Full disclosure: The author is happily married. – Ed
Very few of my attempts to marry gaming and a healthy dating life have ended well. There’s just something about gaming and relationships. Women seem to feel very possessive of time. They prefer that the men in their lives spend time doing things that involve them, so, naturally, time spent doing things that don’t involve them are usually frowned upon.
As far as time-sinks go, gaming is a hog. For the gamer (i.e., me) that’s a good thing. For the non-gaming partner (i.e., most of my exes) this is not so much the case. If only I had learned sooner that a successful relationship is best formed with a fellow gamer.
Boy Meets Girrrl
I used to have a thing for rock stars. Well, not actual “stars” per se, but you would never know it from the way they partied. The town I lived in was rife with musicians, so avoiding dating one was the real numbers game. All of my friends were in bands and, by virtue of hanging around them, I ended up dating their musician friends. This was not entirely a good thing.
At first glance, you may think musicians, with their stay-up-all-night-and-report-to-work-bleary-the-next-day lifestyle would merge seamlessly with gamers, who often approach life in very much the same way (substituting Taurens and Bawls for hookers and blow), but the truth is the two groups mix like oil and water. See, the gamer’s definition of “cranking it” may be staying up until 4am, playing Rock Band and going through the motions of being a rock star, but the musician’s definition involves actually being a rock star. This creates a natural, if subtle divide between the two camps.
While there are many musicians who, like you, have day jobs and play games to unwind, they also “play music” which they consider to be a “valuable skill” in spite of the fact it prevents them from holding jobs outside of the food service industry. They therefore tend to look down on those who play games and have food service jobs, but don’t also play music. It’s unfair, I know, but it’s true.
So when it comes to my experiences being a single gamer that dated musicians, I have to admit that my experiences were usually either being a single gamer or dating a musician. The two never really mixed. I can recall a couple of occasions when I would sneak an all-day playing session (behind closed doors, pretending to be sick) into a week already containing several all-night bar crawls, but for the most part I just stopped playing. For a brief period in the late 90s I completely stopped playing, sold all of my games and occupied my time hanging out in bars and carrying amplifiers around for people with actual musical talent.
I’m not proud of this period of my life, but it did lead to some interesting experiences. Like the time, walking into the back entrance of a bar, carrying an amplifier, I stumbled over two bums having sex. They didn’t seem to notice me, so I moved on – quickly. Ah, those were the days.
Speaking of experiences of which I am not proud, I have to also admit here that I once passed up sex to play Fallout. This was some time before the turn of the century. I had literally dragged myself away from the game to follow through on a planned date with a relatively new romantic interest. We spent a pretty decent evening getting to know each other, after which she invited me to stay over at her place. I don’t recall whether or not I was tempted by the offer because all I could think about was the epiphany I’d had over dinner about the game, and being pretty sure I now knew where to find the water chip. This relationship did not last long.
Boy Loses (Russian) Girls
One of the rare times I can remember where gaming was actually a turn-on for a potential love interest was in Las Vegas.
A colleague and I were in Vegas to cover a professional videogame competition. On our last night in town, he and I decided to “tear it up,” which involved eating at one of those insane $20 buffets, getting loaded on free drinks, then riding as many cabs as we could afford to as many casinos as we could think of. The evening ended several hours later back at the Aladdin, where, through some turn of events I to this day can’t quite remember, we ended up very drunkenly escorting two also very drunk Russian women who claimed to be betrothed to men they didn’t know and were very “stimulated” by the fact we played games for a living. They practically begged us to marry them on the spot so they could stay in the United States and escape their fate as mail-order brides. I wish I was making this up.
Through a great deal of late-night, drunken trial-and-error, it soon became apparent that any form of romance would only be coming after we’d given them all of the money we carried so that they, ostensibly, could play the slots. They loved the slots. Especially the Drew Carey slot machine (yes, there is one). So my colleague and I fed them $20 bills and drinks and they laughed at our jokes, cheerfully giving us the impression we were making progress. All seemed to be going according to plan, although, in retrospect I suspect they were simply practicing their maskirovka and pumping us for slot money.
A few hours into this dance, my colleague was off to the bar to fetch more drinks and the girls had run off, claiming to be attempting to lull their soon-to-be mail-order husbands back to sleep so they could continue to “pahrty” with us. It was at this point I despaired of getting anything out of the evening other than a blinding headache and an empty wallet, and called my friend to concede defeat. He didn’t answer, so I left a message which has been played out-loud at parties for the amusement of our friends ever since:
Dude … I don’t know what’s going on with these Russian chicks … but I’m going to bed.
He told me the next morning that he was heading for the elevators to catch up with me when he ran into the said same Russian chicks, who, having succeeded in their mission of putting their fiancées to bed, whisked him to an empty hotel room and gave him the night of his life.
If true, this would have marked a low point in my ongoing struggle with gaming and the single life: Having, through my connections in the gaming industry, scored an invite to a tournament in Vegas, and, through gaming, managed to attract the interest of a couple of relatively attractive (and apparently willing) sort-of-unattached ladies only to blow it at the last minute for lack of stamina. I’m sincerely hoping my friend’s telling of the end game was merely more maskirovka.
