‘D-do you fancy playing some Sea of Thieves later tonight?’ I ask, although not sure how I managed to stutter seeing that it was a WhatsApp message. I waited for a response, feeling actually pretty awkward. Oh god, blue ticks but no reply.
I’m sweating. Why am I sweating? I’m just asking someone if they want to play a video game with me? Why does this feel worse than waiting for a response after asking someone out on a date? Why has this suddenly become a thing in my life?
Funny thing is, I would happily ask someone out on a date or pose a tricky question the likes of which, if phrased incorrectly, could get me fired or deemed a morally reprehensible scum-bucket by the internet hive mob. And yet, that doesn’t bother me one bit. I love those spicy moments of life like that. I love chucking myself in at the deep end. Gear up, knee pads on with cricket bat in hand ready to smack the crap out of anything life throws at me. I am confident, assured and keen to get scuffed up and potentially covered in mud.
Except apparently when it comes to playing video games with other people.
It doesn’t matter what your age, where you’re from or whether you’re now CEO of the entire world – within a split second you’re back in that gym class, arm meekly crossing your stomach, kicking the floor, trying not to cry as you’re the last picked for gym. Again.
So much of the gaming experience now relies on #SquadGoals – your cool go-to video game squadron, the ones you can rely on to always be by your side during any raid, battle or bizarre drunken online dance-off.
I see these gamer squads, all gleaming and shiny from the outside. Full of obviously the best fun times ever, the likes of which I’ll seemingly never know. I watch in awe, too afraid to even do a crap half-hand-up, ‘look at me!’ gesture of participation.
What if they don’t want me? What if I’m terrible and let the team down, what if what if what if. So many what ifs I end up fffffsss-ing so much I hyperventilate.
The FOMO runs deep in us all, way before someone felt the need to acronym it to make it sound a bit cleverer than just no one loves you and you missed the best thing ever.
In the real world, my job is to talk to people, to ask the questions people want to know the answers to, to try and pry back the lid of exciting worlds and peer into them and prod them, preferably without breaking anything or leaving a grubby finger mark.
I didn’t always think that my gamer self was socially inept. Luckily the past had terrible internet so I didn’t really notice that I pulled myself into my gaming chair and built a metaphysical wall between myself and the real world. Endless windy plots and great single-player campaigns consumed my time. Happy as I was in my second self, I had no need for multiplayer – ‘that’s for teenage boys who want to play Call of Duty and get out their deep life frustrations! I am so well-balanced I don’t need that competition to keep my gamer self happy!’
How delusional I was.
In the first Destiny, I hung around jumping about and trying to get people’s attention in the game. I played alone, having a terrible time but ultimately convinced myself that the game ‘just wasn’t really for me.’ I left it, moved on and went back to my solitary single-player worlds.
And whilst the second outing was actually a lot more fun for the solo, friendless player. I did end up finding myself following people around like a needy drunk stalker.
Where are they going? What are they doing? Why won’t they notice me? I’m fun!
I followed some dude around for about 20 minutes until he really got vexed with me and proceeded to just stay still as he clearly went off to google my gamertag on a list on suspected gamer felons. Or he could have just gone to make a cup of tea I’ll never truly know.
It was at this point I wondered what they hell am I doing? This is the woman who has ‘accidentally’ touched Master Chief’s super soldier super codpiece no less than three times at various Xbox events. I have no shame, I have no fear when it comes to ice-breakers (or ball ones either it seems). So why the hell have I regressed to teenage-grade introversion powerful enough that I could potentially turn inwards on myself and create a black hole destroying the universe?
I remember booting up Sea of Thieves for its first play, saying to myself ‘I don’t need anyone else! I am all the gamer that is required to enjoy this experience!’ Skip ahead two confusing hours as I swig a beer (in game and IRL), as I sail the seven seas alone, slightly drunk and singing to myself until I decide to chuck it all in and go swimming in search of a shark just to end my loneliness.
Suffice to say it wasn’t the exciting pirate adventure I had hoped it would be.
Having to review A Way Out, I ended up persuading an old friend to come over on the promise of dinner and crisps, but it was actually to lure him into casually playing the game with me. The kind of lame anecdote a teenage Patrick Bateman might of lamented – you know, before he switched from video games to murdering co-workers and friends and getting obsessed with Phil Collins for an entire chapter.
Is this to be my gaming life then? This bizarre undermining of who I feel I truly am? Why is my gamer self like me when I was 13? Why hasn’t it evolved from slamming the bedroom door and listening to Radiohead over and over whilst shouting For the last time I don’t want any dinner! But perhaps that scared teenager is always inside us. Too afraid to ask for help, to ask for love, to ask to join in.
Thing is, how did IRL Julia get past that? By just biting the bullet and sending a message to a friend to play together. Yes, the anxiety of that was weirdly over-the-top, I suppose it was somewhat on the level of asking out someone you really like on a date via text message – you know, where you spend the next hour before you get a reply slightly close to a small heart attack and then you read the reply message with your eyes half shut, just in case it’s bad news so you’re closer to closing your eyes and thinking about something else.
Fear over! It was good news! I have a gaming wingperson to now annoy until the end of time (sorry Jane). I don’t know why it tangled me up so much inside, it was so easy to solve. I guess like most things in life that tangle us, it just takes one little tug on the thread to start to unravel it all.
Stop being so afraid and just get yourself out there. Pick up the phone (just kidding who calls people?!) or send a text and arrange a play date. The worst anyone can say is no. And if you never ask, you’ll never know just how much better your gaming life could be. Go on – give it a tug.