The scene: Team Fortress 2‘s Badwater Basin map. It’s a full server, and the cart is just inches away from the second capture point. I’m the Blu team’s only Spy, and I’m cleaning up. Medics, Heavies and the odd Sniper – I’m taking them all out and walking away, re-cloaking and repositioning for another strike. And then, from my vantage point on the rooftop overlooking the cart, I see her. The Pyro.

Heavies and sentry guns are easy pickings, but the Pyro is the ultimate prize. She can spam flames all day long, and one touch will blow my cover. Buoyed by my successes so far, I go in for the kill anyway. I get lucky – she’s distracted by my team’s umpteenth √úberCharge push of the day. With a grin, I glide around the corner and unleash a nasty backstab. Suddenly, I hear a frustrated cry from the next room and the words every boyfriend dreads hearing: “No more sex for you!”

I sigh, happily. I love that Pyro.

Girls don’t play games, and neither do adults. At least that’s what I believed growing up, informed in part by the infamous stereotype of the gamer. You know the one – the young, pale, typically prepubescent male sitting in his room all day because he has more games than friends. But even as these negative associations about videogames took root, I found myself increasingly drawn to gaming. It became one of the richest and most pleasurable areas of my life, but I was afraid to talk about it because I thought it had some kind of weird stigma attached to it.

So when I “discovered” girls and started to form proper romantic relationships, I inevitably found myself saddled with a self-imposed handicap. Whenever you enter into a relationship with someone, there’s always that little voice inside you that says “Relax. You’re great, just be yourself”. But no one in their right mind takes this advice to heart – at least not right away.

We all have parts of ourselves that embarrass us or make us feel self-conscious. Instead of letting it all hang out, you try to present the best of yourself – the last thing you want is for your partner to get a glimpse of your stranger or less attractive aspects and lose interest. That was what gaming was for me: something private, not to be discussed for fear it would ruin my chances of being taken seriously by the opposite sex. In a way, it was crippling – until I realized that it’s only through the sharing of experience that we grow closer to other people.

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I’ve come to appreciate being able to share my love of gaming more than I can put into words. Out of all the entertainment mediums, games are truly special because they can bring people together for a shared experience and allow each of them to have an impact. Co-operative play, for instance, has become an absolute must for many new titles, and with good reason: It’s often the most fun way to play the game. With online multiplayer titles like TF2, you’re pushed into co-operative relationships from the get-go, and it’s within the plans, pratfalls and rivalries of these spontaneous relationships that TF2 mines most of its humor and its thrills.

As I’ve grown up and played more games, I’ve learned to shed my hang-ups. But while it can be fun to talk about games with people who don’t play them, it’s not really enough. The best way to share with them is to sit down and play together. It’s the only way to properly understand the appeal. And that’s why Jen the Pyro – my Pyro – is so special. When we moved in together, she would sit and watch me play games. She always asked me questions, encouraging me to tell her about what kind of game I was playing or what I was up to in the game world. She was actually interested, which in itself was a shock, but bit by bit she got me to open up to her about games. I’d regale her with tales of ridiculous slow-motion gunfights in Stranglehold and the intricacies of the TF2 character taunts. Then, one day, she asked me if she could play too. We’ve never looked back.

I loved games before I loved her, but now it’s hard to separate the two in my mind. She has her own PC now, her own Gamertag and Steam ID. She’s become a gamer in her own right, something I never imagined would happen. And it’s because she loved me enough to want me to share these experiences with her. Now every time we log onto a server together and start fragging and trash-talking one another, I think we get a little bit closer – cheap backstabs notwithstanding.

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Being able to share something that inspires immense passion and love in my life with the love of my life is a source of constant joy to both of us. So if you’re embarrassed or afraid of what some still think of as a juvenile activity, you shouldn’t be. If you love games, share them with the people you love.

Back to Badwater. It’s been a hell of a fight the entire time. There’s 40 seconds left on the clock and my team has finally got the cart down into the basin. We’re mere feet from the finish and I’m doing my best to sap the Red defenses when I spot another target of opportunity. It’s an enemy Heavy, camping the cart and using it for cover so we can’t rush it. My team is preparing to make its final push. Without a moment’s hesitation, I close the gap and drop my cloak, my blade practically quivering in anticipation. That is, until I hear the whoosh of a flamethrower behind me. I don’t even have time to turn around. The Heavy lives, and goes on to stall our assault til the clock runs out. The kill cam snaps back and freezes over my crispy corpse, and sure enough, there’s my Pyro standing over it, her flamer raised high above her head in a triumphant taunt.

I laugh out loud. Where there’d normally be rage, I feel only love. Well, mostly love. I strike a function key to capture the moment – my two loves in still life.

Barry White is a freelance writer based in Ireland, where he’s one of the editors of Citizen Game. He took up writing about games to justify playing them all day. Contact him at imperial[dot]creed[at]gmail[dot]com.

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