Erin and I have known each other for 10 years, and we’ve been married for five. We take part in so many activities together that it’s difficult to list them. We spend plenty of afternoons at the beach soaking in the deliciously harmful sun. We enjoy trying new restaurants in our Brooklyn neighborhood. Theater is in our blood, and we love to see crappy Broadway musicals whenever we can.
But throughout our entire relationship, there’s been a rift; there are some things which we never share. And those things always seem to involve elves, dragons, spaceships, swords and the occasional magic ring. I am a dork, you see. Big time. I play Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft and Civilization. I’ve had a gaming system since the NES came out in 1985. I read books like The Dragon Reborn. I cry while watching The Lord of the Rings.
Erin is no dork. Her favorite color is pink. She watches mind-numbing TV like So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Next Top Model. E! is one of her go-to channels. She reads popular memoirs and chick lit. She peppers her conversations with names of the girls in The Hills. When she’s stressed out, she goes shopping for a new dress or pair of shoes. Erin has a lot of shoes.
My wife has always regarded my dorkier pastimes with disdain. “I don’t understand why you feel the need to go play D&D with a bunch of strangers. It’s so weird!” she once said. “What do you get out of it?” I’ve often wondered where her game-player-hating came from. It’s not like she doesn’t enjoy games at all. We have played monster Scrabble sessions with her parents and she knows how to play blackjack, rummy and other card games. She even admits to loving a game for the Sega Genesis (Last Battle) and playing it incessantly with her brother in the late ’80s.
The seeds of gaming had been sown, so why did Erin grow to dislike the hobby so much? She thought that videogames were for kids and didn’t grok why her husband was 30 years old and didn’t seem to be growing out of it. But what if I confronted her preconceived notions? I had resisted sharing my gaming lifestyle with her, but maybe that was the wrong approach – perhaps she didn’t like gaming precisely because I never shared it with her. I decided to fully indorktrinate Erin, to expose her to D&D and Warcraft, to see if her disdain held up.
First on the docket: investigate the fantasy genre on which so much of my gaming is based. Erin’s major hang-up was that she viewed the genre as juvenile. “I think it’s childish. Little kids talk about dragons, not adults,” she said. The recent cultural resurgence of fantasy seemed to have passed her by. “I had friends my age that were so into Harry Potter. I was like ‘Really? You’re going to stand in line for a book that my 12-year-old nephew is going to read?'”
The Lord of the Rings is a different matter. Erin truly enjoys all of the films, although keeping her awake for a three-hour movie is a bit of a challenge. (She took at least three naps during a recent viewing of The Dark Knight, for example.) “It’s a great film,” Erin said. “There’s comedy and romance, and it’s visually stunning. I love epics. Plus, Gollum is precious.” Despite being slightly disturbed that she found the creepy ring-junkie “cute,” I was heartened by her enthusiasm. Maybe this crazy experiment was going to work after all.
World of Warcraft has been a huge bone of contention in our relationship ever since the game was released in 2004. “I watched you playing and I had no idea what the hell you were doing,” she said. “You were always killing monsters, and when I asked you if you were winning you said, ‘There is no winning.’ I was like, ‘You can die and come back to life?’ It’s an ongoing game that never ends? That’s not really a game. It’s like a lifestyle, and it’s strange.”
After I told Erin about this article, however, we talked about playing World of Warcraft for weeks. She approached it with some excitement; after all, here was something we could possibly do together. She was at first interested in creating a gnome character – their chipper emotes and multicolored pigtails may have been part of the appeal – but she ultimately settled on a blood elf. “She’s so pretty!” she exclaimed when we finished picking her hair and earrings. The classes were a little harder to explain to someone with no fantasy background, but Erin was drawn to having demons as pets for some inexplicable reason. Daffne, the blood elf warlock, was born.
Erin was immediately impressed with how beautiful the architecture looked in the blood elf starting area. “What do I do?” Erin asked after the intro video. I guess the exclamation point over the head of the blood elf in front of Daffne wasn’t obvious enough. I told her to click on the character to receive her first quest.
Using our laptop, I signed into a friend’s account and quickly created a male blood elf on the same server. Playing together, the two of us quickly completed the first five or six quests. I think the most frustrating thing for Erin was not being able to control her character effectively. It was very hard for her to grasp moving forward with the keyboard and steering/looking with the mouse. The idea of being able to control the “camera” in videogames was foreign to her. The camera would often be looking straight down on her character or looking up and not being able to see what was in front of Daffne. Concentrating on such an imperfect image fatigued Erin’s eyes quickly. We only played for an hour before she ended our grand experiment.
