I play a game called Starcraft II, which has a very active online community. It also happens to have a very active “real life” community here in Chicago. Within hours of my arrival, I knew that there was an Internet cafe/gaming lounge with SC2 player meetups every Thursday. The cafe, Ignite Network, has similar brethren in Albuquerque, but they never seemed particularly successful, so I was skeptical. However, I could make no judgments until I got there.
Which meant navigating Chicago’s public transit system.
Ignite’s cafe as seen from behind my assigned monitor.
This wasn’t a particularly bad thing. Chicago’s transit is so far ahead of Albuquerque’s that you really can’t even compare them. Plus, I’m armed with Google Maps and GPS on my smartphone to ensure that if I somehow got lost, I’d be able to get un-lost.
The route seemed pretty easy: Grab a westbound bus from near where I’m staying, and then grab the southbound bus at Western. However, it is not clear from Google Maps that Western actually has three distinct bus routes: North Western, Western, and South Western. With minimal overlap. So I hopped on the North Western bus, only to get booted off to hunt down the Western bus. It wasn’t hard to find, but it did mean a 15-minute wait I could have avoided by taking the train-to-bus route option instead. Well, lesson learned.
Anyway, I got to Ignite and had a good time. There were other girls there! Most SC2-related events have very few, and most of those are wives/girlfriends who don’t actually play. I come from a school and a work environment where a male-female ratio of 3:1 or even 4:1 is normal. You get used to being “one of the guys,” but it is really fun to be able to meet and connect with other women who play.
We’ve come a long way from the isolated basement gamer stereotype. Online gaming and Facebook have really enabled these tight-knit, and surprisingly large, geek communities. However, even among guys, it’s hard to find people who really “get” gaming and its community–especially in a game like SC2 that has a very specific niche audience. Most people still believe in the basement gamer, so it’s even more amazing to find other women within the community who genuinely enjoy playing.
I had a great time. The atmosphere is great, the people were welcoming, and the cafe makes a good cup of tea. And it was nice to be able to play and chat with other women and not feel like “one of the guys” is the only option.
There’s a joke among gamers: “There are no girls on the Internet.” I’m glad to say that’s finally changing.