06 January 2024
Few players of the online video game Free Fire know that one of their top opponents is an 81-year-old grandmother from rural Chile.
From her professional gaming chair at home in a small village, Maria Elena Arevalo becomes a hunter. She shoots down opponents in a game in which tens of millions of players fight to survive on an imaginary island.
Arevalo does not look like her online character "Mami Nena." That is the nickname she got from her only grandson, Hector Carrasco who is 20.
It was Carrasco who introduced Arevalo to the digital world of gaming. It has given her a new excitement for life after falling into deep loneliness following the death of her husband of 56 years in 2020.
"I didn't even know what a mouse was," she told AFP at her home in the town of Llay-Llay in central Chile.
"Afterwards, I got excited. We started to play whenever [Carrasco] could. I felt better because I didn't think so much about my late husband anymore."
At first "I didn't want to hurt anyone," she added, but with time, she grew more competitive.
Today, Arevalo plays at the "Heroic" level. That is just one level below the highest "Grandmaster" level, which only 300 players compete in. She has 4 million followers on social media service TikTok and 650,000 on YouTube, where she shares tips with fellow players.
Last year, she visited Mexico City as a Free Fire ambassador for the game's anniversary celebrations. The cost-free trip was her first outside of Chile.
"All the kids asked me for autographs...It was beautiful. The day I die, I'll take that with me," she said.
Earlier this month, Arevalo was named one of Chile's 100 most important older people by the El Mercurio newspaper and the Catholic University for helping break down age stereotypes.
"It's totally cool, and...I feel like she's like my best friend," Carrasco said of his famous grandmother.
Three years after starting to play Free Fire, Arevalo said she no longer feels lonely. But a recent study found that nearly half of people over 80 in Chile say they feel lonely.
Older people are finding comfort in gaming. For example, a Ukrainian team known as "Young Guard" are strong Counter Strike competitors. A 93-year-old Japanese named Hamako Mori is thought to be the oldest gamer in the world. She is also known by her alias Gamer Grandma.
For Arevalo, gaming is becoming harder for her because of a worsening skin condition. But she is not planning to slow down.
"I love doing this. I'll keep going as far as I can," she said.
I'm Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by Agence France-Presse.
Words in This Story
character –n. someone who appears in books, movies, stories or games
nickname — n. a names that is different from a real name but is used by family or friends
mouse — n. (computer) a device used to control a computer by pointing to images on a screen
autograph — n. the name of a person writing in their own handwriting
stereotype — n. a believe that people all people of a certain group have one or more qualities that are usually considered bad or undesirable