Gaming as Relationship Status

Button-Mashing, Breaking Up, and Other Dangerous Forays

When I started hanging out in other people’s basements instead of my own, I stopped playing video games. Between twelve and twenty-two, I didn’t game, and I don’t know what happened to my 90s PlayStation or my Dark Forces CD-ROM.

But when my ex and I moved in together, I suddenly found myself living with an Xbox. He was an avid gamer, while I preferred books as consumable media — but I really wanted to play Bioshock. He seemed interested in re-introducing me to contemporary video games, while I was interested in running around an art-deco dystopia with a Tommy Gun.

Talking to him more recently, he said, “I was interested in how ‘normal’ cues to seasoned gamers were totally new to you, and thus were ineffective. Like the gunfire direction; shiny objects; which parts of the environment were interactive, et cetera.”

At first, he would always watch when I played, gently suggesting that I stop spinning in circles while button-mashing violently.

Soon, he wanted to start a blog detailing my descent into the world of contemporary video games.

When someone you like wants to write about you (or create anything that’s about you), you say yes. And like most of my generation, I’m unhealthily interested in how others perceive me, which made his endeavor all the more gratifying.

Here are some early entries:

Friday, July 16, 2010

It is interesting to see the way Deirdre approaches Bioshock. She really likes exploring and looting stuff. In fact, she likes looting stuff so much that while people are shooting at her, she’ll yell at them to go away while she finishes looting the body of the dude she just shot, ignoring the red screen flashing indicators until her task is done.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Stumbling upon a splicer crying over a coffin with her back to Deirdre:

“What, you’re crying?” *BLAM* “What, you’re still crying? *BLAM BLAM*

Saturday, November 6, 2010

So Deirdre actually ordered, received, and starting playing Fallout 3 a little while ago, but I haven’t written anything about it.

Summary: She is playing a usually-good character, helping people but sometimes doing whatever she wants. She has taken the Bloody Mess perk, and laughs when her targets explode in a flurry of blood and limbs. She often says such things as “yeah suck it I crippled your FACE.”

This continued through the fall and winter of that year, but over time, he grew less interested in this brand of voyeurism. I wasn’t new to gaming, and I guess I wasn’t as funny anymore.

When someone you like wants to write about you, it’s his way of saying, hey, I am actively interested and engaged in what you are doing. It makes you feel famous. But the flattery of being a subject, once absorbed as a norm, is difficult to shake.

So what happens when that flattery — another person’s engagement in your daily endeavors — goes away? Not just his creation, but the entire feeling?

For a brief period, the blog became a general gaming blog for him. This lasted a few entries, and soon he abandoned it entirely. I’d harass him about it sometimes — jokingly, of course. Whenever I started playing a new game, I’d ask, “why don’t you write about me anymore?” “I don’t know,” was usually the answer.

During the last few months of our relationship — over a year after this blog had ended — I started playing a lot more games. There were various factors: the end of graduate school, temporary unemployment, avoiding my weirdly tilting writing life. I wanted to become some other person, who would be content to go to work and come home and then have this tiny escape that didn’t involve my creating anything.

That’s what I told myself. But some of it was about the relationship, too. Most of it. We barely hung out. He gamed when he came home from work, went horseback riding on the weekends, and I applied for jobs and worked on this insane novel that went nowhere. Part of me thought that if I became a “gamer” — if this became an identifier for me, instead of one of my many recreational media consumption activities — things would get better. We would do things together. We would go to PAX. We would be like one of those comics on Tumblr about the cute couple playing CoD (I don’t play CoD and neither does he; this was a fantasy).

One day, I was playing Limbo on my laptop — a puzzle game that made me sort of angry at the time. He was playing something in the opposite corner on his PC. I said something about Limbo — I don’t remember what. He turned in his chair and gave me this withering look: a look that very clearly expressed the sentiment: why are you bothering me? What he actually said was something like “ye-eah?”, which actually expresses the exact same thing.

It wasn’t the first time he didn’t want to be bothered while gaming. That was very common when we lived together — and I get it. I don’t want to be bothered while I’m writing (seriously, get out), and sometimes I don’t want to be bothered while I’m gaming (and I never want to be bothered while I’m playing Tetris). But. I felt like I was trying to change myself into a more acceptable mold, which made no sense on so many levels. I suspect he had pursued me — years ago — because I was something other. For a time, his pursuit had been unsuccessful because I was busy being other (he could raid, and I could go to this party without him). But it becomes difficult, when you live with and give a shit about someone, to feel that he has lost interest in spending time with you. Our youth exacerbated this feeling—we were in our twenties; we hadn’t spent decades settling into any kind of comfortable silence. And he had wanted to spend time with me once, had actively persuaded me into his life. Yet somehow I became this nagging thing that repeatedly asked him to do the dishes. And maybe if I became this other type instead of the person I used to be, things would be okay again, and I wouldn’t have to leave or change or upset the balance of our lives.

Still, I knew I should be doing something more with my time than waiting on someone to want me. I should at least be writing a better novel, or going to see that band no one wanted to see with me.

The real issue, of course, wasn’t that he had lost interest in me, but that I had lost interest in myself. We’re all taught to base our self-worth on external factors, and I don’t know if anyone can eradicate that mindset entirely. But effort is better than ignorance.

When we broke up, I said it was about children. He wanted kids in the near future, and I didn’t want kids at all. This was true (still is), but there was a lot of other stuff. For me, maybe, it was about the broader implications of the turned head and the disparaging look. The “ye-eah?” that made me realize I was no longer a person I wanted to be — much less write about.

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