I got started young. My first memory is watching my uncle play Asteroids on the Atari. Not long after, I was toddling around with a Duck Hunter gun. When I was eight, we were lucky enough to have a generous great aunt who had heard about computers on the radio and insisted on setting us up with one of the early PCs. At such a young age, navigating the DOS prompt felt like hacking and I thought I was pretty cool. I couldn't wait until computer time at school--I was a Number Crunchers and Oregon Trail ninja.
I didn't think of PC games as "gaming." The games we played were educational. Where in the World is Carmen San Diego was a favorite and is the only reason I have a decent knowledge of geography. I memorized the names of bones and organs on an early, very pixelated bio game.
My girl friends played by talking, imagining different complex scenarios to play along with, or watching television. None of them had any interest in console gaming and couldn't understand why I liked playing Street Fighter or Double Dragon. I got judged pretty harshly for my interest in conflict and violence. Honestly, I'm not sure if my interest was atypical, or if other women shied away from gaming at a young age because of the gender roles impressed upon us at a young age. Women are supposed to resolve conflict, not start it, right? They don't battle with swords.
I suspect the answer is complicated, but it's likely a combination of gender bias and individual preference. I know I'm atypical. I reveled whenever I beat my extremely coordinated younger brother at anything. I'm competitive and drawn to technology. When PCs were evolved enough to support graphic game play, I was all in.
When I got to college and found another woman who enjoyed games, we were instant best friends. We set up our towers in the boy's dorm and reveled in kicking butt and taking names. Most of the guys thought it was cool, but many changed their minds when they lost. I still run into problems with a vocal few when I beat them, so I game with people I know. Life is too short to listen to some dork threaten physical harm after I blow his head off in combat.
Who is a Gamer?
Gaming is more popular than ever, but how people define "gaming" always leads to debate. I maintain that anyone who spends time on a digital device killing time by leveling up--whether it's lining up fruit, growing vegetables, or killing orcs--is a gamer. There are scores of time management, puzzles, and multi-player games for our phones. Pokemon took the streets by storm, causing me to mutter under my breath when people suddenly stopped on downtown sidewalks or wander into our office. Even my grandfather spends time on the PC playing solitaire.
There are console and PC gamers who would scoff at this definition, and if you are one of those people, you need to take yourself a little less seriously. Even those of us who have spent hours on a game of choice will reach different points in our life where it's not practical to fall into the ranks of a hardcore gamer, and that's okay. I feel that some of us can take being a geek to extremes, finding ways to exclude others because they don't follow our brand of fandom. Those of us who grew up as geeks before it somehow became trendy should remember that similar behavior made us feel different and excluded.
So knock it off.
Don't knock the Wii. My nieces and nephew love it.
When I talk to people who want to game but aren't sure if they have the time or resources, I start with basic questions:
Smallest to Largest Time Investment
VR is the lowest time commitment out of necessity. The visuals are just sketchy enough that nausea is a common complaint. If you're a high-roller who likes to be on the cutting edge, go for it.
If you have kids and a job and really only want to kill time while on public transit or while cheering on a soccer game, there are plenty of apps available for download on smartphone. I, for one, won't judge you if you want to be a fashionista who designs for the runways or shoots birds at blocks from a slingshot (as long as it's digital and not IRL). Handheld gaming devices by companies like Sega and Nintendo are also an option. At this point, I wouldn't recommend 3D, just because the technology isn't quite where I'd like to see it yet.
At this point in my life, I work 10-12 hour days and spend my spare time writing and promoting my books. I have a couple hours on the weekend to spend on gaming, and I also enjoy starting a game up when I'm sick to take my mind off whatever physical ailment I'm battling. I prefer first person shooters and open world role playing games. Back in the day I played online more, but I no longer have the time to level up to the point where I can hold my own in a face-off. I stick to playing with people I know who are in a similar situation or go against AI teams.
My favorite game and gaming buddy when I can clear a few hours.
I maintain that PC gaming is your largest investment. Not only do you need to spend the time in your chosen game, but you also need to get ready to do some research on what to buy. There are a few laptops on the market with the visual cards and power necessary to game, but PC towers are still the most robust options. Several companies will piece together your computer for you after walking through a build tutorial. You can also go hardcore and research the top of the line components. There are tons of articles and opinion pieces to walk you through building your gaming tower.
The other reason I have PCs under the most time consuming option is because this is where the biggies like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars live. If you want to play on teams in these games, get ready to invest a lot of time building skills in order to qualify as an attractive contributor.
Smallest to Largest Financial Investment
If you already have a smartphone and a decent data plan, you're looking at your most cost effective option (if your data plan sucks, make sure you're on WiFi). Consoles run around $500 to start while PCs start around $700 and you'll spend more time researching your options. Laptops will run higher. Virtual Reality is going to come in at the highest point unless you try to hook up a shell to your phone, and I'm telling you right now you will get very sketchy results.
Some additional options to consider are purchasing used consoles/video games, and renting games. Rental quickly becomes less attractive if you've found a game you'll play for months at a time, but it is a great way to test drive before making a commitment.
Genre & Skills
Determining which games to play can be the biggest challenge. If you're not comfortable going to a local video game store like GameStop for pointers, there are several reviewers online. I would recommend finding a reviewer you like and going through different articles until you find a match. I also recommend going to YoutTube and watching screenplay. There are many people out there who just record themselves going from level to level, and plenty of video game reviewers have their own channel. I don't have a favorite--I'm usually online only if I'm stuck on a level.
Finding People to Game With
If you are headed down the path of PC gaming, this likely won't be an issue. Console games also have online options that automatically pair you with people around the same skill level. Meetups, conventions, and even the workplace (especially if you work in Tech) are great places to meet fellow gamers. There are also a lot of online gamers who hang out at tabletop game stores.
Additional Resources for Women
Visit my Geek Girl Con co-panelist's website! Ally Bishop is a talented editor and writer who also has a lot to say about gaming.
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.