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Shut Up and Take My Money! A Tale of a Poor Gamer

This article was written by Kiva Bay and illustrated by Bay and Mr Mentalism, and originally published on FemHype. If you like it, check out Bay’s current Kickstarter for A Feminist Deck.

It was brought to us by our friends at Critical Distance, who find the best in critical writing about games each week. You can see more at their site, and support them on Patreon.

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It is terribly difficult to be a gamer when you are homeless, but somehow, in a city like Portland, I managed. I was too ashamed to go back to the Barcade, because what if they saw my backpack with the sleeping bag attached to it and realized how bad it was?

What if they noticed how dirty I was? How tired I looked? What if they noticed how preciously I counted out my quarters?

No, I stopped going to Ground Kontrol, but my little laptop had Jade Empire on it. The laptop served as good camouflage, allowing me to check my email in a coffee shop for two hours rather than sit there while the baristas gave me the stink-eye.

Sometimes, I even felt like a gamer, if someone didn’t notice the sleeping bag tucked beneath the table. I wanted to feel like a gamer. I would read reviews for games I would never be able to play on systems I would never be able to afford, let alone store. I didn’t even have a roof over my head.

I would still read reviews, and watch the Jimquisition and nod my head in gruff agreement while he talked about actual ethical concerns in journalism, like marketing executives trying to shove fee-to-pay features into AAA titles that already cost $60. $60.

The pawn shop wouldn’t even give me more than thirty for my laptop, which was why I’d opted to keep it. That was a lot of money in my world. $60. That was days away from the Blanchet House’s soup kitchen.

Of course I realize it was escapism from the harsh reality of my world, but is that really so bad, escaping that for a little while? When people realized I was homeless and had a laptop, they would sneer at me. $60 they would then turn around and pay for a game with a fee-structure attached to it. And I was a horrible person for keeping my laptop.

I couldn’t game very well on my laptop, not the games that make someone a “real gamer.” There was no new AAA titles that were going to run on it, even at their most laughable graphic settings.

When I heard Jim talk about Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite and Ellie from Last of Us, I desperately wanted to know their stories but could not in any way play their games. There was something I could do, though. I could watch their stories, in Let’s Plays and game-movies. Last of Us had only just been announced, but I ate through Elizabeth’s story with a raw need to not be in the world that surrounded me anymore. 

The dark line of thought that some people were just fated to fail filled me with a cold dread that made me forget I was sitting in a public park that was a wi-fi hotspot on a damp bench under cover to protect the screen from the rain.

But I apparently did not become a real gamer until I was housed, employed, and able to consume these products with money. Watching Let’s Plays and game movies does not make me a real gamer, only playing those games does. Apparently.

I can carefully dissect the plot of Far Cry 3 for you, and discuss all the parts of it that I like and all the parts of it that I hate. And there are both of those.

I have never played Far Cry 3.

When I was homeless, I watched the movie, the story of surviving through hardship (much at the expense of native people, the critical part of my mind noted) on YouTube. And I loved it even while I didn’t love it because criticizing it gave me something to do other than wonder how long it would be until nine in the morning when the student union would open and I could go inside and out of the cold.

I listened to Final Fantasy music on my headphones to sleep during the day while my laptop charged, and then consumed nothing but review videos, and LP videos, and podcasts … but could not be considered a part of the fandom because of monetary barriers.

This is strange to me.

There has been much discussion about how women can be real gamers because there are women who enjoy these $60 games and spend as much money on gaming as the most hardcore male fans do.

I submit that at the time when I could spend no money on gaming, I was as much a gamer as even the richest fans.

Fandom isn’t the money you spend on a thing.

It’s the love you have for it, and the comfort it brings you.

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This article was written by Kiva Bay and illustrated by Bay and Mr Mentalism, and originally published on FemHype. If you like it, check out Bay’s current Kickstarter for A Feminist Deck.

It was brought to us by our friends at Critical Distance, who find the best in critical writing about games each week. You can see more at their site, and support them on Patreon.