If you stop by the Later Levels site regularly, you’ll likely have read about Ethan at some point: a boy with a fondness for ice-cream, fluffy animals and anything related to Minecraft. I can’t believe how quickly the past few years have gone by and that my young stepson will reach the grand old age of ten this weekend. Double figures!
The following post was one I wrote several years ago for a different blog that no longer exists, a while after first meeting Pete and being introduced his son. I wanted to reprise it here in honour of Ethan’s milestone to wish him a very happy birthday: may his future be full of pixels, explosions and triumphs over the forces of evil.
Originally published on 06 May 2015:
Last year I moved to a different part of Essex for a fresh start and, after a few months of living in my new town, I had the pleasure of meeting Pete in a local pub. During a long conversation over a couple of beers we discovered we’d grown up in the same area on parallel streets, share a similar sense of humour, and both eat fish and chips more frequently than is good for us.
But while we hit it off instantly, I was reluctant to tell him about my blog at first. It wasn’t because I was ashamed of it; it was more to do with the fact that I’ve mentioned it to others in the past and they tend to get this look in their eyes which means ‘women don’t play video games, let alone write about them’. I didn’t want to get into yet another discussion where I had to justify myself as a gamer, trying to convince the other person I don’t play Candy Crush and am quite happy spending a Friday night with a controller in hand.
But eventually I plucked up the courage and you know what? Pete believed me straight off and wanted to know more. Our conversation then turned to the subject of gaming and he confessed he was a bit of a gamer too, having run a Vietcong server in his twenties and sinking way too many hours into World of Warcraft. He even told me it was he who had made the winners’ trophies for Games World and, being someone who was a teenager during the nineties, I was kind of impressed.
Video games and friendship
We’ve hung out pretty regularly since meeting and video games play a part in our relationship. We worked our way through Costume Quest 2 on Halloween, took a trip to the Heart of Gaming where I kicked his butt at Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (barely); got an hour through Thief before deciding it was way too much like Dishonored; and spent Christmas playing Alien Isolation while eating our own body-weight in chocolate. Although he has no desire to write, he’s interested in my blog and went to his first expo with me earlier this year.
There are two aspects of our friendship which stand out for me, the first being that Pete doesn’t look at me any differently because of my gender when it comes to video games. I’d like to think we’ve both learnt a lot from each other: I’ve introduced him to the world of indie development and guided him through the perils of Kickstarter, and he told me about classic titles I’d never heard of before and didn’t laugh when I forgot the control system while trying to play The Witcher 2. Our discussions are those of a couple of people who enjoy gaming and accept each other for who they are, and it feels good not to see that look I mentioned above when we talk.
The other factor is Pete’s son Ethan: a gorgeous seven-year old with boundless energy, a cheeky sense of humour and countless knock-knock jokes. He carries his 2DS with him wherever he goes and can do an excellent Mario impression. He’s played The LEGO Movie Videogame so much in my presence I now know the words to the annoying theme tune off by heart. Next on his wishlist is Minecraft, he often turns up wearing a Mario hat I bought him at EGX last year, and he completely freaked out when he got a Wii U for Christmas.
It’s obvious from his description that games feature regularly when spending time with Ethan. If he and Pete come over for breakfast on a Sunday morning, he’ll tell me to sit down next to me because he needs to complete the next part of my ‘training’ on Mario Kart 8. He has watched me roam (nothing more) through the mountains and forests of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim while pretending to be a knight with a sword. And there was one lengthy announcement where he revealed he’s going to be a game developers when he grows up, with his first release being ‘Warcraft Insanity’ and featuring ancient Egypt, mummies and grenades.
The thing all gamers have in common
There have been several controversies in the gaming industry over the past few years and – while it pains me to say it – the community surrounding it has become so much more hostile. I’m not going to turn this into a post on feminism or write this feeling sorry for myself, but it can be particularly hard being a woman at times. I’m fortunate enough never to have experienced the same level of aggression as others but I’ve been ignored at expos in favour of male friends, received horrible comments via Facebook posts and tend to stay away from online gaming.
The one thing we all have in common as gamers is exactly that: gaming. We may be of different genders, from different countries, of different sexualities but all of us share a love of video games and it’s a common ground that should bring us together. We’ve all shared that experience of picking up our now-favourite title for the first time, eagerly awaiting the release of a much-anticipated sequel, and spending way too much money during a Steam sale and then bankrupting ourselves until the next one.
Unfortunately though, some gamers don’t see it that way and instead choose to target other players for their differences. Abuse written on forums and dished out during online games is now seen as the norm, with ‘gay’ and ‘gamer gurl’ being common insults. While certain members of the community are ostracised, we limit both ourselves and the community as a whole; we deter new talent from working within the industry, we lose unique ideas that could lead to amazing experiences, and we perpetuate the view of gamers as being caustic and hostile.
Both Peter and Ethan don’t see me as a ‘girl’: they see me as a gamer who happens to be female, one they’re happy to spend time with talking about and playing video games. It doesn’t matter to Ethan that I’m of the opposite sex, or so much older than he is, or that I suck at most of his 2DS titles and regularly forget control schemes. He just wants to stick on a game and sit on the sofa together so he can train us and become the ‘Uber-Master’ of everything he plays. He may only be seven-years old, but sometimes he’s wise beyond his years.
Hope for the future of gaming
I have to admit this makes me hopeful for the future of gaming. When I was growing up, video games were seen as a bit of a ‘niche’ hobby and not something everybody did; but there are many children out there who are now familiar with and accept them as a part of everyday life. The majority will experience gaming at least once if not be a fan themselves, and because of this they’re more likely to be accepting of other players despite their differences.
When you see Ethan’s expression after discovering a new shortcut within Mario Kart (usually followed by a ‘whoa!’ or ‘easy now!’) and consider the fact he wants to share this with you whoever you are, it’s hard not to smile and wonder what the gaming world will be like when he’s my age. There’s every reason to hope the hostility and discrimination so apparent within the community at present will eventually die out; I just hope I’m still around to witness it.
As a woman who blogs about gaming, I’m tired of continuously having to justify myself as a gamer. The sooner the community can accept the fact that every member is equal and has a worthwhile opinion, the sooner we can get back to doing what we love and playing more video games. Perhaps we should all try to be a bit more like Ethan, and maybe the theme tune to The LEGO Movie Videogame holds more wisdom than it first seems…
Everything is awesome; everything is cool when you’re part of a team.