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The First (and Last) Unlimited Lives Relationship Advice Column

September 17, 2010

“Forget it. I’ll just sell it. All of it. The Xbox, the PlayStation, the Super Nintendo, all of it. This stuff…it’s not worth keeping. We could use the money anyway.”

She never lets me. She knows better. I’d be a miserable bastard without my toys.

* * *

When you start a movie, you can be fairly confident that in two or three hours you will be finished with that movie. If it strikes a chord, perhaps it will resonate with you for far longer than the two or three hours of its runtime, but in terms of actual, active involvement with that movie, there is a predetermined endpoint. That endpoint is even more defined for television — not only is much television easily digested as a passive experience during which you can, say, clean the house or wash the dishes, but the chunks are even more bite-size. Half an hour to an hour, and it’s on to the next thing. Reading a book requires a commitment and an investment in the content of the book, but it can be done discreetly. You can read a book in the dark of night when everyone’s asleep, or in a room where a conversation is being held; you can even enter the conversation if your subconscious picks up on something that piques your interest. You are occupied, but you are present.

Gaming, well, it’s far less forgiving.

Gaming requires the time commitment of a book, but an attention commitment far beyond that of any other form of media. A split-second break in concentration often means instant death in a single-player game, while the “pause” button has been rendered all but obsolete in the age of online multiplayer. When you sit down with a triple-A box-release video game in 2010, you are making an announcement: “This is what I’m doing for the foreseeable future. Don’t even try to talk to me, it’ll just frustrate you. Don’t ask me to do anything — I’m busy. Head to bed if I’m not done by the time you get tired. I’ll get there eventually.”

Obviously, this is sometimes a problem.

* * *

Contrary to what our parents told us, the games haven’t become any less fun as we’ve gotten older. Part of this is the maturation of the medium, and part of this is a growing tide of acceptance of indulgence in things widely considered “childish”. With the increasing age of gamers comes what looks like a new problem: maintaining a relationship with (or as) someone involved in this particular hobby.

A quick web search offers all kinds of advice. Some of it is addressed to the gamer, though catering to a G4 demographic results in articles that are mostly misguided and borderline manipulative, while others are downright insulting. Much more seems to be addressed to those coping with being in a relationship with a gamer, often phrased in wit’s-end forum posts or accept it for what it is or leave “self-help” articles that can be even more insulting than the “how to be a gamer and get girls” articles. Type “husband addicted to video games” into Google (without the quotes) and see what happens.

The internet traffics in easy answers, which relationship questions don’t often lend themselves to. Every relationship is different; every couple must either find a balance or admit that one doesn’t exist and move on. Where that balance lies is something no internet advice column is going to be able to determine, no matter how well-intentioned or perfectly reasoned.

* * *

My wife is a saint. This is how we survive.

She knows when my perspective is skewed, when my priorities are turning away from the family and toward my obligations with the machines under the television in the living room. She rips me back into reality when I’m lamenting the juvenile nature of my hobby, encouraging me in the times when I forget that what I find in games is very much adult, and just as valid as the appreciation of any other art form. She has patience for the fact that people whom I have never met in person know exactly when I’m playing my Xbox, and also know how to get in touch with me when they see me doing just that.

I was a gamer before we were married, but not like this. I didn’t even own anything other than a PC when we met. We bought a PS2 together for the sake of having a DVD player in the house. She would laugh at the ridiculous plot of Metal Gear Solid 2; she would happy-dance as she handily beat me at Bust a Move. Music was my media of choice then; gaming was a pleasant footnote in our relationship.

She also knows that I’m a transitional obsessive. I obsess over a hobby until I find something new to obsess over. Right now, I’m obsessing over video games. Sometimes I wonder if she hopes I’ll move on to the next obsession sooner than later…and honestly, I probably will. Most times, though, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care.

She loves me no matter the obsession of the day.

* * *

There is no secret to maintaining a relationship with, or as, a gamer. It’s simply a matter of maintaining a relationship. Open communication. Understood priorities. Mutual agreement. Compromise. You know, the same clichés that you’ll see in a relationship advice column that has nothing to do with video games.

Maybe the secret is simply this: stop trying to relate to/as a gamer; try and relate to/as a human being instead.

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