The Hero’s Journey (to The Middle of Nowhere)
There is a happy ending to all of this, however, and it begins at the game convention where I met my wife. I won’t name the convention because, frankly, it sucked, and the guy who runs the thing has enough problems these days. I was invited to be a speaker on a panel at his convention, and I convinced my boss it’d be a good coverage opportunity as well.
After flying into town, being robbed blind by an unscrupulous cab driver, and spending more than two hours trying to convince the hotel desk clerk that, yes, I actually did have a reservation, I ended up at the hotel bar, where I met up with a number of other journalists. I asked around for details on what the big stories were going to be and everyone laughed. Apparently there weren’t going to be any big stories. Probably not any stories at all, in fact. There was nothing happening at this conference. We’d all been duped.
One of the major game studios had been talked into participating and planned to make some major announcement or another, but due to a flaw in the scheduling, they arrived at their scheduled time to discover the event hadn’t yet started; the organizers were still setting up. So they left. That should have been the end of the event, but the organizers decided to soldier on. My panel was kept on the books and a few other, smaller events were still planned to take place. But as the weekend wore on, the number of no-shows increased and it became apparent that there hadn’t really been all that much scheduled at the event to begin with. It was a dismal scene. So my colleagues and I, bolstered by some of the friendlier attendees and vendors at the show, set about methodically squeezing every last drop of fun to be had out of the event.
Someone had wheeled out a small television and a copy of one of the guitar-type games, and that was good for some laughs. For some of the attendees, it was good for even more, as some form of Stockholm syndrome had started setting in and the available single females began desperately seeking reassurance they belonged to the human race. Considering the typical ratio of gamer men to gamer women, however, chances of “getting lucky” at the event were similar to that of winning the lottery, but a couple of the more well-known guys made a go for it, and were rewarded. I was not among them.
So I spent the rest of the evening, again at the hotel bar, begging free drinks from friends before declaring the night a bust and drifting off to bed, having proved, once again, that games and relationships are only successfully mixed if you’re famous – or lucky. The next day, for a brief moment, I would be both.
Boy Gets Girl’s Business Card
The day started with a desperate scramble for coffee. I was incredibly hung over, and realized a little too late that my panel was scheduled for very early in the morning. To make matters even more anxiety-inducing, the topic of the panel had been jettisoned at the last minute and replaced with, roughly, “How to Get a Career in Games Journalism.”
I’d been doing it for less than a year, but suddenly I was an expert. The hall was filled to capacity. My head throbbed harder. My stomach threatened to revolt. I put my head down and marched on.
My wife-to-be had attended the conference because it was near her house and about games and so, she was there. She attended my panel because she wanted to learn something about being a game journalist, perhaps to pursue it as a career. She was also, coincidentally, a fan and follower of The Escapist, for which I was an Associate Editor at the time. She did not know, however, that I was on the list of attendees until they announced my name.
All I remember is steeling myself for the effort to open my mouth and begin speaking, when I heard my name over the loudspeaker followed by a single, audible gasp. My future wife had been struck with Hero Awe. The kind of thing that causes girls to scream and pull their hair at Beatles concerts. But this had nothing to do with me. I’d missed this through my headache haze, but before saying my name, the announcer had said “from The Escapist.”
After the panel, an attractive woman rushed up to me and shoved a hand in my face followed by another hand holding a business card. She wanted to meet me, she said, because she wrote about games in her spare time and wondered if my magazine accepted submissions from freelancers. I assured her we did and gave her my email address. We shook hands. She left. That’s the end of that story.
The Happy Ending
The sequence of events that led to us, eventually, pursuing a relationship and getting married is its own story, and one you probably wouldn’t believe even if I told it to you. Suffice to say, we spent some time getting to know each other, hit it off and are now living happily ever after.
So even though I may be a misfit in the world-at-large (where most people have more colors in their closets than black), within my own carefully-constructed social bubble I’ve pulled off the hat trick. I married a gamer. I don’t have to beg for time to play games; it’s understood playing will happen. And not in that “Oh, you silly boy” kind of way, but in that Italian mother chastising her son for not eating kind of way. (“What’s-a-matta you? You should play more games!”)
We also recently discovered that our Xboxen are close enough together so that we can play 1 vs. 100 Live together, sitting in front of her TV, with me controlling my character on the Xbox in the next room with my wireless controller. This way we can share answers and giggles and popcorn, because 1 vs. 100 is that kind of game. And we’re that kind of couple.
I’m not sharing this story with you in order to brag. Believe me, I know how lucky I am. As much as we may currently crow about the widespread acceptance of gaming, it’s not like being a hardcore gamer is as respectable as, say, being a golfer. There are still awkward conversations with strangers about “what we do for a living,” still uncomfortable moments with parents and family and still an unwavering sense that, although more people play games now than ever before, very few of them play as much as we do. That’s life. I try not to take it personally. But, in the words immortalized (albeit ironically) in the movie Airplane, at least I’m married.
Russ Pitts is the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist.