Gaming is a childish hobby. If you’re a mature gamer, you have probably heard that statement more times than you care to remember. In my case, it has usually been partners who really just wanted to see if they could wind me up during an argument, and usually it worked.
Despite the fact I’ve grown up in parallel with the game industry, there are still many social stigma that surround videogames, and one of these is that gaming is something you should grow out of by the time you reach your early 20s. Count yourself fortunate if you have a partner who is impassive about your hobby, or even better, encourages you to enjoy it on a regular basis. Rarer still is the partner who loves to join in; priceless treasures indeed, unless fights erupt over who gets control of the joypad and who has to do the dishes.
It’s not just partners who raise an eyebrow at my continued determination to enjoy my hobby. My mother often has words of disdain ready to spring upon me when she comes to visit. Comments about how my money would be better spent elsewhere are commonplace, to which my normal reply is that yes, I could always take up an expensive drug habit instead, as that’s what all the grownups seem to be doing these days. Of course I’d like to hold my mother partly responsible for my gaming fetish as it was she, along with my father, who purchased me a Sinclair ZX Spectrum when I was 11. Yes, that’s it: I’ll blame my mother – Freud would have a field day.
I wouldn’t care if I didn’t find the whole thing so damn irritating. Demeaning comments about my hobby used to run off me like water off a duck’s back, but the older I get the more vocal my detractors become. This means that I do most of my gaming in secret. I end up feeling like a social leper among certain members of my family, and this must be why I feel so liberated at work when my colleagues and I chat happily about what games are due out this coming Friday.
A friend in my workplace has recently bought The Orange Box and can’t wait to play it. His wife is going away for a week, and he plans to get stuck in as soon as she goes. “Why wait?” I suggest. He looks embarrassed and mumbles something about how it would just be easier to do it while she’s away. I say nothing in reply and feel an inward empathy.
It’s in relationships of the boy/girl variety that the problem manifests itself the most. At best my partners only ever tolerated my hobby, at worst it has resulted in bloody rows and has been used as a verbal stick with which to batter me senseless. Gamers have thick skins though, right? I mean, we can happily gun virtual folk down in the virtual street before stealing a virtual car and paying virtual money for virtual sex with a virtual prostitute. Anyone who can do that couldn’t possibly be insulted by a few angry words from an irate girlfriend. Well, in my case (and I suspect, most others), that couldn’t be further from the truth. When anything dear to me is the subject of a vicious verbal assault, I feel insulted and hurt. I don’t think that makes me a wimp; I’m more inclined to think it makes me appear quite normal. If you prick me, do I not bleed?
Picture the following Friday evening scene:
I’m at home, showered, dressed and ready for my girlfriend of six years to arrive at my home before we go out for a meal or perhaps go to the cinema. She’s running a little late (as usual) so I fire up Portal while I wait for Her Majesty to arrive. Halfway through an intense puzzle, the door opens and in she walks. As soon as she spots me playing a game her demeanor changes and I can see that she’s already a little irritated.
“Give me five minutes to finish this room, and save and we’ll head out,” I say with a polite smile on my face.
“Oh great, I come all the way down and all you want to do is play games. I don’t know why I bother,” she says.
“No, really, I’ll only be a few minutes. I just want to finish and save up so I don’t have to spend 20 minutes replaying this chamber.”
“Is that all you ever do? Don’t you ever do anything else? God, you’re so childish!”
By this point I’m getting annoyed. What’s the problem? Can’t she sit in a chair for five minutes and paint her nails? Can’t she maybe watch what’s happening on screen, you never know, she might actually enjoy it?
All of this is despite the fact I very rarely play games when we are together. It’s just not worth the hassle. Admittedly it could just be because girls like to be fussed over if they haven’t seen you in a few days, and that’s fair enough. Also, I’m not convinced they are all that great about seeing their partner’s attention elsewhere when they feel it ought to be fully on them. Whatever the reason, it’s a regular source of ire in our relationship.
I try to look at the whole thing objectively, but I can’t. I’ve been playing videogames from the age of 11. I’m 35 now, so it’s probably fair to say games will remain (at least for the near future) my main hobby. I’ve had so much fun playing games over the years that I’m completely and utterly biased.
I’ve tried to explain these feelings to her, but as in all aspects of life, if other people haven’t experienced something for themselves, they simply don’t understand.
Giving her my old DS when I bought a DS Lite has certainly helped things a little, because now I get to respond to her by reminding her that she is in fact a Zoo Keeper addict. She’s also fantastic at Tetris, and I can’t touch any of her high scores. It’s funny how gaming is only childish when it suits her to feel that way. Perhaps it’s just a relationship thing and actually has very little to do with games at all.
I’ve often wondered what it might be like to have a partner who understood my hobby. I can imagine the earlier Friday night scene replaced with someone coming in and asking inquisitively what this strange game was that I was playing. I can see them sitting down and expressing an interest and then getting drawn into the game just as I am.
I sound as if I want to swap my partner out for a newer model but that’s not really the case. I don’t want to make her sound like an ogre either, as she is also one of the kindest, most warm-hearted people I’ve ever met (those words should save me a physical beating once she reads this).
How might she feel if she arrived down some Friday night and I was painting a picture, brush in hand? You know, I still think she’d be narked that I wasn’t waiting and anticipating her eventual arrival, rose between my teeth, guitar in hand and singing a sonnet.
I’ve already staked my claim on the spare room if we ever get married and buy a house together. She’s actually agreed I can put the big TV in and all the consoles in there as long as I don’t spend every waking minute ignoring her. I think this may be the beginning of her accepting me as I am. She’s had six good years to beat the gamer out of me with no success whatever. Maybe one day I’ll get the pleasure of her expressing an interest in something that is genuinely dear to my heart. I won’t hold my breath though: This is real life I’m talking about, not a game, and I can only hold my breath for a minute or so without turning blue.
Mark Patience is a freelance contributor to The Escapist.