xbox controller with hands with painted nailed

I live with two boys. A third is over so often that honestly, I might as well live with him too.

I grew up with a big brother who I absolutely adored, and my best friend was a boy who lived across the street. As a child I never cared much for dolls or princesses, but I loved video games. And I hung out with just the right people to teach me how to play.

I remember my brother and I playing Pokemon games and Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64. He won every time, except for the very rare occasion when he “messed up,” in which case we always played another round so he could redeem himself. It was a time when the three-year age difference just about guaranteed that he was better at virtually everything, so I was never disgruntled by infinite losses.

Only in about 6th grade did I realize that video games were a “boy thing” and it was supposedly unusual for a girl to share this interest.

Only in about 6th grade did I realize that video games were a “boy thing” and it was supposedly unusual for a girl to share this interest. At this point, I was a savvy gamer— I had every console in the book and enjoyed a wide variety of gameplay, including online games, which were fairly unpopular at the time. I could pick up just about any new console or game quickly and was comfortable spending a fair amount of my spare time learning how to get better. I even had a female friend who liked to play GameCube with me, which helped me feel more normal.

For a long period thereafter, I could shock people with this simple fact. I have many memories of boys in my classes dropping their jaws and saying, “You play video games?” Many of them would challenge me to a race or match on one platform or another, as if to prove if I was “legit” or just some girl who played Candy Crush. I always found this amusing.

When I was about 15 years old, things got weird.

Being a female gamer was heavily sexualized. If my username at all indicated that I was a girl, this would dominate the conversation in online chatrooms. Taunting and slurs were so frequent they were unnoticeable, like white noise in the chat box. As soon as there was “a girl on the team,” the game was no longer a game, but a distorted circus of jokes, attention-grabs, points to be proven, and sexual direct messages.

I abandoned online gaming.

Other video games quickly followed suit. I no longer had friends who shared this interest (I was mostly friends with girls on my cheerleading squad), and high school wasn’t the time to perfect these skills anyway. I threw myself into sports, academic competitions, and creative writing. I have no complaints, as I found all these activities more formative and enjoyable than my rapidly depreciating gaming experiences.

Then, during my junior year at UNC-Chapel Hill, I moved into an apartment with two boys. Yes, a third was over so much that he might as well lived there too.

I bought a Nintendo Switch, which would be the second Nintendo Switch living in the apartment, along with an Xbox One, GameCube, two 3DS’s and a SNES Classic.

The gaming universe had changed quite a bit since I had last checked in.

Lots of women played video games now, doing everything from streaming on Twitch to giving reviews on YouTube. Users who harassed females (or anyone else) online were quickly banned or otherwise penalized. Chatrooms still aren’t perfect, but I assure you, the atmosphere is much improved.

When SuperSmash Bros. Ultimate was released in December 2018, my roommate and I both grabbed a copy before returning from winter break. We make a good match— he wins more often in group battles, I win more often one-on-one. It’s always disgruntling to him when I win. He describes me as good at video games— “girl good.”

Honestly, I take this as a compliment. It’s not easy to game like a girl— things are better now than they have ever been, but most of the women who kick butt at games refined their skills when things weren’t so good. Some women did everything the boys did but with a girly username, and that is saying something.

I know it will be some time yet until “ I play video games” will no longer be a girl’s fun fact during first-day-of-class icebreaker activity. For now, I’m just glad I can finally enjoy this long-time hobby with peace, knowing that a “boy thing” had finally turned into a space for everyone.