I’ve been playing videogames for nearly two decades now, and I’ve learned a lot of things along the way, things I want to share with the next generation of gamers. My younger siblings don’t play videogames (unfortunately), but my cousins Megan (age 14) and Joey (age 11) do. It’s been such a joy watching them grow over the past few years into the gamers that they are today: Joey can outright kick my ass in pretty much any Call of Duty game, and Megan has been creating some truly impressive building projects in Minecraft.
But they’re still young, and could use some advice. I was inspired to write this piece after Joey refused to borrow my copy of Mirror’s Edge because it was, in his eyes, “a girl’s game.” I sat him down and explained, as carefully and calmly as possible, that what he said was complete horseshit. He still didn’t borrow it, but I like to think he learned something that day about gender and videogames.
I’ve had to learn some things the hard way, but hopefully my cousins won’t have to. In fact, it’s my hope that, with some guidance, the younger generation of gamers can learn from our mistakes and build a community we can all be proud of. So, in no particular order, here are 10 things I wish someone had told me back when I was younger.
Don’t be a dick
There are a lot of assholes in this world, and sadly a large percentage of them play videogames. So don’t be a dick, there are too many in this community as it is. Still, it’s surprisingly easy to fall back on dickish behavior. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve teabagged a few innocent people in my day.
Games can be frustrating, and it’s totally natural that you might need to vent. But never, ever use racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs. If you are upset, learn how to express yourself without resorting to hate speech. Don’t cyber-bully other people for kicks or because you’re feeling bad about yourself.
If someone you’re playing with is being a dick, be the bigger person and ignore it. And if it crosses a line, don’t hesitate to report abusive language or behavior.
Never let anyone make you feel like you don’t belong in this community
Plenty of men–and, yes, women too–have tried over the years to convince me that I don’t belong in the gaming community. I’d like to think that in 10 year’s time, when Megan’s my age, the representation and treatment of women and other minorities in gaming will have changed for the better, but I’m just not that optimistic. Which means you’ll have to develop a thick skin.
I’ve been told that I’m “too pretty” to be a gamer, that female gamers are all fat, ugly, or slutty. They’ve called me every name in the book: bitch, whore, cum dumpster, the list goes on and on. Don’t let name-calling get to you, and although you might be tempted, don’t retaliate in kind. You’re better than that.
People will constantly question your “gamer cred.” If you’re female, they’ll assume that you’re a “fake gamer girl,” which is one of the most insidious manifestations of misogyny in this community. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Just be yourself and do what you love.
But if you’re ever faced with rape threats or anything else that makes you feel uncomfortable, contact the appropriate authorities. It’s not a joke when sexual assault or other forms of violence are the punch-line.
Co-Op is usually more fun than PvP
Playing games against other people (PvP) has its upsides: it fosters a competitive, persevering spirit, and can be a great way to blow off some steam. But you’re more likely to encounter abusive language, and chances are you’ll get pretty frustrated if you’re doing poorly. Even when playing against close friends, I’ll still sometimes walk away angry. I can imagine that PvP has the potential to damage, if not outright destroy, friendships. Anyone who’s played Mario Party can attest to this.
It’s taken me years to realize that I prefer playing Co-Op games. You are still playing games with your friends, but suddenly all the stress is gone. Rather than competing against each other, you are working together towards a common goal. And when you achieve it, you bond over that victory. Unlike PvP, playing Co-Op can actually strengthen relationships!
Sometimes mom’s right: go outside
I love playing games with my friends online; it’s fun, and what’s more, I’ve grown deeply attached to some of these people. For me, they’re not just “internet” friends, but real people with whom I’ve cultivated deep and meaningful relationships. Still, there is no substitute for face-to-face, IRL human interaction.
I often miss the good ol’ days of LAN parties and split-screen multiplayer, when you played videogames with friends who were actually in the same room as you. Humans are social animals and sometimes video chatting just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes it does, I’m certainly not saying to stop having fun with your friends online.
