For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by videogames. Format or platform were irrelevant to me; if it was some kind of electronic plaything, I was there. I’ve seen six generations of consoles come and go and watched PCs develop from the humble 486 to the mighty multi-core powerhouses that we have today. It’s safe to say that I don’t just play games – I’m a gamer.
Unfortunately, so is my wife.
It may seem strange to use the word “unfortunately.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant other interested in videogames is a highly desirable thing indeed. But my wife and I aren’t playing the same games; while I’m drooling over the latest AAA release or downloading retro classics on my console of choice, she’s playing World of Warcraft.
That’s right, World of Warcraft, the most successful MMORPG of all time, and depressingly, my biggest rival.
I suppose a little background is in order. A couple years ago, I decided that I wanted to give an MMORPG a try, and I’d heard good things about WoW. I even remember joking with the sales assistant that I had “too much of a life” as I bought it. I got home, installed it and began to play. The sense of scale and the adventure of discovering a whole new world quickly drew me in, and I managed to convince a few friends that they might like it too.
My wife was the sticking point, though. I often wished we had an activity we could do together, so I suggested that she might like WoW. She was reluctant at first, but after a few weeks of pestering, she agreed to give it a try. We stuck the 10-day trial client on her computer and, one fateful night, both sat down to play. A week later, she was hooked. It was like a switch went on in her brain. Her previous forays into gaming had been quite limited – a little Guitar Hero here, a few games of Civilization 2 there – but this was different. She had found the game for her.
It spiraled downward from there. There were plenty of warning signs, even at that early stage. When there was a problem upgrading her trial account to a full account and she had to wait a day or two to get her hands on a retail copy, her annoyance was palpable thing; but like a fool, I ignored it. Part of me saw the game as a way to ameliorate that nagging feeling that I was neglecting her a little. As our small circle of friends drifted away from the game, she became even more engrossed in it as she discovered PvP and then raiding. Fast forward to today: she’s still playing it every night while I’m left to amuse myself in whatever way I see fit.
I’m not alone, of course; there are groups out there for people like me. But even a quick browse through a site like GamerWidow.com brings up horror stories of divorce, bankruptcy and lives generally being ruined by gaming, and I don’t think hanging around with a lot of very bitter people is really going to give me what I’m looking for. Besides, the fact that I’m a gamer might be something of a sticking point – it’s kind of like bringing a bottle of scotch to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
It’s a strange thing being married to a hardcore WoW player, a hearty blend of frustration, irritation, worry, resentment, loneliness and, as I mentioned, no small amount of irony. WoW represents a breakdown in our marriage, not in the sense that we don’t love each other anymore – nothing could be further from the truth – but in the sense that I feel like am in some way competing for her attention. Imagine starting a conversation with someone only to discover that they’re on the phone. Now imagine that the person with whom you want to speak constantly has the headset to their ear, whether they’re on a call or not, and you can never tell whether they’re listening to you or to some disembodied voice on the other end of the line.
This situation (or one very much like it at least) is a regular occurrence in our house. The necessity of tight organization and rapid communication in one of WoW‘s high level instances means that VoIP is ubiquitous, and so I find myself in a sort of quantum state, a “Schrodinger’s Phone Call,” if you will, where my wife may or may not be able to hear me and the only way to know for sure is to speak. Perhaps it’s just wounded pride talking, but I can’t help but feel a little left out when my wife asks a question and I realize a split second too late that she wasn’t actually talking to me. It’s amazing how a person can be so far away from you and still be in the same room.
What I’m more concerned about, though, is the changes in her behavior since she started getting into the game. It’s rarely anything major; instead, it’s a lot of small things that you feel almost petty for mentioning. She stays up later than she used to, and she’s less prompt about doing the dishes than she was. You feel silly making a big deal about it, but when you’ve cooked dinner for someone in pans that you had to clean yourself the night before, only to have them let the meal go cold while they grind their fishing skill, you begin to feel a genuine sense of neglect. Worse, the game has a tendency to inflame her already quick temper. To see her slamming my old wireless mouse into the desk because it died on her, or getting an earful of misdirected anger when she thought she wouldn’t be able to get Wrath of the Lich King on the day of release is worrying, annoying and a little frightening, all at the same time.
Sometimes I start to wonder if it’s actually me who’s in the wrong. After all, she’s a grown woman and doesn’t really need me to set up “boundaries” and give “structure.” If she played the game in marathon 50-hour sessions, neglecting even basic hygiene and consuming only junk food, then I’d need to step in. But since that isn’t the case, maybe I should just let her get on with it. Besides, it’s more than a little hypocritical of me, after years of nigh obsessive gaming, to begrudge her playing WoW so much. I’d like to think that even at my worst, I wasn’t quite so hopelessly absorbed by a game as she seems to be, but I’m not sure that that’s true. Am I really so childish that I can’t stand not being the “gamer” of the household, so much so that I perceive my wife’s leisure activities as a threat? Am I really so co-dependent that my wife having friends of her own is cause for alarm?
I’ve spoken to my wife about my feelings, and by her own admission she’s a WoW fanatic. Maybe it’s something I’m just going to have to get used to. I’ve thought about making a new character and going to join her, but I’m not sure I can face that long grind again. Maybe that’s selfish of me. Maybe if I really cared, I’d be there in Naxxramas with her. As it stands now, though, we’re living in two separate worlds. So if you take anything from my story, let it be this: It’s easy to get wrapped up in the escapism that videogames offer, but before you lose yourself entirely, spare a thought for those left behind.
Logan Westbrook is a news contributor and moderator for the Escapist.