My Girlfriend Does Not Understand Game Time

In My Girlfriend Does Not Play Video Games, Video Games on April 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm

To those that do not play video games, gaming is a simple, all encompassing activity: controller in hand, seat on couch, eyes on screen, and you’re playing a game. Beyond that, the specifics are lost on the observer as unwanted and unneeded. For my girlfriend especially, game time takes place to the exclusion of her time, regardless as to intent, timing or context. For this reason I tend to play in the evening after she’s gone to bed but this has its own problems.

The greater challenge is in categorizing how and why you play games, and how to convey that to someone who might not be as interested in the complexities of the activity as you are. Chief among these issues is in our quickness to compare gaming to other activities. It’s like reading a book, watching a movie or hanging with friends. Except it’s simultaneously similar and nothing like all of these things.

Leaving aside any treatises on gaming’s artistic worth or how well it measures to to cinema, it’s important to first acknowledge that there’s a number of ways that games can be played, each with different purposes, just as there’s a number of different kinds of movies (or books) that may be watched in different moods.

Just as you crack open a cask of Statham when you’re in the mood for some quick, meaningless action (sorry Jason), you might pop in Saints Row or GTA to blow some stuff up and run amok. If you want some quick, fast fun you might play Burnout or Need for Speed, but Gran Turismo, while still a racing game, offers a much fuller experience — kind of like choosing to watch a monster truck rally rather than a few hours of the in-depth circus surrounding Le Mans. You’ll bust out Smash Brothers when people are over but you’ll play Team Fortress 2 when you’re apart, like picking the right movie to see with friends versus picking the right movie to talk about to your friends.

Sometimes I am in the mood for a good, complex story about characters I’ve grown to care deeply for. For this, I may thumb to the latest chapter in the newest entry of a longstanding book series I follow, such as The Dresden Files. I may also watch Castle with my girlfriend to partake of the teasingest will-they-won’t-they I’ve yet seen on television. Or I might log a few more hours into Mass Effect 3 and enjoy shooting some cans with my erstwhile companion and friend Garrus.

When I sit down for the story in a game, I’m in exactly the same mood for when I sit down for a good book. But to my girlfriend, I’m playing games all the same.

My friend Josh comes over every once in a while, and my girlfriend is pretty good about making sure we’ve got as much time as we need to catch up. He comes over bright and early and may take a late train back, so the entire day is given to hanging out, which might include talking, walking, gaming or whatever. Yet convincing my girlfriend that playing with Josh (as well as my other friends) online is the same as hanging out is an uphill battle, to say little of slotting an entire day for it.

For a time, she simply referred to all of the above as “playing the games.” It was only through my constant corrections — that I’m playing with my friends, or playing Team Fortress or whatever specific game name — that she stopped doing that and has begun to recognize and converse with me (lightly) on the different games I play.

Part of lumping it together comes from a number of mistaken assumptions about what gaming is. Many people, I think, feel it to be a hobby. I don’t think it is, mainly because I wouldn’t call reading books or watching movies “hobbies.” While it’s a lifestyle to some people, it certainly isn’t to me: I’m here to play games and enjoy them, though I acknowledge that there are those look for more saturation in their everyday life, even going so far as to game professionally.

To me, my social gaming doesn’t intersect with my personal gaming. Social gaming takes place on a mildly competitive landscape with repetitive but well understood mechanics. Team Fortress, Syndicate, Supreme Commander and even Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer provide the same experience with nominal deviations, relying upon social aspects and human unpredictability for longevity. While I’m playing these games,  I talk to my friends, about the game itself, about other games, about popular culture, about whatever. I don’t play these by myself, because just like going to a bar, or the movies, or to a restaurant the experience doesn’t lift me like it does when I’m with others.

But again, to my casual observer, time spent doing this adds to a total amount of abstract gaming time in a way that reading books and watching movies aren’t held accountable to. There have been arguments about my staying up for a few hours past when anyone else has gone to bed, a lack of understanding that I might feel like unwinding “with a good book” as it were.

That said, things have gotten much better than they were previously. My girlfriend understands that Mass Effect is a big deal that I like to take my time with and cozy up to. She’ll chat with me after online gaming sessions and ask what’s been up with my brother and friends. She’ll ask who I’m playing with, who has what games and if I plan on playing this with these other people. It’s nice.

But it does require the leap to be made that all gaming isn’t the same.

  1. Good article.

    I am not far enough in to have had this problem as deeply, but I have had some experience with it. In one instance trying to explain “but if Trod came over we wouldn’t turn him away” when I wanted to game online and you were online and my girlfriend was here.

    On the other hand I have a different situation in that my girlfriend likes gaming, but not necessarily the games we (you and I) play online. So whereas you try and game while she does something else, for me it’s a choice between taking up the thing she wants to use while excluding her.
    Women, man. Women.

    I have given some thought to buying a second headset and possibly getting down with some cross couch/online co-op…perhaps the x-men arcade game (I would like to play this someday), castle crashers, or worms…but then I feel i’m forcing my girlfriend on others. Also, we wouldn’t be shooting things.
    Side note: the inclusion of apples to apples and carcassone on XBL makes me hope they would toss Betrayal on there as well. Can you imagine a group of us getting online and playing betrayal together. Awesome defined.

  2. One issue I have for Xbox Live is that, unless the game specifically makes use of Guest accounts (like Halo and L4D), a second controller can’t be used to play online or use online-enabled features (like headset chat).

    My brother, too, has been considering getting a second gold account for his girlfriend so she can play / chat with us.

    The “forcing” her on other, well that depends on the quality of her interaction. I’ve had to sit through a number of girlfriend chats while playing WoW and some of them turned out fine while others did not.

    But games like X-Men arcade, worms and crashers are great choices for all around fun regardless.

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