Born and raised in Whitney Point, N.Y., Stone has been playing video games since grade school. In her free time, Stone considers herself a dedicated gamer; her bedroom serves as the ultimate gaming hub, a physical manifestation of her passion for playing. TV and computer monitors cover her entire front wall. In front of the screens, Stone has built a custom entertainment center with a light-up rainbow keyboard and a high-tech mouse to match.
Stone began playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) in 2015. CS:GO is a multiplayer first-person shooter game. It allows players to play and strategize as five-person squadrons to eliminate a competing five-person team.
When the 45-minute match began, Stone had decided to queue with random players. Once she was matched with a squad, she was able to voice-chat with her new teammates over Steam, a social networking service for gamers. Sporting a matte black headset on her cropped black hair, Stone switched her microphone on to greet her new team members. As soon as she began to speak, one member of her squadron interrupted her mid-sentence. “Girl gamer!” said a male voice. The rest of her teammates joined in to mimic her voice, relentlessly harassing Stone until the game began.
Later in the match, Stone found herself cornered in a room by two of her own teammates. In CS:GO, it is prohibited to shoot another member of your squadron. Doing so initiates a player penalty and bans the offending player from the match. Stone’s teammates had used this rule against her by blocking the exits, thereby forcing her out of the match when she had to shoot one of her own team members to escape. “People will say and do anything when they’re behind a screen, typing away at their keyboard. I kept playing, but I didn’t turn my mic on again for a long time after that,” says Stone.
Sitting at her bedroom desk, Giulia Milana, 21, holds a plastic game controller in her trembling hands. Milana is a broadcast and digital journalism senior at Syracuse University. Her dark waves of hair are held back by a thin elastic. Two computer monitors illuminate her face, but Milana’s gaze is cemented exclusively on the left screen.
On the left monitor, a glowing treasure chest bursts open to unveil high-grade artillery and sustenance for survival. Milana quickly places the supplies in her backpack before exiting the building. Despite the booming blips of gunfire outside, Milana must run before the storm sets in or eliminate her enemies before time runs out. Milana is one of nearly 80 million people playing the video game Fortnite across various digital platforms, according to an August 2018 report from Epic Games, Fortnite’s creator.
To anybody who enters Milana’s bedroom, Milana appears to be alone. Behind the screen, however, dozens of viewers are tuning in to watch her compete in a girls-only Fortnite tournament hosted by Twitch celebrity Nick Kolcheff, more commonly known by his Twitch handle @NICKMERCS. With over 2.3 million followers on Twitch, Kolcheff is Milana’s all-time favorite streamer. Milana’s right-side computer monitor is a command center for her live stream account. When viewers enter Milana’s stream @giuliaaa on Twitch, Milana is able to control what her viewers see when they are watching.