I am not a gamer but I game. I know it’s a cliché, but my significant other (S.O.) built massively multiplayer online gaming into our relationship. I will admit, there was a learning curve for me – I’d never even heard of MMOs before dating him, but once we started, I had fun. Well, not when we first started…
My S.O. was one of the original World of Warcraft (WOW) gamers. He played back when the game was first released and continued playing for six straight years. I, on the other hand, was more of a puzzle gamer. I loved Tetris and played a bunch of match three games where I could zone out. I’d dipped my toe in The Sims only to make the most boring, irritated Sim imaginable and tried Grand Theft Auto but felt bad about killing innocent people. Online PC gaming was not in my wheelhouse.
To address that lack, he gave me WOW. The thing is, WOW is a subscription service, so while he bought me the game, I still had to pay the monthly fee. I was a little put out by that. If you’ve never played an MMO before, they like to start you out slowly to get you used to playing the character. You always begin play in what’s called a starting area, where you learn a bit about the world, get your beginner missions, and start learning your fighting skills. This is a crucial part of the game for new players, but it’s a huge annoyance for veterans like my S.O.
Needless to say, that first experience was a shitstorm of epic proportions and to this day I’m amazed that I continued to play. My S.O. did everything in his power to get out of the starting area as quickly as possible, while I was still figuring out how to fucking walk and jump. He’s darting all over the place telling me to talk to this guy and go talk to that guy. Meanwhile I’m like “Why am I talking to him? Why is the town on fire? Are those werewolves? Why are attacking me? Are people crying? Who’s crying? What’s that yellow dot? There’s a map? I can’t read that shit. Why can’t I move forward? How do you jump again? This keyboard and mouse navigation is some bullshit! Is that a wall? What is this looting shit? I can die from falling? WHAT IS ATTACKING ME? Am I dead? How the fuck did I die? WHAT IS GOING ON??!!!”
The whole time my S.O. is yelling at me and getting pissed that I don’t know what’s happening. After about 40 minutes of this, I logged out. I was ready to choke him and break my computer. After I quit, I turned to him and asked as calmly as I could, “How important is this to you?”
He looked sad and said, “I thought this was something we could do together.”
I sat there, angry, frustrated, and ready to go home. “Give me a week to learn to play on my own. Then we can try this again.”
So I did. I made a new character and started the game again. This time I was in a different starting area, one without werewolves. I would ask him questions about gameplay, but basically went through the starting area at my pace, getting a feel for the mechanics of the game. We met up after I finished all the quests and then we started running through the world together.
Despite this, there were still a number of things we needed to learn about playing together. Here are some of the things we discovered.
I will say again, I am amazed that we still play together. My S.O. had been playing MMOs for so long that many concepts were common sense to him. He struggled to understand that I didn’t know basic things, like how to target, or how to turn my character’s head. Shit, it’s been years and I still struggle with that one. I didn’t understand bag space, banks, crafting…basic MMO concepts.
Most of the time my S.O. was patient and would explain things to me. Sometimes he would talk to me like I was a dumb child and that shit was unacceptable. On more than one occasion I’d have to pause the game to address how he spoke to me. He didn’t realize he was doing it, and frankly, I wasn’t having it.
Accept that you aren’t telepathic.
After we worked on how we spoke to each other, still a work in progress, we starting having issues with mind reading, in that we couldn’t do it. He’d have this agenda of what he wanted to do in game but wouldn’t tell me. Then, when I’d just wander around, doing whatever caught my eye, he’d get frustrated with me for not following the plan he never told me he’d created. We saw this in our day to day life – I’d mention a problem to him, he wouldn’t respond, I’d assume he didn’t have anything to add and I’d start handling it. Then he’d tell me what he’d planned to do if I’d let him handle it. We finally learned that we needed to communicate up front what we intended – BEFORE we started questing or working on the problem.
Communicate changes in the plan.
The next communication bump in the road came from addressing our individual needs. In game, one of the activities is crafting. You can make stuff you need in game, but to do it, you have to find the ingredients. My S.O. and I always choose different crafting professions so that our ingredient needs don’t overlap. At various times we’d run off to gather some item really quickly, which isn’t a problem unless you are going to participate in some big event or fight a powerful enemy and you suddenly realize your healer is off in the forest chopping trees or some shit. Eventually, we’d let the other know we were about to run off to gather some nonsense, but it took time.
Set and communicate your limits.
My S.O. loves MMOs. He will watch videos and read articles to learn about gameplay and how to strengthen your character. I won’t read or watch a damn thing. He still sends me videos occasionally, when I start having issues playing my characters, but it’s a crapshoot whether I’ll watch them. This frustrates him but I’m so open about the fact that I have zero intention of learning about this game, that it’s become a part of our banter. Also, I’m extremely casual about my gaming. I won’t even play every week. He has multiple characters to play on, but he has on dedicated character that he plays with me. It works.
I love playing melee, sword-fighting characters – i.e. up close fighters. That class wears heavy armor and is designed to take a lot of damage. My S.O. likes ranged characters, those who fight from a distance and do a lot of damage. These characters wear either medium or light armor, making them easier to damage. We work to compensate for the other’s weaknesses. If either of us doesn’t play our role, then the likelihood of us dying increases by a lot. It’s a balance. We don’t always do it well, but we keep trying.
We are honest about our expectations. If we aren’t in the mood to play, we just say it. We try not to say one thing and then do another, but when we do, we own the mistake. We admit our limitations. We apologize when it’s warranted. We remember to put our individual needs first and try to come together for common goals.
If there is one thing that has been a constant throughout our relationship, it’s honesty, even when it hurts. My S.O. had to learn that he has an explosive temper. He didn’t like that. I had to learn that I’m not going to be good at everything, especially if I won’t put in the work. Sometimes he’ll rage quit and often times I’ll fuck up missions because I won’t read them. These things are easier to accept because we’re upfront about them.
Remember it’s just a game.
In the end, we are playing in a virtual world where we fight demons and monsters and live out a fantasy version of ourselves. And while we learned how to communicate better in real life, the game itself is not real. It’s meant to be fun, and when it stops being fun, we try something new. As long as we remember that this is just entertainment that happened to helped us in some real world ways, we’re good.
Truth is, I appreciate what gaming brought to our relationship. It’s something we bonded over and gave us some insight into each other; as well as helping us build communication skills in our relationship. Real life is going to throw any couple plenty of curveballs. Gaming together is a fun way to learn those communication skills before the curveballs really start coming. It’s not perfect and it will take a lot of effort, but I am thankful for the ease with which we work through problems. I’m not sure it would have happened as quickly or as effectively if we hadn’t learned to work together in a fictional world.
TaLynn Kel is a writer and an avid participant in the Atlanta cosplay scene. You can find her at various Atlanta conventions in costume and participating on panels about cosplay. Find her blog, cosplay pictures, and updates on her website at http://www.talynnkel.com.
She is also an occasional guest writer for Black Girl Nerds and The Anime Complexium.