Games are an important part of my life, but the kind I choose to play at any given moment depends largely on my mood. If I’m happy, I’m prone to pick up an RPG. If I’m irritated, I’ll probably want to shoot something in the head. If I’m feeling down, I’ll likely pick up an old favorite, something that feels like a friend. And when I’m stressed out, I play casual games; more specifically, I’ll usually fire up a hidden object game. They’re as simple as they sound: A bunch of objects are hidden in a scene piled high with random junk, and it’s your job to locate all the items on a list. Oh, there might be some other bells and whistles thrown in to spice things up a bit, like a timer or objects you can’t find until you find other objects, but by and large it’s a soothingly brain-free genre, perfect for those days that I’ve been taxed to my mental limit.

My husband treats my fascination with hidden object games much the way he does my obsession with shows like America’s Next Top Model and Rock of Love Bus – he watches over my shoulder for a bit, then walks away, shaking his head, incapable of deducing the appeal. He knows they make me happy, but he’d much rather go blow something up or fill bad guys full of virtual lead.

One evening, he came home from work to find me curled up on my oversized reading chair. I don’t think I was still crying, but my face was probably all red and puffy. If the fact that I was wearing my pajamas and clutching a blanket wasn’t enough to tip him off to my delicate mental state, the fact that I was playing Interpol, a hidden object game on Xbox Live Arcade, certainly was. He’s seen me play enough of those games to know what they mean about my mood, and so he quietly left me alone. But only long enough for him to change into his own jammies and snuggle up beside me on my chair.

He never asked me what was wrong, didn’t try to make it all better. He just sat there with me under my Penny Arcade blanket and helped me find snowshoes, cameras, feathers, banks, croissants, fish, necklaces, swords, airplanes and all of the other absurd things that were hidden in the game’s various environments. He knew I needed to play more than I needed to talk, but he wanted me to know he was there for me just the same.

It’s small moments like that evening playing Interpol that make me cherish having a gamer as my partner. A non-gamer would’ve had the same instinct to make me feel better, sure, but likely wouldn’t have understood the importance of a game in the equation. Having someone to watch your back in Left 4 Dead is great and all, but having someone who understands you well enough to speak your unspoken language is absolutely priceless.

Susan Arendt

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