On Video Games, Aggressively Contentedly

I’m going to wax nostalgic (not really – wax enthusiastic, perhaps) about my love of DOTA 2.

I wasn’t ever allowed to play video games growing up, and so I developed this weird disdain for them. It’s actually one of those ongoing weird social drawbacks because I don’t understand pop culture references (so much blank staring happens, or the slow head nod and the “yeah, that” even though I have no clue what “that” is) or even how to play – I just end up wiggling levers and stabbing blindly at buttons.

I never understood the allure of video games; I found them violent and ridiculously expensive and time consuming. (You’ll have to remember that I came of age during the early years of Grand Theft Auto, a game that delighted youngsters while simultaneously horrifying parents and profiting obscenely from the pixelated glorification of the obscene. I was also the squarest square you’ll ever meet. I embodied purity and good intentions. I wouldn’t kiss my boyfriend when I was in 8th grade — and I told him this – because I had “morals and ethics.” You can imagine how fun I was at parties.  – ha, that’s a joke. I never got invited to anything but birthday parties.)

That was until I met DOTA 2.  (I really like the way that reads, even with the random bit about birthday parties in there….as though somehow my affiliation with DOTA now gets me into all the sweet parties. It does not.)

The ex was an avid DOTA player when I met him. I was annoyed by the lack of attention, which eventually gave way to a curious analysis of the mechanics and strategy, which gave way to the strong desire to compete. I had no idea what I was getting into.

How do I explain DOTA? Hmm…there are two sides (the Radiant and the Dire – think light vs dark) to which you and nine others are randomly assigned. You and the four others on your team (5 vs 5) hang out and defend towers in three lanes. It’s much like capture the flag except not like that at all. Your goal is to knock down three towers in each of the three lanes (9 total) to get in to their base and destroy their ancient (it’s a big thing that has no real purpose other than to serve as the goal/endpoint of the game). Each game lasts about an hour. You have a hero (a character) that you play, and you have unique skills and attacks to use in combination with your teammates’ skills to crush (or get crushed by) the other team. It’s fast-paced, so overwhelming, and requires a surprising amount of skill. There are other things, too, like creeps, which are little creatures that you kill to get gold and experience, which allows you to level up and increase your power.

The ex used to say that starting to play video games by playing DOTA is like walking into the NFL with no football experience. I don’t think that’s an inaccurate representation. I started playing against robots. Even that was nearly insurmountable. Trying to look at a tiny map in the corner while trying to walk and keep the screen centered on the right places is so much harder than it looks. It’s funny, because women are generally seen as so much better at multi-tasking than men, but I was miserable at trying to walk and click and look and hit buttons. (Still am…shhh.)

I’ve played 570 hours of DOTA 2. That’s insane. That’s 23.75 days of my life. I regret nothing. (#noragrets — google that for the image of the guy with the neck tattoo. Kills me every time.) I spent most of my first year playing against robots. I had literally no idea how to manage any of it.

My strategy at the outset was to find a character that I liked and stick with it – getting good at one hero when there are over 100 to choose from is hard. But having that as a goal really helped me to be able to utilize the skills in a manageable way that let me be a viable teammate and sometimes formidable opponent. I find that not only am I not afraid to join matches, I’m also pretty solid at the jobs I set out to do.

Now I’ve got more than one hero I can play well. I’m not afraid to join team fights. I’m still working on not being out of position during the mid and late game – that’s when you just get picked off by roving groups of the other team. It’s frustrating and avoidable.

Last fall, the ex built me a PC so that I could stop using his to play, because my MacBook won’t handle it. I have my own mouse with 12 little buttons on the side that correspond to things within the game – skills, items, whatnot. It’s super nerdy and I love it. I’m still mostly thumbs, but I’m a master of hitting the 7 and 8. I make sure to put my most important items there so that they’re easily accessible in the middle of a hectic battle. Super nerdy.

We used to drag our PCs over to our friend’s house so the four of us could all play together. We’d spend hours there, playing game after game. They were all way better than I was, of course, but it was good practice.

About a month ago, I was at a bar, bored while one of the dudes I’m dating was playing pool, so I went outside and started talking to a group of people. As it turns out, one of them plays DOTA as well. We exchanged numbers, and Steam IDs (it’s how you find someone in the internet world of the game), and now we play DOTA together. It’s pretty cool to have an internet friend that I met in the real world. He’s way better than I am – he’s like level 165 whereas I’m like level 15. I feel bad when we play together because they match you based on your skill level and we’re usually up against a tougher group than I usually get matched with, so I’m limping around getting killed way more often than I should be. Definitely the weak link there. But we have fun, and he’s not super serious about it (at least with me), so it’s nice. And playing against better people makes you better, so it’s a win for me too.

That got longer than I anticipated, and I’m sure most of it bored you all nearly to tears.

I will say that it’s been interesting to become involved in a mostly male-dominated world. DOTA 2 is huge – there’s a big tournament every summer that has a prize pool that reaches over $8 million dollars. There’s a documentary called “Free to Play” about how it’s affected the lives of a few of its star players. It’s intense – the teams that play professionally are incredible. Their knowledge of the game and the fact that they’ve been able to turn it into a viable career is wild.

When I play, I very rarely use the microphone. I don’t draw attention to the fact that I’m a woman. Instead, I will just type if I need to say something to my team. I find that it’s far easier that way, rather than highlighting the fact that I’m a woman. It’s pretty rare to find another woman who plays. That might just be because we’re very rarely open about the fact that we play. Perhaps it’s because I just assume that my teammates and opponents are men. But mostly, I know that we’re few and far between.

I do have one friend who I met through DOTA because she was talking over the microphone. I was really excited about that the fact that there was another girl playing, so I friended her and we spent a few nights playing together with some other people. We’d all get on Skype so we could talk to each other and then we’d all join the same matches and play together as a team. I enjoyed that – playing together with people you’ve played with before is nice, because a more cohesive team leads to a better outcome every time. Fractured teams lose games.

I’ve also learned to develop a thicker skin. I’m a super-sensitive person, so I’m usually reduced to tears pretty quickly, which doesn’t fly in the internet gaming world. There can be insults flying back and forth, all around you, and you have to ignore it. Once, I was having a particularly bad game, and I was getting tons of abuse heaped on me, and I just started crying. Crying and clicking. I should have quit while I was ahead that day, but I am proud to say that I haven’t cried since. Haven’t even had the inclination to. It no longer matters. It’s not about you. (Actually, it might be, if you’re terrible…but you can’t help that.)

Sorry for so many words about something you most likely have no idea about. I love DOTA. I want to go home and play all day. I want to nerd out and hone my skills and get better at it. It’s nice to have something that’s mine, a way to let out energy and steam, and something that gives me immense satisfaction. When I play well, I feel great. When I play poorly, I realize what I need to work on – how I can get better. I think if anything, it’s a nice outlet and a fun secret habit to have. Some people knit; some people practice calligraphy; I go home and nerd out online in a way that would absolutely horrify my 14-year old self. That secretly makes me happy.

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