I know that I played Final Fantasy VI with my husband in the first year of our marriage, but, honestly, I don’t remember it at all. I really only remember my husband nudging me awake and saying “It’s your turn,” as I slouched against either his warm shoulder or lay crumpled against the arm of the couch. It is an overstatement to say that I played Final Fantasy VI at all. I did occasionally rouse myself long enough to choose the actions of the characters I was ostensibly controlling in combat, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about the story. That isn’t completely true; I remember something about an opera house. My poor English-second-language husband struggled to remember the lyrics that he was tasked with putting in order, and I remember laying in a state of half-consciousness hearing the line “Oh my hero … ” again and again.
Maybe I should have gone to bed, but, at that point, Final Fantasy VI was probably the most important thing in my life. It was holding my life together.
Fairy tales, movies and TV shows fixate on the magical moment of marriage, or the struggle to come of age and finally transform into an adult. Falling in love online and struggling against all odds to come together is actually pretty easy and so romantic that everyone wants to help with advice, support, and an opinion about planning the wedding. I’ve been there. I met my husband in probably the geekiest way possible, playing on a text based Dungeons & Dragons themed MUD (multi-user dungeon). If you are too young to know what a MUD is: think World of Warcraft with no graphics. Our romance had all the classic fare of a good movie: distance, suffering, lost paper work, a canceled wedding. There were many obstacles to overcome but our perseverance led to what in a movie would be a happy ending. The thing is nobody talks much about what comes next: How you cope with the realities of marrying someone you met over the internet. What came next, for me, was being tired, overwhelmed, and broke.
What I remember about my first year as a young, professional and married woman is being exhausted. My body was tired, my heart was tired, and my mind was dazed with fatigue. If I had given myself time to think in the morning, I’m not sure I would have made it out of bed. As it was though, the alarm went off only half an hour before I had to be at work. It was just enough time to throw on clothes and stumble out the door. Trying to look like you know what you are doing is far more work than actually doing something. At my job, I was inexperienced and unclear about my duties. I chanted to myself, “Fake it until you make it,” as I practiced a look of thoughtfulness while staring at my computer monitor.
When my husband said that he wanted to buy a used PlayStation 2, I had to swallow my instant reaction of, “We can’t afford it.” How could I deny him? He had given up his career, his country and his family to marry me, and now he was living in limbo; while he waited for his work visa and green card papers to process, his entire world was our 800sqft, one bedroom apartment. I also realized that it wasn’t my money anymore. It was our money now. Despite all of these rationalizations and good intentions, I still burned with rage and envy when I came home, beat up by another day at work, to find him playing videogames.
Each of us was stewing in a different sort of misery, and the atmosphere in the apartment was getting tense. It was around this time that we got our first two player game. I don’t remember what it was exactly, it might have been a Baldur’s Gate game, but what mattered was that we were playing together. Or maybe what mattered was that we were playing at all. Both of us had played games, mostly on the PC, and somewhere in the shuffle of setting up house, we had forgotten about videogames. It didn’t matter how tired I was when I came home from work. I had to play; it helped me remember who I was, and bond with my husband.
Anyone who has looked knows there are a limited number of multiplayer games that use a single console. Tentatively, we moved into the territory of single player games. It was a really careful transition that usually involved one person playing and the other person sitting on the couch watching. The first single player game that I remember buying for this purpose was Wild Arms 3. I chose it mostly because it was really cheap used, and I had happy memories of playing the earlier games. My husband and I took turns playing our games and watching the other play. I had the most amazing revelations watching him. We played games entirely differently.
My approach to turn-based combat was to do quick, immediate damage, and to try to end the combat in the fastest and most efficient way possible. My husband spent rounds buffing before doing anything offensive. I was astounded, actually. It never even occurred to me there was another way to handle combat. Our playing-style differences went beyond combat, though. I dashed from one story point to the next. He would spend hours grinding. If a side quest took too much effort, I abandoned it. He doggedly hunted down every missing item and artifact. Consequently, he defeated bosses with extreme ease due to his preparedness whereas my boss battles were epic, hour-long ordeals. In our small apartment, on our hand-me-down television, our different approaches to life were being played out on a whirling second-hand PlayStation 2. I watched intently, learning how to better understand my husband.
When my husband said that he wanted an Xbox, I audibly groaned. He had been talking about Knights of the Old Republic for a long time. I couldn’t possible fathom why he wanted to buy another game system just to play a Star Wars game. But I caved and we bought both the system and the game under the pretense that it was a shared anniversary gift. A gift I deeply resented at the time of purchase and continued to resent until I started to play KOTOR. Having never played Western roleplaying games, I was blown away. My husband didn’t get to touch the system again until I finished. So began my love affair with BioWare that still rages today. Don’t tell my husband, but I am having several passionate affairs with party members across the broad spectrum of BioWare games.
During one of our first Christmases together, PC gaming came back into our lives. My parents gave us a new computer because we couldn’t afford to buy one for ourselves; our new game arrangement was born. Usually I was flopped on the couch in the evening playing a console while behind me at the computer, perched in our dining room alcove. We happily chatted back and forth, sharing the space, but playing our own games. Every now and then, we rotated positions.
Eventually I had enough professional experience to move on to a better paying job and my husband’s green card finally arrived, allowing him to be employed. We could finally afford to rent a two bedroom townhouse. Somewhere along the line, we quietly acquired an Xbox 360 without any marital conflict.
In fact, we didn’t fight over purchases until my husband decided that he wanted to buy a large plasma TV. Once again, I was confounded by the extravagance. I think that my husband has become cleverer over the years, however; he timed the purchase of the TV with the release of Mass Effect. Once I played on the gigantic TV, there was no going back. He also managed to sneak in a powerful sound system. The acquisition of the TV changed our gaming situation yet again. Now the game systems were in the living room and the computer in the office. We played in our separate spaces. Sitting down to dinner, I remember feeling that I was going to burst from holding in Mass Effect spoilers.
We have come a long way from where we started in terms of our careers, our financial situation, and our relationship. We now own a house with a separate game room. I didn’t even flinch when he bought the larger plasma for the dedicated game space. Most nights I sit on the couch in the living room, and play on the second PS3, while he blasts away in the man cave. Every night at dinner, we talk about the games that we’re playing, the games that we’d like to make, and the things that we read about games in the media that day. We truly are geeks, which is what brought us together in the first place. This anniversary, I’m hoping for a new computer so that I can build game modules and maybe play a MMOG.
Now, when my husband is up late playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2 online, I like to go lay on a pile of pillows in the game room with him and play “There’s A Dude.” In this game we invented, I play the spotter for my sniper husband and gleefully shout, “There’s a dude!” when I see someone in the bushes. The game usually ends the same. I am woken up by my husband nudging me, saying, “Go to bed,” and me mumbling, half-asleep, “No, I like playing with you.”
Amanda Yesilbas writes about her personal relationship and opinion of videogames at http://open.salon.com/blog/xxgamer.