I remember being a child and waking up super early on weekends so that I could log on to the family desktop before any of my cousins. My goal was simple: take over the computer as early as possible, and hog the computer and the surrounding areas until my grandma said it was time to go to sleep. I had an intense love for the computer and all things computer games. I could play Free Realms from 10 AM to 11 PM straight. I probably had an account on every virtual website that existed in our youth: Pixie Hollow, Build-A-Bear Ville, Toontown Online, Monkey Quest, MovieStar Planet, IMVU, Poptropica, etc. It was exciting for me to be able to create an avatar, and express myself through their fashion, looks, personality, and sometimes career decisions. As a child, this was so pivotal to me because it really shaped my sense of self and identity. In these games, I could be whoever I wanted, whether that was a model, a cook, or a photographer, creativity flowed through me, and on the way, I made friends.
Of course, it’s been years since many of the websites we enjoyed as children have shut down, but near the end of high school, I found that my childhood favorites had either survived the social media era or had dedicated fans who were working to recreate the game from scratch for free. I created an account on the fan recreated version of Toontown Online called Toontown Rewritten because I was curious about the game I hadn’t been on since I was probably 10 years old. Waves of nostalgia hit me at the familiar world that gave me so much happiness as a kid. Even the soundtrack music was the same, and for the first time in a long time, I spent hours on the computer enjoying myself instead of doing work.
Now that I am older, it’s so clear to me now that my love for computer games as a college student probably stems from the need to relive happy moments from my childhood. As an only child, computer games were my way of entertaining myself and meeting new friends. My avatars represent what I wish I could be in every sense. My love of games has turned away from being this creative outlet to being a way I could pour my insecurities into a virtual character. I could make her curvy, with long hair, light eyes, and a cool fashion sense. Once I started to get more into my computer games, I started to spend a lot more money. My mindset was that now I could appease my childhood self by creating a gaming experience I could not have as a kid who relied on my parents’ money. Really, I feel like I started to invest in a version of myself I liked better; the virtual me. I would rather buy clothes for my avatar than myself. I would spend hours with my friend in-world and ignore party invitations and events in the real world.
I want to take the identities I have created for myself virtually and bring them into the real world. Work on my physical and mental health, buy pretty clothes without the worry of whether or not my body would suit them. This path of self-love means redefining what gaming means to me and associating it once again with the positive attributes that gave me joy as a child.