Games have never been a solitary activity for me. For as long as I can remember, video games have been a way in which I connect with others. One of my earliest memories of gaming was when my father brought home a Super Nintendo Entertainment System. He had no interest in gaming himself, but because the advertising firm he worked for was at the time working with Nintendo of America, they gave him one for free. The first game I can recall playing on it was a sidescrolling platformer based on Star Wars. I couldn’t have been older than four–but I remember craning my neck upwards to see the tube TV and clutching the SNES gamepad that must have dwarfed my little hands at the time. I died plenty of times playing that game. I’m sure I never even beat a level. But I do remember my father sititng with me, pointing at the enemies, explaining that I needed to jump over them or shoot them with my blaster.
Later on, my parents got more games for the SNES and I loved each and every one of them. I vividly remember playing the first level of Super Mario World. The football koopa guarding the end of the level was the bane of my existence. I just wasn’t coordinated enough at that age to jump on his head. Any time I reached that part I would pause the game and shove the controller at my mother, insisting that she beat it for me. As an adult, seeing her complete lack of coordination with any gamepad, I have to wonder how she ever managed to beat it for me. But she did.
Soon after, I began school. There was one game that was the talk of every lunch table: Pokemon. Unwilling to be left out of the action, I begged my parents to get me a Pokemon game for my Gameboy Color. Pokemon Red set fire to my passion for both games and the internet. In those days, I hardly understood what the internet was. But I knew how to log onto my AOL account in the browser and do a search for “Pokemon Pictures”. I was a fiend. I printed off guides for cheats in the game. I scoured search results for any new websites relating to Pokemon that had escaped my notice. I printed off pictures upon pictures of pokemon and taught myself to draw by tracing them. I put all these things in folders–endless folders. I sought out and curated information about Pokemon as if it were my job. But it wasn’t all this that really solidified my love.
Pokemon was a medium through which I could connect with other people. At the time, I had two younger siblings, a brother and sister. I was only allowed to play my Gameboy in the car, not at home in the house–because playing too much of it would rot my brain of course. During any car ride, whether it was a ten hour road trip or a quick ride to the grocery store, I sat in the back of my mother’s suburban playing Pokemon, squashed between my brother and sister, who eagerly looked over my shoulders to watch me play. In those days, the only thing we talked about was Pokemon. It made us closer. Back at school, bonding over Pokemon was how I met my best–and oldest–friend.
A few Christmases later, the N64 was released. Being the age that I was, I HAD to play the new Mario games. Sure enough, Santa was good to me that year and I unwrapped an N64 on Christmas Day. I think this was the real point of no return. I played any game I could get my hands on, anything my parents would buy me. At the time, I had a daily babysitter. I remember her coming over one day with a game for us. Another kid she watched part-time had decided he didn’t want it anymore and she asked if we would like to have it. That game was the Ocarina of Time. I began frequenting fan websites dedicated to OOT. I read and wrote fan fiction, I drew, I did it all. In those days, fan forums often had chat rooms embedded in them. I would frequent the same sites every day just to log on and talk to people I’d never met about the game that I loved.
As I grew older, the games changed but the feelings never did. Gaming was a way for me to connect and socialize with others. In highschool I began playing Guild Wars, my first MMORPG. I talked to people, I made friends, all through gaming. I joined guilds. I learned how to lead a guild, not just as a player of the game, but as a person. I learned how to learn, how to teach, how to be a community member, how to care about the lives and feelings of people I had only known through text on the screen and a game character. Some of the people I first met in that game are still my good friends today.
Later I got my first “real” console, an Xbox360, because my then-boyfriend and all his friends had one. Halo 3 and GTA IV helped me create friendships at school and online. Just like in Guild Wars, I developed new friendships with people who logged on each night to play a few matches together. Halo 3 taught me how to be a competitor. I became a better loser and a more gracious winner. I learned that shouting back rarely helps and maybe just t-bag the guy once or twice.
For me, games have never been seperate from the communities around them. Games exist to be experienced, to be consumed, to be spoken of, shared, critiqued, and cherished. Games are how I relate to others, how I build realtionships. That is why I stream. Instead of consuming the curated community someone else has created, I can create my own. Every day that I stream, I connect with each of you, building relationships and sharing the things that we love with one another. I stream because although my best friend and I haven’t lived fewer than 1000 miles apart in over four years, she and I can still feel like those kids who first bonded over Pokemon. In the same way that I used to frequent Ocarina Of Time message boards, Halo 3 game lobbies, and Guild Wars social zones, I log onto Twitch in order to be a part of the community that you and I are creating together.