While my father never would agree to buy our family a strictly video-game console, we were welcome to have just about any computer that would require us to actually code our own games. I can remember many weekends sitting in front of a computer screen slowly plonking out lines and lines of BASIC copied from "games" printed in computer books and magazines. Perhaps it was that early frustration at weeks of coding not working, or not being able to create the shiny kinds of games I'd seen on other people's computers, but after a while I lost interest in trying to code my own adventures.
The arcade, meanwhile, had everything a young geek girl could want. Lights, colors, sounds -- and tons of friends to hang out with! Those upright cabinets were infinitely more interesting to me than the boring chunk of machinery sitting blandly at home, despite the cost factor. I started babysitting, washing cars, mowing lawns, you name it: anything I could do to raise more quarters. Then life suddenly got in the way, as life is generally wont to do. Paying for games became paying for rent, and childhood was over in a flash.
Around that time, I was introduced to pen & paper gaming by my middle brother. While intrigued, I ran into the "oh you're a girl, you can't play" mindset repeatedly, which kept me from picking up AD&D. Eventually, a friend of mine offered to let me come play Cyberpunk with his group. Being a huge fan of Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson, I found role-playing in a future-noir setting to be incredibly easy and fun. From there, I started playing other p&p games like EarthDawn, Paranoia, and eventually, Vampire: the Masquerade. Then, the folks at White Wolf put out a special boxed set for this thing I'd never heard of: live-action role-playing. I think that's the quietest my gaming group ever got as we sat there for the better part of the day devouring these brand-new rulebooks -- and realizing just how awesome this game sounded.
As corny as it might sound now, my life changed with the publication of Mind's Eye Theater. What started out as a small group of us playing Vampire: the Masquerade turned into a crazy, fast-talking, free-roaming, live-action V:tM game. From there, it snowballed until our little group was running a fully immersive 300+ person World of Darkness LARP bi-weekly in a multi-level night club. We were a collection of beautifully painted twenty-something geeks; draped in velvet, leather and lace; sucking down red jell-o shots; dancing to Nine Inch Nails, Joy Division, and more; role-playing this incredibly fun, factionally-charged game. The game ran openly on the top two floors, whereas the bottom floor was considered the "normal" area: meaning the Masquerade was enforced. That experience sealed the deal for me in terms of social gaming, and largely ensured my future love affair with role-playing in MMOs.
To fast forward a bit -- I graduated to DM/GM, ran forums, SysOped BBSes, played & maintained door games, moderated fan forums and sites, and continued to run other large live-action games from Florida to California. I wound up joining the SCA with friends in an attempt to try something a bit more fantasy RPish, but left after several years. No matter where I went in terms of gaming, it was always about my love of people, good role-play, and the desire to make sure our group was having as much fun as we possibly could.
As I took a series of jobs related to my techie background, I would occasionally dip my toes in the computer gaming pool, but nothing ever really stuck. BBS door games, LAN parties, the ImagiNation Network (INN), AOL's early online offerings, MUDs, etc. All pretty cool, but none of them could compete with the large LARP games I was playing, or later with spending my time either attending, or helping to organize and run large SCA events. Time passed, and I continued to move around the country for work until eventually work was my primary life.