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Tajha Chappellet-Lanier here, thinking about the kind of childhood I didn’t have. If you’ve been following my writing here it will not surprise you to learn that I did not grow up playing video games. My largely screen-free childhood did not involve watching TV or Disney movies, and it certainly did not involve first-person shooter video games.

Over the years since I’ve caught up on a few things—I’ve seen some of the movies I missed (or at least learned their cultural references). And when it emerged, I took to the internet with a voracious curiosity that belied (or was perhaps caused by) my lack of screen experience.

But I’d never played a video game until I started reporting the cover story for this week’s print edition of the Weekly. If you’re thinking this makes me an unusual candidate to write about a competitive gaming team, I agree. But the story turned out to be less about the intricacies of esports and more about the experience of being on a team and the life lessons that experience teaches—something much easier for me to relate to.

Still, I wasn’t going to get away without playing the game. And this is how I ended up, on an afternoon in late October, sitting in a classroom inside Code Ninjas Monterey awkwardly attempting to play Overwatch. To say that the visual world of the game is overstimulating to me is an understatement. By the time I was behind a computer myself, I’d spent hours watching the boys on the team play—and the different colors and shapes and boxes of information on the screen were still almost entirely unintelligible to me.

But I had a patient teacher. Twelve-year-old Monterey Whales team member Luka Adams (gamertag: SeaSerpent) first introduced me to a controlled environment, with just one other player, where I could bumble around the cartoony ruins of “Ilios, Greece” (a fictionalized version of Santorini) and try not to get myself in too much trouble. 

“Do you ever get lost?” I asked, trying to remember which keys to press to move my character in which direction. “Don’t worry,” Adams said, soothingly. “It took me about 100 hours to learn everything.”

After some time, it was decided that I was ready to join a real game. I don’t remember much from the ensuing (and very stressful) five minutes, except that I played so poorly that the other players took to the in-game chat to complain about me. At one point, however, my screen was rocked by a massive explosion and Adams gasped. “You guys,” he said, addressing the room. “She got a kill with her ultimate.” (Each “hero,” or character, in the game has an ultimate ability—I still don’t entirely understand what this means.)

Across the room Jude Mitchell (gamertag: Ninja “with as many A’s as you can fit on it”) looked up at me with something like respect: “That’s hard to do,” he said.

And in that moment, as I backed swiftly away from the computer and the insults being hurled at me in the chat, I felt proud to be a little bit a part of this team, too.

-Tajha Chappellet-Lanier (gamertag: TankKiller), associate editor, tajha@mcweekly.com 

P.S. The Monterey County Gives! campaign is currently underway through Dec. 31. Today's Spotlight is Healing Partners of the Central Coast, which provides alternative therapies to cancer patients to help alleviate pain with non-invasive treatments. Learn about their important work—and that of 169 other nonprofits—in this year's campaign, and please donate to support their efforts. And you can read more about Healing Partners’ Healing Touch program here.

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