A Girl’s Guide to Gaming -The Toast

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Option One: The FPS

Remember that you are a “gamer girl.” Act accordingly. Choose a handle with the right sound. You may use the feminine “a” but nothing too aggressive or sexy. You want them to imagine you in sweatpants, not leather pants. Try to be one of the guys. Try to be guy-adjacent. Draw just enough attention to have personality, but never too much. Brand yourself. Not that it matters — they know you’re only playing this because your boyfriend does. Say nothing. You’re a girl, after all, not a woman. Your decisions are placid, small things, dependent on the vagaries of others.

Show some skill, but not enough to become a whore threat. Miss your headshots. Listen to them taunt you when the bullet creases a line through the space where they used to be. Say nothing. Let them find your sniper roost. Nearly kill them with your bayonet when you run out of ammo. Don’t. Challenge no one’s masculinity. Stay one step behind.

Listen to him blame lag for the fourth time when your bullet or bayonet or bomb kills him again. Speak. Use your real voice.

Listen to him respond. This is his world. It doesn’t matter that your first memory was the smooth knob of an Atari joystick fitting into the hollow of your soft hand or the rattle of quarters in an arcade. His three years overwrite your thirty. Girls don’t play video games. This club is his legacy and birthright.

Listen to him. Speak.

Be spoken to in words that pass for comfort: Listen, the jokes here are rough, but no one really wants to knife you in the vagina. No one wants to rape you. That’s just how it is here. That’s why we’re laughing. Learn to talk some shit. Why take this so personally?

Listen to his voice warble as it promotes a specificity dripping with viciousness. Wonder how much of your information is online. Wonder if he is fifteen or seventeen or fifty. Wonder if he can find your house. Wonder if he would.

Wonder why you didn’t stay voiceless over voice chat.


Option Two: The Action/Adventure

Play the man when there is no woman to play. Pixellated genitals are no true genitals anyway. A princess needs a paramour. None of them are self-rescuing, not anymore.

Play single-player. Imagine what it feels like to be the chosen one. Imagine what it feels like to be the chosen one and a man. Imagine what it feels like to be the chosen one and a woman. Tell yourself gender doesn’t matter. You’d rescue that princess either way. You feel for her — it’s not so easy to gird your own loins with no one granting you permission. Easier by far to sit in the tower and wait. There but for the grace go you.

Set forth empty handed on your first quest. Look for the magic sword behind eight-bit bushes and underneath flowers and stones and finally inside the hands of the lady who lives half-submerged in the raging river. Consider the tone of her voice, the high trickle of the water, the virgin whiteness of her diaphanous gown. Consider her weary desperation. Wonder if you are imagining the blush on her cheek has meaning when she kisses your man-child avatar on the lips. Does your own blush have meaning? Wonder if you would take the sword if you were given the choice to refuse her. Wonder if she would give you the sword if your body was your own.

Your affections are preset, binary, gender aligned or platonic. You choose to accept this. Games have given you so much, fired the neurons in your brain until they exploded like tiny stars in a universe of unbelievable bounty, coursed down your neural pathways until all things were made electric. Your complaints are ungrateful laments in the light of these priceless gifts. Do you need this to be exactly your way? Your affections would be fictional either way.

Wield the sword. Use it to cut the grass before you go.


Option Three: The RPG

Prepare to make your choices.

Amidst sliding bars for eye size and cheek height you find the disfigured woman, the beautiful woman, the old woman, the young woman. Their pasts hang in their faces: choose what mars the skin, what symbols are painted or sliced or scarred. White haired or childlike, broken or strong, some things remain the same. Their armored chests bear an impossible, bounteous burden. All waists are thin and supple. The hands that are meant to wield a broadsword or fire a blaster are delicate and fragile as mayflies. Your face is your own to manipulate. Your body is subject to male gaze here as everywhere. You may only change it in the ways that please.

It’s okay. Focus on the hair. Honestly, sometimes you like being pretty. Who doesn’t like being pretty? Let’s be pragmatic. Your own physicality isn’t perfect either, even if it’s imperfect in the other direction.

When you’ve flipped through mohawks and pixie cuts and chosen the right elaborate braid to crown your hero’s head, begin. Step forward into a choose-your-own-adventure with all paths leading to an inevitable sacrifice. It’s hard to identify with the peasant women bearing babies on their hips that you are sent to save. You are a soldier and hero. You are covered with steel and a sense of greater purpose.

Still, you woo a lover for your improbable heroine along the way, a troubled man whose past is never far behind him. He will cause you to compromise your convictions. You will spend nights at the campfire asking him to stay. He will leave either way when his part in the story is over: your lover is led to leave you for something greater, a duty or passion you cannot supercede. What other choices might you have made if you knew?

You aren’t supposed to care about happy endings anyway. You have a world to save.


Option Four: The MMO

Tap into your nurturing maternal instincts. Play the healer. Tend the wounded. Keep their health bars green and dying. It’s not the mob you’re interested in, but the aftereffect. If they die before you, blame your inability to fix things, your slowness, your lack of anticipatory foresight. Blame yourself. Do it publicly. Everyone likes you.

Dance on tables in your underwear for gold. This is roleplay. Everyone assumes you are a man because no real woman should enjoy this. You do. You are not sure what that says about your womanhood. Do not turn on global chat.

Tap into your protective maternal instincts. Play the tank. Bark orders. Shield them all with your body. Taunt. Focus the damage. If you die, trust that your sacrifice was necessary. If you die, blame your inability to hit your combo, your weak fortitude, your broken armor. Blame yourself privately. Everyone needs you to be strong.

Pick flowers and shine gems. Give them away for less than market value. Put down your sword. Lean your staff against a convenient tree. Put on a black dress. Flirt in an imaginary garden with a dark, handsome stranger like every other. He has a tortured past, like yours. You are built from the same artifice. You are some kind of soulmates until he stops logging on and leaves your story, interrupted.

Tap into your darkest maternal instincts. Play the vengeful warlock. Throw a curse and let them writhe with the pain of it over time, let it continue to burn them long after you are gone. Apply hellfire with righteous impunity. Channel the inherent rage of your allotted role. Stand in the fire. Let them all burn alongside you. Don’t concern yourself with collateral damage. You are fragile and will die easily. We are all fragile and we are all dying easily. Take them with you.

Do the most damage you can to everyone around you before you go.


Option Five: Choose Your Own Genre

Pay no attention to genre or gender. Gird yourself. Play as well or as terribly as you can. Play as much or as little as you can. Hold your controller or keyboard or touchscreen or handheld gaming device. Play puzzle games and matching games and MOBAs and MMOs and RPGs and FPS and every other acronym. Reject the Myth of the Real Gamer. Rewrite the Myth of the Real Gamer. You are the Real Gamer. Learn to say “fuck you.” Learn that it is okay to feel. Learn to use Report and Mute. Do not allow yourself to be muted before your voice can speak.

Take what is yours to take, your legacy, your birthright. Take no prisoners.

When she's not gaming, Katrina Smith writes short fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Salon, Devilfish Review, Black Denim Lit, and Synaesthesia. She received her MFA from George Mason University. Originally from Vermont, she lives and works in Burke, VA.

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