Story time! I'll warn you though, it's a love story, and not just about how much I love this silly, bloody game.
Team Fortress 2. It's an FPS (First Person Shooter) game on the PC. It's by Valve, aka the Steam Guys or the Half Life Guys or the Portal Guys and it's really, really good.
Growing up, I was never a PC gamer. I had consoles. I had - have - a lot of consoles. I grew up alternating between Sonic and Mario and never truly engaged in the ridiculous console wars of the 1990s. My first PC game of any merit was Sim City 2000, but the PC was always something for work or, later, the internet, and never really for gaming.
I confess, I hated PC gaming.
I hated the constant upgrades needed to stay relevant. I hated how difficult things were, back then, to run. I hated that you had to install things and change settings to suit your machine. Heck, even on the old Amstrad we had when I was super young, all you had to do was type "run disk" and bam!, you were gaming. PC gaming was a dumb chore and I just never really cared to look into it.
Valve are an amazing company who go all out when they're pushing one of their games, and TF2 of course was no exception. They released videos introducing us to the characters in TF2, which were gorgeous, fully animated shorts. I stumbled across one for the Sniper, and let's just say I was in love!
I realised they'd released a few other videos for the characters, but I kept replaying this one over and over. The humour was perfect, the animation was just perfect and I was just absolutely hooked. I had to try out this game! It suddenly didn't matter that I'd never liked any FPS, or that it was a, ugh, PC game - I had to have it! So, that Christmas I had one thing and one thing only on my wish-list. A new PC. A computer capable of, I dunno, handling video games maybe?
Yep, on Christmas Day, I had purchased The Orange Box (the set of Valve games that TF2 was released with) and by mid afternoon I was downloading it. By Christmas evening, I was playing on an empty server with some friends who already owned it. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was in love.
TF2 became my go-to game. It was simple to pick up, as difficult as you wanted it to be and downright fun to be a part of. We explored the servers together and spent far too long on novelty maps like Balloon Race, Convoy and Mario Kart.
Eventually, we stumbled across a server on Wireplay called ctf_vikings, and sure enough the map lived up to its name. Two giant Viking ships formed most of the play area, with planks between the two of them, giant canons that launched you into the sky and a killer fish in the sea. It was dumb and kind of (very) ugly, but there was a community there of regulars who chatted across the teams and it became my nightly hangout - pretty soon I was as regular as any of 'em.
It's funny really, back then I was so unsure of myself with online gaming. I really didn't play games online so the community aspect was something new and exciting to me. I was happy to meet people and chat to everybody on Vikings by typing, but I was well aware of how dumb the internet can be to 'omg gurl gamers' and wanted to avoid that nonsense like the plague. I wanted people to become my friend because they liked me, for me, and not because I was a girl. For weeks, I was a regular on Vikings, helped form our "not a clan!", the PoA (Pantheon of Awesome), and got really friendly with a bunch of people there, but I never confessed I was a girl. I never lied or mislead anybody, it wasn't a purposeful thing. It just didn't come up, really, and I wasn't going to announce it unprovoked. It was, as far as I was concerned, irrelevant. These guys were my buddies. We killed each other and ate virtual sandwiches together. It was great.
Eventually, I was chatting to one of my American friends from Vikings and it just came up that I was maybe kinda actually sort of a girl, and he was absolutely gobsmacked. Gobsmacked, but otherwise unperturbed! I realised then that the reason I'd taken such a shine to the regulars on Vikings was because they, for the most part, actually weren't idiots. We were friends. Maybe only virtual ones who had a friendship formed out of murder and intel capping, sure, but friends nonetheless. The PoA was a Pantheon of Awesome, after all. I 'came out' to the server, that night, by using my voice for the very first time in mic chat. After the initial "a girl on the internet??" joking, everyone settled down and resumed bloody murder. It was perfect.
Vikings became my virtual hang out spot. It was the place I'd spend my evenings when I couldn't be with my IRL friends (most of whom played TF2 with me now, anyway!) Some evenings it really was more a virtual chat room than a shooting game, but it was always daft and fun. Vikings would be the place we'd go when the game had a fun new update, the place we'd try out new weapons and techniques. Sure, we'd go to other servers together, but Vikings was the place we all called 'home'.
And the reason TF2, and especially ctf_vikings, is especially special to me? Well, it's where I met the guy I'm kind of crazy about right now. Somewhen in early 2009, though I don't remember first noticing him, a guy called Cauldron Moose! joined the server. He was an old time regular, apparently, and tells me fondly that the first thing he ever heard me say was "Since when did this become a Sniper pissing contest?" - which is every bit as romantic and fitting as I'd like it to be.
We ended up playing together every night, just like all the regulars, really. When May Expo (London Comic Con) came around, I suggested that he and our other Vikings buddy Wrath should come along and check it out. I think I was cosplaying as the Sniper when Moose turned up, as you do at this sort of convention. The second I saw him, my heart did a little embarrassed flutter, but he was a fair bit younger than me and I was just being daft, so I brushed it off.
In August, we arranged a mini Vikings meetup when a Dutch player came along to London for a short holiday. Truth be told, I think he came over because he had a thing for me, but honestly by that point I only had eyes for Moose. By then, we were chatting every single night, texting each other and staying up until the birds started chirping. We met up again at Expo in October, and again I realised I was nuts about this guy. It was painful! It was this absolutely dumb, pointless infatuation, because there was no way this young, handsome guy would be interested in some older girl he met on TF2, right?
Wrong! Be still my beating heart, in January 2010 Moose suggested he should come visit me (after numerous hints on the subject!) so we arranged a day in Bath to hang out and I went there with my heart on my sleeve, forcing myself to treat this as 'just a friendly meetup' while desperately hoping it would be anything but.
I was terrified. To quote my old Livejournal
entry on the subject:
Well, long story short, it was a date. We went to see Book of Eli (awful movie) and mooched around Bath and I spent the rest of the year feeling like the cat that got the cream.
Four and a half years on and we're still together, still rocking the long distance relationship sadly but still gaming together and enjoying each other's company every day. He's the guy I want my future with, someone I just want to share my life with. We've already made some killer memories together, and I aim for so many more, and it absolutely blows my mind that I'd not have even met him had it not been for TF2.
The PoA doesn't really exist anymore, but a bunch of us still hang out every night on Teamspeak, where we all play Wildstar or League of Legends or Minecraft or Starbound together.
And TF2, of course. The game has changed monumentally since I started playing it, with new game modes, weapons and ridiculous cosmetics that ruined the graphical theme goddamn it (rant for another time, man), but Vikings is still there, and we still play there from time to time.
To so many people, TF2 is just a daft 'hat simulator', a cartoony FPS that doesn't take itself seriously. It changed the world for me, though. It got me into online gaming, gave me some wonderful friends and introduced me to the love of my life.