go through every moment they so much as pick an avatar and a gamer tag that may possibly hint that they’re a woman, much less those who speak outloud, or work in the industry. I’m not proud of this, but I’m anxious even at the thought of getting involved in an online gaming platform, and having those guys get to me not in a public setting, out and about in the world, or even on social media, but privately, while I’m taking part in one of my favorite hobbies from the (again, theoretical) comfort and safety of my own home. While my own little corner of the internet is filled with wonderful, supportive men who would never shit talk me just on the basis of my gender, the gaming community doesn’t work that way as a whole.

Even now, I feel an urge to defend myself and my choices, to say that I get that shit talk is an important part of gaming, and that it shouldn’t be taken seriously (large-scale threats aside, obviously) and what am I so scared about. But the reality is that every single woman who ever wants to game, be it on the network or off, has to wonder – should I take that threat seriously? Where’s the line? At what point do we draw a designation between “cheerful, competitive jibes” and harassment? It’s a damn fine line, finer than most men realize. It’s the same feeling I get walking down a lonely street at night with my keys in between my fingers. We can’t know whose threats are real and whose aren’t. It’s a constant battle, and there is no easy answer.

I don’t feel like less of a gamer because I stay away from gaming online. But I do wonder if I’m giving those guys a pass; actively staying away and letting them have their “no girls allowed” bullshit, giving it permission to live another day. And that feeling, that I’m implicitly giving them a space to continue to be horrible, has started to grate at me. So maybe, on the day I finally cave and get a PS4, I’ll change my mind. I can’t say for certain what I’ll decide either way. But I do know what I’d get if I do, undoubtedly, and that’s a deeply upsetting reality.

Really. Don’t we all deserve more than this?

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All Time, Top 5 Games – High Fidelity Style

Hey, wasn’t this thing supposed to be about gaming? At least a little bit? I mean, I DID name the blog after my favorite first person shooter style. And while I’m clearly not focusing on any one particular part of geekery more than the other, I do feel remiss in my lack of video game substance thus-far. So since I’m too knee-deep in Mass Effect (I knoooow, I knoooow, behind the curve again) to do anything close to a review of the game I’m currently playing, I want to take some time to talk about my top-five games, ever. High Fidelity style, because no one can tell me Rob Gordon didn’t create top-five lists. Now all lists require a caveat, so here goes: These are not what I consider the “best” games ever made. I made zero effort to represent a mix of platforms, styles or release dates. These are the titles that made me a gamer, the ones I look back on with starry console eyes, the ones I go back to over and over and reminisce about with friends. They are the keepers of the special places in my little gamer heart.

So without further ado, my All Time, Top 5 Games:

Final Fantasy X

Nope, not FF7. FFX. With Kimarhi awesomeness and occasionally tacky cut scenes and an ending that absolutely made me cry (#noshame). It deserves not just a place on the list, but the first place on the list, because this was my first-ever console game. More than ten years ago now (shudder) I was a young lass of 17 and my high school boyfriend had a PS2. I’d always wanted to game more, but was never able to have a console and was a tad intimidated to go it alone. So, our great adventure in Spira began. It was incredibly helpful to learn how to play a complex RPG with a kind-hearted guide, who could tell me when I needed to stop and level up, how to navigate the sphere grid, or who I should go see when I forgot where we were in the story because damned if I was going to spend a ton of cash on a guidebook.

Nostalgia aside, this is truly a gorgeous game. The music is fantastic, the world is huge, great villains abound, and the summons are badass. I still go back and start it up again every few years, and the story holds up because it’s an interesting and complicated narrative backed by characters with some emotional heft. The Final Fantasy series as a whole is one of my go-to’s in the “games CAN tell a story, and they can be great, and emotional, and deep” argument. Also I had a screen print of Kimarhi in my dorm room in college because he was my favorite, and don’t even because I know you’re jealous.

Katamari Damacy

I dare anyone not to love a game that starts here:

Honestly. You are dared. This is one of the best, most hilarious, hands-down bizarre games of all time, and the intro lets you know exactly what you’re in for. Katamari Damacy is a game that cannot be spoken about without singing the title, and there are few games that I’ve ever encountered that are just so much FUN. It’s bright and colorful and weird, and the cosmic story of the Prince trying to rebuild the constellations gives you just enough to become even slightly emotionally attached to this psychedelic world. I love a spectacularly violent game as much as the next gal (see the next title) but there’s something about the pure bubblegum of Katamari Damacy that’s just fantastic. Plus, your Katamari gets big enough to roll people and cars and even buildings up and their hilarious screams are just the greatest! Et-hem. Is that weird? I don’t care if it’s weird. You haven’t lived until you’ve rolled up a person into your Katamari. It’s a delight.

