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'I'll keep going:' Chile granny finds solace, celebrity in online gaming

December 30, 2023 10:17 am | Updated 10:17 am IST - Llay-Llay, Chile

When competitors in Free Fire, the popular online shooter video game, face off against the warrior avatar ‘Mami Nena’, few would imagine that the person behind the computer screen is an 81-year-old Chilean woman.

81-year-old María Elena Arévalo poses for a picture at her home in Llay-Llay, Valparaiso Region, Chile, on December 19, 2023. | Photo Credit: AFP

Few players of the online video game Free Fire would know that one of their most ferocious opponents — a lithe, gun-wielding warrior in a short kimono and fang mask — is in reality an 81-year-old grandmother from rural Chile.

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From her professional gaming chair at home in a small village, Maria Elena Arevalo becomes a merciless hunter, mowing down rivals in a game in which tens of millions of players shoot it out to survive on an imaginary remote island.

It was her grandson, Hector Carrasco, who introduced Arevalo to the digital world of gaming that has given her a new lease on life after falling into deep loneliness following the death of her husband in 2020. “I didn’t even know what a mouse was,” she said.

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Today, Ms. Arevalo plays at the “Heroic” level — just one short of the topmost “Grandmaster” level that only 300 players compete in. She has four million followers on TikTok and 6,50,000 on YouTube.

Last year, she visited Mexico City on an all-expenses-paid trip as a Free Fire ambassador for the game’s anniversary celebrations.

Earlier this month, Ms. Arevalo was named as one of the Chile’s 100 most important elderly people by the El Mercurio newspaper and the Catholic University for helping break down age stereotypes.

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Three years after starting her Free Fire journey, Arevalo says she no longer feels lonely.

For Arevalo, the online campaigns are becoming harder due to worsening scleroderma, a disease that causes a hardening and tightening of the skin. But she is not planning on slowing down.

“I love doing this. I’ll keep going as far as I can,” she insisted.

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