When I was five or so, my next-door neighbors got an Arthur point-and-click game for their PC. I remember being amazed that when you clicked on something on the screen, SOMETHING WOULD MOVE IN THE GAME. Click on a water fountain? It would squirt a stream of water at Mr. Ratburn. Home computers were still a new luxury item, and I would go over almost every day to play on it. I'm pretty sure I was asked to not come over as often, not because I was doing anything wrong, but because I was there all. the. time, and they needed to sometimes not have a computer-obsessed five year old up in their space.
When I was in elementary & middle school, my brother and I spent hours playing Monster Truck Madness and Age of Empires and (heaven help us) The Sims. My brother is four years younger than me, and neither of us is particularly prone to sharing our personal feelings with one another. But sitting at the computer together, hunched over and talking strategy or yelling at each other about the pros and cons of driving Gravedigger, we found common ground. Years later, he tolerated my perching over his shoulder as he played Bioshock, a game I found much to stressful to ever dip my toes into.
I mean, I found Star Fox Adventures to be too stressful as a kid: it gave me stress dreams until I completed the game. And it was Star Fox Adventures. For the Gamecube. If I couldn't handle that, how was I ever supposed to enter Rapture?
As an adult (and a rabid consumer of media) I just couldn't shake playing video games. it felt like an affliction: I'd shuffle out of my room all bleary-eyed from staring at a screen for hours. Books and movies were the higher-class forms of media consumption.
More than that, it felt clear that games weren't supposed to be for me: I didn't play the "real games" because I found them too stressful. I didn't play AAA titles because I couldn't afford a console. I quit playing any sort of online multi-player because the very moment I was identified as a woman online, things became much harder. (I already had to skirt harassment based on my gender in the real world. Why would I pay to experience it in a virtual one?) I just needed to learn not to be so attached to a blinking screen.
But goddamn if that blinking screen wasn't doing some of the most interesting storytelling.
A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me to make a list of games I liked. I think she expected maybe a few bullet points. What I ended up sending were a few pages of furiously compiled notes on games that I hold close to my heart. The list I came up with was made of hyper-popular games, weird outsider games, quiet games, tons of so-called "walking simulators," but, above all, games that I felt were doing interesting work with not only mechanics, but with exploring what video games can do that other forms of media just can't.
Part of this was informed by the increased visibility and vocal-ness of gamers like me: those unmoved by traditional gaming and eager to see it reach a wider group of people. Part of it was just that I really still love video games.
A few weeks after I sent my friend the list, she passed it off to another friend, who then thanked me for giving her an in-road to games that she found more accessible. I joked that I'm just a "gentle gamer in a jump scare world."
And then it became less of a joke.
So, here we are now. Gentle Gamers is an attempt to explore the softer side of gaming. In this is the inherent recognition of the subjectivity of the term "gentle." (I have logged literal hundreds of hours on Skyrim, but got about five minutes into Inside before I closed the computer screen in a fit of hyperventilation.)
Video games can be amazing tools for exploring narrative, for creating art, for developing empathy. In my opinion, the more people who engage with this particular medium, and who then go on to talk about it (or share it with someone else) (or, hopefully, to make work of their own), the better off we all are.