But sometimes your mom or friend or significant other is right: go outside, live a little! Spend time communing with nature, do something crazy that you’ll never forget, meet up with your friends for a night out, play with your pet. These are the experiences and memories that we’ll cherish in our dying moments, and I’m willing to bet that only a few of them involve a screen.
Vote with your wallet
Be the change you want to see by purchasing the games you’d like to see more of in the future. Don’t bitch about how bad AAA games are and then plunk down $60 on the latest annual title. Big studios respond to sales, so “vote with your wallet.” Oh, and make sure to support indie developers, because they are the future of gaming.
When possible, buy used
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Gaming is expensive. So unless you absolutely need to play a game at release, just wait a few months and buy a used copy for roughly half the price. This goes double for new consoles. Don’t worry, it’ll still be there.
What makes videogames so fun is that they are all about skill, and the more you play a game the better you get at it. Don’t rob yourself of this sense of achievement by cheating. Sure, god-mode sounds cool, until you actually try to play as an insanely overpowered character for more than a few minutes. It gets boring, fast.
Humans thrive when we are challenged, and if you make a game too easy for yourself by cheating, you’re not going to have a good time. The only exception to this is when the cheats are silly and don’t impact the gameplay. When it’s harmless fun (i.e. big head mode), cheats are fine.
Use walkthroughs only when necessary
This piece of advice is pretty similar to #7, but it’s so important I thought it deserved its own section. Walkthroughs are a blessing and a curse, especially now that you can find them instantaneously on the internet rather than having to buy a Prima’s Official Strategy Guide (Who even buys those anymore? How is Prima still in business?).
I’m a completionist, and I’ve spent hours perusing the wikis for basically every game that I’ve played trying to find all the collectibles. For what? For the achievement? For the sense of completion? I’m not sure. What I do know is that when you start playing a game like that it suddenly isn’t very fun anymore.
My advice is to play a game as organically as possible for the first playthrough. Sure, you might miss some things, but that’s the whole point of replay value, right? If you like a game enough to play it again, then you can start worrying about collectibles and achievements.
And if you’re stuck on a tricky puzzle or a tough boss, give it at least a few tries before looking up a walkthrough. Believe me, you’ll feel a lot better if you can solve the problem on your own. If you get to a point where you absolutely give up, then and only then should you resort to using a walkthrough.
Use ergonomic equipment and STRETCH
If you’re a PC gamer, make sure to have a comfortable chair that doesn’t allow for much slouching; your back and shoulders will thank you. Also, always use an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, as this will save you years of carpal tunnel pain in the future. Think of it this way: the less cumulative damage you do to your hands and wrists now, the longer you’ll be able to play in the long run.
If, like me, you play mostly on console, it’s just as important to be wary of carpal tunnel syndrome. In fact, my left thumb is basically shot because I was not careful about the strain I was putting on it. So don’t be like me: take care of your hands and wrists before there’s a problem.
Stretch your hands and wrists regularly, before and after long gaming sessions. For some of my favorite stretches, watch this video by eSports celebrity Day. Use one of those hand exerciser stress balls to build strength in your hands, wrists, and fingers. And if at any point something hurts, take a break. Sure, it’s annoying, but it’s better than permanent damage.
Remember, it’s just a game
You’re about to get your best killstreak when someone noob-tubes you. You lose 200,000 souls because you rolled off the edge. Worse yet, you’ve saved over your only savegame and now have to start over. Don’t panic. Just turn it off, breathe, relax. Remember, it’s just a game.
I’ve screamed and rage quit, I’ve cried and begged god for assistance (fun fact: I became an atheist when I prayed to god for help getting past a hard level on Aladdin for the Sega Genesis. I died anyway, and at 9 renounced my faith). I’ve had to take breaks from games, often for a few months or more, because the prospect of returning to them, or worse starting over, was just too much to bear.
Above all else, games are meant to be fun. If ever you’re not having fun, then just stop. There’s no contractual obligation that you keep playing through the misery. Take a break, do something else, remember it’s just a game.