The first video game system I ever played belonged to my baby-sitter’s husband. My parents, who both worked full-time, employed a staggering lineup of nannies over the years, with a precipitous drop in quality once we moved to Florida, where the hiring pool consisted of fewer child-development majors and more high-school dropouts. This particular sitter lived in a trailer, where my sister Kenzie and I played Duck Hunt for the first time on our sitter’s husband’s NES. We were as blown away as our pixelated prey, and immediately began begging my parents for a machine of our own for Christmas.
Kenzie and I were in for a surprise when we unwrapped the big box: my parents, perhaps overcompensating for their lack of face time with us, had given us a machine we did not recognize.
“It’s a Super Nintendo,” my dad said. “It’s the newest one—better than Nintendo.”
“Does it have Duck Hunt?” my sister asked.
“No, but look, it has Super Mario World.”
“It doesn’t have Duck Hunt?” We were crestfallen.
Over time, we grew to love the machine. (I’m still ashamed of the depths of my initial ingratitude—sorry, Mom and Dad.) Unfortunately, my parents were less than enthusiastic about buying us the overpriced game cartridges once we had four in our arsenal. This may have had something to do with the fact that we were incapable of beating a game. Usually we’d get stuck on one level, endlessly, trying to get past a certain roadblock that eluded us.
The mine-cart level on Donkey Kong Country was our albatross—we played that game on a semi-regular basis for nearly seven years, never getting past a particularly tricky jump that we just couldn’t grasp. In retrospect, we should have dragooned one of the neighborhood boys into getting us over the hump, but our sense of self-reliance was a little too long-lasting, and by the time we decided to seek outside help, the machine was so insanely out of date that kids laughed when we said we still played it.
The SNES was the last video-game machine I ever owned, which means that my already limited controller skills predate the thumb-joystick era. At a party six or so years back, a group of friends coerced me into playing Halo, promising not to kill me until I got my bearings and learned the controls. I spent half an hour trying to learn to walk as my friends slaughtered each other, and I was eventually euthanized about five feet from the spot in which I’d originally been placed. This experience influenced my strategy in college games of Super Smash Brothers, which was to float above everyone else in the guise of Jigglypuff until the last two players realized I was still around and killed me.
Last year, my then-boyfriend received the gift of an old PS2 and a few games, and he encouraged me to play Shadow of the Colossus, a game he’d found both fun to play and unexpectedly moving. After an hour of repeated deaths at the hands of my first colossus, I threw down the controller in frustration. He picked it up and resumed play on my behalf, so I could at least watch the story unfold. It was like watching a movie with 13 action sequences, all of which are 20 minutes long. I got bored five or six colossi in, so I still don’t know what happens.
I know there are some women who really enjoy playing video games, but I think I can safely say that my experience is representative of the majority of us. We’ve picked up controllers, we have a passing knowledge of what the popular games are, but we don’t really see the point. It doesn’t help that the majority of adult-oriented games are brain-meltingly sexist—even female protagonists are risibly skinny and stacked, to say nothing of the many popular series that allow players to beat hookers to death. The New Yorker recently reminded us that the film industry is incredibly sexist. But compared to a night of video games, a trip to the multiplex might as well be a Tiger Beatdown commenters’ meetup.
Sometimes my incompetence works out. I have pretty good pipes, and I nearly always get to sing in games of Rock Band, since I’m incapable of playing either of the controllers. (Why not drums? you ask. If I told you I got a sunburn from taking a ten-minute walk the other day, would that be a sufficient answer?) But I’m a little jealous of the obviously soothing power that video games have over people. My college boyfriend would play vintage Nintendo on his laptop for hours, as lost to the world as a reader in the middle of a fantastic book.
I love being inside and sitting on my ass! Why can’t I find new and exciting ways of being inside and sitting on my ass? Video games are like a magical extra form of laziness and procrastination, forever beyond my reach. Thank God watching BBC dramas on Netflix doesn’t require any skill.
A few months after we suffered through The Christmas Without Duck Hunt, my sister’s buddy taught her how to beat the game by shooting the gun at a lit table lamp. Instead of finding this method of cheating disgraceful, we pursued it with abandon, taking turns shooting the lamp and watching every duck fall out of the sky. That sniggering asshole dog was completely barred from laughing at us. It was awesome.