The Wine Aunt does not have a build. She is a lifestyle.
Overworked and underpaid, she hasn’t made it back home in years. But when she does, it’ll be with a rolling suitcase filled with boutique presents for her niece, black leggings, bodysuits, her vape pen, a large bottle of wine to split with her mom, and her battered, venerable Playstation Vita (shit, she forgot to pack underwear again).
She drinks six-dollar pinot grigio with six ice cubes from a red wine glass, because they were on sale at Target, and her galley kitchen only has so much cabinet space.
The Wine Aunt sneers at the “Dad Build” talk, Dadification, and the burgeoning someday-Dads who are already upset when they’re not exclusively catered to, when marginalized non-Dads dare to ask for inclusion in this hobby, in more thoughtful ways than they clamored for a new Mass Effect 3 ending.
The gamer sons who throw fits about casuals now, will always grow up into Dads who claim they need Dad Builds, like the rest of their arguments (take games seriously, no not like that) they’re dropped for convenience. The argument against “Easy” modes, against accessibility, for being hardcore is for people with time on their perfectly able hands.
The Wine Aunt has housework that needs to get done, meal prep, work that pays her bills, laundry. She’s played every major release this year, the past year, and the ones before that—she only finishes the ones that grab her, or the ones she’s reviewing. The rest, she doesn’t have time for. She has arthritis, and should get more than five hours of sleep. She’s soloed all the bosses in Dark Souls “the correct way.” But she’s also not about to bang her head against the Capra Demon more than she needs to. The Wine Aunt doesn’t have the time to wait for dung pies; she stocks up on firebombs. In Destiny 2, she has a plan: be as effective as needed, but still look fly as hell. She hates the way auto-rifles look on her Warlock—she’s gotten extremely adept at submachine guns. Her Titan rockets into hordes of Vex and punches and punches and punches until nothing is left moving.
She bristles at the notion of “Dad Builds.” Why should they have the monopoly on ease and leisure anyway? Why are there so many Dads who need catering to?
Still the Wine Aunt has already been through three Dad builds.
Dad #1 was abusive and absent. Dad #2 tried his best, and instilled in her a love of games, but couldn’t get past his own sadness ever. Dad #3 didn’t even try.
Wine Aunt still calls her father. He talks to her about why hasn’t Total War released a new game set during the Napoleonic Era, why hasn’t Call of Duty gone back to WWII, and about how he’s modding Arma. He doesn’t like the games she cares about. She explains Kingdom Hearts in detail to him from time to time. He can’t stand the concept.
The Wine Aunt would love to join you for a thrilling return to Molten Core in World of Warcraft Classic, but she’s also way past a deadline, overdrawn at the bank (again), and also there’s that debilitating social anxiety. But really, she’d love to see you all. Maybe next time.
Wine Aunt cares about other players. She rolled a Paladin in World of Warcraft, a White Mage in Final Fantasy XI and XIV. She stopped halfway through her last Dark Souls run to focus on “jolly co-operation,” putting down her glowing gold sigil to throw her body between Smough and countless other Chosen Undead. She can’t ignore that this is at least partly due to social conditioning. “Women are nurturers and caregivers. Sociologically, their needs subordinate to others. They make natural healers.” That’s what they say, the dads and future dads on internet forums.
Wine Aunt knows this is bullshit. She knows plenty of non-Dads who just want to rip through bosses and get sick loot. Who’d never touch a healer or a tank. She loves and admires them. She inserts them in her frontline every time she restarts Wizardry. She’s watched them cleave through trash just for the hell of it. She knows how fast they can burn a boss, when the Dad Builds have failed and pushed everyone up against the limits of an enrage timer.
But this isn’t her. She burns through her crafting and gathering at the start of every expansion to make sure the people she plays with have the best buff food, the best non-token gear. She’s late to the raids, always, but she shows up with expensive presents.
Still, the Wine Aunt also likes adjudicating who lives and who dies, who gets Regen and really deserves that Cure 2. And that one tank? Listen…
The Wine Aunt cares about everyone in her guild. But she’s also a messy bitch who lives for drama. She’ll talk all kinds of shit in whispers, until she screws up and broadcasts her shade in the linkshell. She’s not embarrassed. This aggro tank needs to stop pulling so many damn packs of mobs at one time if he’s never going to use cooldowns.
Look, the Wine Aunt has been going through a lot. She needs to wreck shit with a wagon wheel in Bloodborne...
She has this deadline, another in the coming week, and outstanding invoices she still has to send out. She knows her niece has a birthday in five days, and is wondering if three years old is too soon to get her started on the NES Classic. Wine Aunt can’t remember when she got her first console (an NES with a Zapper and the Power Pad)—it was a long time ago. She hopes one day she can talk to her sister’s tiny human about Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest.
Wine Aunt wonders sometimes about having her own children, becoming a Wine Mom. Some of her friends have done it. They seem happy. She wonders about instilling a love of games and gaming in this next generation. She spends a lot of time thinking about this. What the future of games will look like. When will the unsustainability of ever more bloated budgets collapse? Will developers still go undercredited, underpaid, and overworked compared to their c-suite bosses? Will there ever be a real response to the hostile and toxic players who launch attacks on studios over choice of digital marketplaces, or dare to put a Black woman in their team shooter? She wonders if her own niece will start to get into games only to be pushed away entirely by harassment.
Wine Aunt has muted voice chat, because of the death threats. She set Twitter Notifications to “only people you follow” because of the death threats. She gets death threats for writing essays like these. Where she proposes that there needs to be more to games culture than satisfying the lustful cravings of burgeoning center-right/alt-right, cisgender, heterosexual white men ages 14 to 45, who don’t have a problem with gunning down brown people in the latest jingoistic American military murder simulator and measure their lives in TTK and FPS. Her partner is ordering her phanaeng curry tonight even though they’re trying to save money.
They know she won’t say it, but she needs something to take her mind off of the death threats.
The Wine Aunt would like to be curled up with her partner in bed right now, but there’s another sixty-hour, 7.5 out of 10, Dad-centric AAA game that she has to finish. She knows her voice will likely be drowned by the cacophony of Dad Voices heaping praise, but it’s critical work she and others like her believe in.
No, she can’t tell you about it—under embargo.
Dia Lacina is a queer indigenous writer, photographer, and founding editor of CapsuleCrit.com, a monthly journal dedicated to microgenre work about games. She tweets too much at @dialacina.