God of War

Oh, Kratos. Let me tell you, lovely people, about my favorite pastime in God of War. On the PS2, it was possible, if you moved the analog sticks a specific way, to make it look like Kratos was dancing. And dancing Kratos is the most hilarious thing ever. I kind of hoped some other weird gamer out there had also realized this and made a gif of it, but apparently that was just me. (Comment if you can find one! DANCING KRATOS!) Aaaaaaaaaanyway, I unabashedly love all the God of War games, and even played the hell out of the mediocre God of War: Ascension. Kratos is a badass, and when I’m in the mood for total destruction, no one does it better.

This game just makes sense to me. I’m not always the best with puzzles, but the developer and I must have the same brain-build because God of War just clicks. Plus, I love a good Greek myth, bastardized or no, and the “holy shit!” moments from each game’s intros are some of the most memorable fight scenes I’ve had the privilege to enjoy. As you might’ve guessed, I do think of the God of War series as ending with III; it’s my favorite end-game sequence of all time and there was no where for them to go but down after that, but all of these games are really a joy. If for some weird reason you haven’t played God of War, dance your way on over and hang out with Kratos. He’s real sweet when you get to know him.

Portal

Do I even have to talk about this one? High on the list of the most creative, mind blowing games there ever was, the one that stole the show of the Orange Box and was intended to be a throw-away game? Portal is a stroke of genius, with the psychotic and always-hilarious GLaDOS guiding an unspoken character through the increasingly questionable Enrichment Center. I remember the first hint of “the cake is a lie” that I stumbled upon while struggling my way through some unknown level. That game got dark, and in the greatest possible way. In a word, the thing is inspired. Don’t even get me started on the Companion Cube. (I might have a plush Companion Cube in my apartment as we speak.) For such a short game, Portal was practically perfect in every way, and clearly a labor of love. Also, kudos to Valve for pouring just as much heart into Portal 2, which did the impossible and took the mystery even further without losing a single bit of its shine.

For the record, my favorite GLaDOS quote: “Unbelievable. You, [subject name here], must be the pride of [subject hometown here]!”

Skyrim

I’m ending with one of the greatest games of this console cycle in one of the greatest series of all time. Any Elder Scrolls game is the definition of an immersive experience. Morrowind is still one of my favorite gaming experiences to date, and mostly the reason why I added in some honorable mentions at the close. But I didn’t pick that one, I picked Skyrim, and here’s why. DRAGONS!

Kidding. Mostly. I could devote an entire post to my favorite moments in Skyrim, and the things that made it a spectacular game, but there’s one technical aspect that Skyrim nailed, which puts it ahead of its predecessors. It cracked the transportation system. While gaming surrounded by maps and lists of tasks was part of what made Morrowind great, and the simplistic “click and head on over” system of Oblivion took a solid amount of the adventure out of the game, Skyrim nails it by making the player get to any city on foot or horseback before they can use a quick transport system. It’s the best of both worlds, because once you’re 40+ hours in, the LAST thing you want to do is have to trek from Solitude to Riften AGAIN. That said, nothing can compare to the joy of slowly coming upon a new skyline in Skyrim. I saved whole cities until 10, 20, even 30 hours into my gameplay and it kept the game fresh and exciting. A good transportation system is really what makes it possible to enjoy the brilliance of this game, from small moments taking in the scenery to convoluted, ridiculously brilliant plot twists. (The “A Night to Remember” quest, in particular, is a crowning achievement and one of my favorite moments in any game ever, bar none.)

Plus, selfishly, my character in all Elder Scrolls games has been a lady Nord wielding an axe and practicing magic in her spare time, so I took a great amount of joy in exploring her corner of Tamriel. If, for some unknown reason, you haven’t played this game, please run to your nearest game provider and make it happen. You will not regret it.

Honorable Mentions

Morrowind, Borderlands 2, Arkham City, Unreal Tournament 2k4, LEGO Lord of the Rings

So that’s it! Love ’em? Hate ’em? What are the titles that made you a gamer? Let me hear it in the comments.