I admit it. I’m a nerd and I like it that way. If women like big muscled men because evolution adapted them to be attracted to the strongest hunters during our hunter/gather phase, a thousand years from now, women will be attracted to guys with taped eyeglasses and fetishes for Lord of the Rings, because – let’s face it – nerds now rule the world!
So why, you might ask, did I carefully hide my nerdom from the women I tried to get dates with? You see, I didn’t look like a nerd. As long as I didn’t open my big mouth and start talking about computer games, girls thought I was a reasonably normal guy. I’m pretty sure quite a few women secretly never went out with me again when they discovered my dark secret. I quickly learned that potential dates would stay “potential” unless I learned to obscure that part of me.
Like Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady, I realized I would have to make my own “gamer” woman. I would find some unsuspecting girl and convince her I was not a nerd, until she married me. Then, I would slowly but surely corrupt her until she, too, found computer games fun. Now, some of you might wonder why I didn’t use online dating as a way of finding a woman with similar interests. Bear in mind that back in 1995, when I got married, the internet was novel enough that computer games still didn’t normally include internet multiplayer support. Besides, we all know girls don’t exist on the internet.
I based my simple plan on an old saying about putting a frog in boiling water. The saying goes that the frog will jump out if you throw it directly in boiling water, but if you turn the temperature up slowly, it will never realize you’re boiling it alive. Actually, I’m pretty sure the frog will actually die upon hitting the boiling water, and frankly, only a sicko would boil a frog alive. But that’s beside the point.
Following this sage advice, I planned to introduce my girlfriend – soon to be wife – slowly to computer games, until she came to realize what compelling fun she missed all these years. That, or until the computer games numbed her brain and she became a mindless addict. Either would work for my purposes.
Now, the first sign of trouble popped up when my wife attempted to convert me to chick flicks. You see, she made me watch Steel Magnolias. Oh, please, never let that happen again! I’m still perplexed at how so many famous people could get together and still bore the audience silly! Where was the action? Where was the carnage? Not a single bad guy died! By that point, I could no longer follow the plot due to a case of extreme boredom.
Undaunted by this failed exchange of cultures, I started my wife on simple multiplayer games, like Warcraft and Warcraft II. She enjoyed these if we played them cooperatively. Did I mention that my wife is really, really competitive? Losing is not an option for her! I still groan every time she breaks out Scrabble. I’ll never win. Could we at least let me lose in a game that doesn’t take 12 hours to play?
Later on, I rather smoothly (well, in my own mind, it was smooth) introduced her to the pseudo-RPG Gauntlet. Her Valkyrie and my Conan-like warrior made a good team as we fought, sword and axe in hand, across worlds.
After softening my wife up for years, I decided to introduce her to the Real Thing: A full-fledged roleplaying game. I still remember the day I brought home Icewind Dale. It was the year 2000. I held the game in my hands as I rambled excitedly to my wife about it. She had learned to nod and pretend to listen by this point in our marriage. “Icewind Dale: A Baldur’s Gate Engine Adventure” the box said. A thrill shot through my body. I played Baldur’s Gate entirely online with my brother the previous year, but I wanted my dear wife – the mother of my children – to experience this intense pleasure this time. Well, actually, I just wanted a more convenient playing partner …
So, I asked my wife if she’d play with me. Now, I’m not sure what possessed her to agree. Maybe our Gauntlet games really softened her up. Maybe she still felt bad over the Steel Magnolias incident. Maybe the “good wife” in her felt a willingness to try out something she knew her dear husband loved! My personal theory is she just nodded and said yes while not paying attention. Whatever possessed her that fateful day, my rather lovely, very un-nerdy wife decided to play multiplayer Icewind Dale with me. I was thrilled.
Being new to RPGs, I helped her make two characters: a Paladin and Fighter/Thief. Soon, we found ourselves watching each other’s back in the Spine of the World while desperately trying to stop a dark plot. Time and again, her Paladin and Thief proved they could kick tail and take names. Playing networked, I was physically sitting near her. I kept an eye on how she responded to the game – she was enjoying herself! Icewind Dale‘s simple but addictive combat mixed with a strong storyline made it the perfect RPG to introduce to a non-Gamer. I patted myself on the back for my choice of game.
Eventually, we learned from a lich that the evil we sought was a demon that escaped from one of D&D‘s numerous hells. We worked together to hunt it down and confront it in its lair. A fight ensued. It took a few tries, but we prevailed and forced the demon back to his proper home. As the ending cut scene rolled, a sense of accomplishment rolled over me. My dear wife had played an entire RPG with me and had fun doing it!
As the narrator at the end of the game told of what happened to our party after the adventure, his voice began to change. The narrator’s voice grew deep and cold. It became the voice of the demon. It swore vengeance on us. It would hunt us down when it returned. It would have its revenge! What an awesome ending to a fantastic game!
“That was an awful ending!” my wife shrieked in protest. “I can’t believe I just wasted all that time for that ending! That was horrible! Where’s the happy ending? Where’s the happily ever after? Nobody even fell in love! I’m never playing another one of these games again!”
And thus my master plan went down in flames. True to her word, since that day she has never played another computer game. Today, when asked about my greatest memory with my wife, I say, “When my wife played Icewind Dale with me.” If you ask her about it you’ll get an eye roll and a “hmmph” out of her. Well, at least now I have an excuse never to watch Steel Magnolias again.
Bruce Nielson is the designer of The Light Reborn, a critically acclaimed and popular module series for Neverwinter Nights, and runs The Online Roleplayer, a fan site. He was also the producer for the Great Battles of History series created by Erudite Software and Interactive Magic.