“That game is not user friendly at all,” she said after logging out. I pointed out that a low barrier to entry was actually one of its selling points. “Well, maybe it’s just me then. I don’t know how to move, I guess,” said Erin. I don’t think it is just her, however. A friend reported a similar experience when he introduced his wife to WoW. Videogames, especially action-oriented ones, assume a basic spatial understanding of how to control an avatar in a three-dimensional space. Some people don’t find this process intuitive. Furthermore, research suggests that females, unless specifically trained, have more difficulty quickly analyzing spatial relationships between objects than males. This doesn’t mean that women aren’t able to overcome such difficulty, but those who are biased against gaming anyway have no incentive to work through it. Did Erin hate gaming simply because it was hard for her? Given her somewhat competitive nature, that seemed to make sense.
Despite her experience, the next day Erin said she couldn’t stop thinking about the game. She was proud of herself for finally sitting down and playing it with me. “I also thought about the funny things that my bag would get filled up with, that I would then sell for money,” she said. “It made me wish I really had a bag full of glowing eyeballs and dirty boots.”
It was time for the mother lode of dorkosity: bringing Erin to a Dungeons & Dragons game. I asked her what went through her mind when I first told her I was into roleplaying games. “I thought it was weird,” Erin said. “I was kind of devastated because it has such a bad reputation. It’s embarrassing. I told my friends that you were going to play poker or something. Society doesn’t accept it, so I didn’t. I thought it was this weird thing, maybe even cultish.”
Appealing to the theater in her, I explained that it is akin to improvisational acting but with more clearly defined rules. Still, she approached playing D&D with great trepidation. To make it less intimidating, I invited two players who also had a theater background, Matt and Jason. Matt even invited another female player, Janelle, to make Erin feel more comfortable. I would be the Dungeon Master, and I spent some time crafting a short but memorable scenario. I decided to use the new 4th Edition of D&D because of its relatively flat learning curve.
Erin and I made a half-elf warlord named Lydia. The party met in a tavern in the town of Bellingham, with Matt taking the lead and introducing his character, Varrus, to Lydia. After some brief wariness, Erin opened up. She continued the trend of creating pretty characters, but she made it clear that Lydia loved everyone no matter what race they were. As character choices go, it wasn’t exactly revelatory, but at least she latched onto an idea and stuck with it. It certainly helped integrate Jason’s dragonborn and Janelle’s eladrin into a cohesive party.
While the social aspect went decently, Erin’s attention visibly waned when we shifted to the dungeon crawling. “What do I do?” she’d ask when her turn came up on the initiative board. It just seemed that she didn’t care whether those giant scorpions got smacked or not. Using miniatures and polyhedron dice surprised her. I don’t think she realized how many accessories were involved.
Overall, I think my amateur DMing was at fault. In the hands of a more skilled storyteller who was able to create more tension in the storyline, I think Erin might have responded differently. Regardless, she now has a better understanding of what D&D is, but it is even clearer that it is not for her. “There is just so much stuff you have to know. I mean, I have this sheet with all these numbers on it, all my powers, and I have to take notes when I get hit and all that,” she said. “I just don’t have the attention span to learn it all.”
What did she think about playing with people? “That part was cool. They were all really nice and supportive of me figuring it all out. But they really were dorks just like you,” she said. “I mean, you guys were talking about books and stuff that I would never even know about if I didn’t know you.”
I think that was the biggest hurdle in indorktrinating my wife. She just doesn’t respect the fantasy genre. Erin didn’t grow up imagining she was Bilbo or even Ariel, and she had almost no frame of reference when I asked her what kind of character she wanted to be. I also believe that her spatial aptitude was a barrier between her and playing most videogames. She likes Wii bowling and can sing a mean tune on Rock Band, but games that involve manipulating a character like Mario Kart or WoW are prohibitively difficult for her. I can understand not enjoying a pastime because you are no good at it. That’s probably why I don’t golf, fish or go to church.
Introducing my wife to dorkdom was well worth it. Playing WoW and meeting my gaming friends around a D&D table, Erin has a clearer picture of what it is I’m doing most nights. We’ve cut through the stereotypes and misconceptions she had about gaming. Instead of only imagining what huge dorks we all are, she now knows for certain. And after witnessing Erin’s willingness to experience the things that define me, I no longer begrudge that we are so different. Our fierce individuality is what creates such a strong partnership. That we respect each other is all that’s important. I just hope she doesn’t try to introduce me to reality TV.
Greg Tito is a playwright and stand-up comic residing in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently splitting time between World of Warcraft, a new D&D 3rd Edition campaign and finishing one of his many uncompleted writing projects. He also blogs semi-regularly at http://onlyzuul.blogspot.com/.