Dr. Masterchief, Or “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Game”

I’m sitting in front of an Xbox. Actually, two Xbox 360’s. My boyfriend at the time and his friend are setting up what is considered a weekend ritual. Plugging wires into the television and chatting casually. Wire after wire goes in, the tapping of the controllers is background music to me. I haven’t spoken in an hour or so. I am sitting on the couch, watching, but not speaking. I was faced with a decision as I was so many times in my relationship: to play or not to play. It seemed like an easy question with a simple answer. It always stood for much more in my head.

My relationship had been an abusive one almost immediately after it began. It wasn’t considered abusive by most people who knew me or what was going on, so I never discussed it much. That night, a few hours before his friend arrived, we had a fight we would have regularly until our eventual falling out: I couldn’t cut my hair. I had worn my hair long for many years and it was almost at my waist. “You can’t cut your hair or I will stop loving you”, he whispered in downstairs so his parents wouldn’t hear. I remember thinking to myself “that makes sense” while also simultaneously stating that it didn’t and that he was being ridiculous. But I kept my the same, long and unruly, and I didn’t change a thing for many years. As I sat quietly and watched the TV light up with the words ‘Halo’ as it had done so many times, I heard his friend mutter “wanna play this time?” This was of course a harmless question, it had no real meaning. But for me, I always heard “will you take it?” And as I declined, I always did, I heard the voice in my head respond “yes, this time I will back down. I will roll over. It doesn’t matter”.

My love for video games came from boyfriends. I stayed up late to watch videos of a game I already said I had played to be cool. I would go to school the next day, exhausted from my hours of watching Let’s Play’s to tell my crush that “yeah, Portal is so cool! I love that one part…” and so on for what seemed like months. I never enjoyed watching the games. I just did it so I would have something to say to my crush. That crush came and went until I met him, and he changed the way I viewed games as quickly as I had started to view them. He told me about games I had never heard of; Fable, Myth, 7th Guest, Metroid. I would watch him play games for hours and it would turn into our regular date. I would stay the night because we had finally gotten close to the last boss in Battleblock Theater. And I would escape. Silently, I would forget about what he had said, how my body looked and I needed to lose weight or how I should do something more about my acne which covered my entire face. I would disappear into the game until we had nothing more to discuss. Most importantly, that’s when I enjoyed it the most. When everything was at its worst was when I felt the safest in a game.

I learned about Halo all from him. He was obsessed with the series and I had thought that it was your standard, run-of-the-mill shooter for years. I still believe that, to an extent. He would force me to watch videos with him, saying I would like them and they would be interesting. After months and months of nerd raps and shitty covers, he showed me one thing that would stay with me for possibly my entire life: Forward Unto Dawn. The film, made by the studio, was an incredible feat of lore and science. It took everything from the cheesy alien series and made it real. It was the first true connection I had ever felt to a game, and more importantly, to an idea. The idea that games could have more to them both in the real and fictitious worlds. It showed me how PTSD looked on soldiers, how fear was real and what people do when it affects them, how people die. Yet, it was all fake. None of it was real and yet I understood so much about the game, the universe, and about real life.

His obsession grew into mine quickly. I read books, watched Youtube videos (one of which was Monty Oum’s classic Haloid, which proposed the idea that Master Chief could be a woman) and studied the series immensely. And when I finally left him, I felt myself collapse. I was at the beginning. It all felt fake again, like I had studied all of it for his favor but he was no longer in the picture. I didn’t know how to feel. It took several more relationships and another abusive one to realize that games were a place for me whether or not I believed it. I could and should have a place in games no matter where I started. So I stayed, and I worked hard to learn everything I could all over again but finally for my benefit. I wanted to learn and grow because I liked it, not because some geeky guy thought it made me look hot to talk about Pac Man and Scott Pilgrim. I did it because I wanted to and I found liberation in games at one of the worst times in my life. I still have PTSD and I can’t play some of the games I used to love without flashing back and breaking down. But I worked hard to get where I am, and I will never go back.