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On Destiny and “game widows”

Destiny

“I hate this,” I piped up.

“What,” said Ted.

“Can I be honest?” I asked my husband-to-be. “Work, I don’t mind. Playing games, I don’t mind. This? This kills me. I hate this. I don’t like feeling like your mother. I’m not your mother.”

Then I gave the Destiny alpha my most damning condemnation:

“I don’t appreciate being made to feel like I don’t ‘get’ games.”

If I thought I’d loathed the Destiny alpha, wait’ll I witnessed the beta, which launched this month.

“Can you text the petsitter?” Ted asked me in a low voice. Our flight had just landed in Philadelphia.

“And tell her what,” I harrumphed. We were on our way to Aunt Doris’s house. The day after next, we were going to a massive family reunion, Ted’s. That night, we were heading to New Jersey to visit the other half of the family, also Ted’s. I hadn’t slept in at least a day. I was cranky.

“Can you ask her to turn on the PS4?” Ted asked.

He whimpered this. He was genuinely hurt—hurt!—that he wasn’t playing along with others during the Destiny beta.

And he was holding his Vita: He was planning to stream Destiny, from our living room in Texas, onto his Vita. The petsitter, meanwhile, was coming to the house twice a day to give my dog meds, walk her, feed the cats. On July 14, the petsitter had given my dog her heartworm pill.

“Are you,” I asked Ted, and I took a deep breath, “shitting me?”

“No?” Ted whispered.

“Absolutely not!” I bellowed. (We were standing at the airport’s downstairs baggage carousel.) “No! No, I am not doing that! I am not texting our dogsitter!”

After two long days of Ted’s visible suffering, I handed him my phone. “There,” I said.

On the screen: an iMessage exchange, in which I describe, in excruciating detail, how to plug in our television and its periphery, and how to turn on a Playstation 4.

“Thank you!” Ted said to me, with sincere gratitude.

His enthusiasm was short-lived, of course. “It isn’t working,” he sighed, setting his Vita on the kitchen table. How my heart thrilled to see him put the Vita down. He looked miserable.

I felt my heart’s thrill, and I noted it. “I hate feeling like I’m your mother,” I told Ted again. I quivered. “I just hate it.”


In actuality—and please, never reveal this to Ted and his family, because I do like being spoiled—I am a low-maintenance woman. In truth, I can subsist for years at a time on zero attention, like an emotional camel.

Still, I am familiar with the concept of the “game widow” because—in the olden days, anyway—she was everyone I was not. In the olden days, I was the video game player; I was the one staying up till 5am typing. Oh, your girlfriend doesn’t play video games? You wish she’d “get” it? Puh-leeze.

In my fifteen years of dating, I have turned many a boyfriend into a “game widower,” ditching him on Night Out, rushing off during intimate moments, surely leaving him feeling, always, strange and impotent.

I remember, in the much older olden days, my mother walking into my bedroom and pointing toward my computer. I had probably refused to come to dinner until I was “finished.” “I wish we’d never bought that thing!” she hissed. I was 13.


Some years ago, there was a book titled Game Widow, authored by one Wendy Kays. Married to a video game developer herself, Kays’s book was intended as a relationship advice manual for women.

Instead of offering real advice, though, the book is an indictment. “Addiction” is a word used time and time again. Worse, the book conflates the games industry—long hours spent in programming and development—with video “gaming,” or leisure time. As anyone in the industry knows, these two values are not commensurate.

Ted is a game developer foremost, a hobbyist second. I’m exactly the same way. Ted knows I get angry or frustrated at interruptions, no matter whether I’m working or playing a video game, but I know the two are very, very different. I know it’s not too much to ask, to be left alone anytime I’m typing an essay.

But if I’m playing Dyad? An interruption can be frustrating, because hello my attention is diverted from you. But that isn’t how leisure time works. There is an unspoken rule that, if I am playing Dyad and suddenly I am needed, I must quit Dyad.


Why Don’t Game Widows Play Video Games, Too?” Wendy Kays titles a 2008 Game Widows blog post. She begins,

All game widows are pressured to try video games at some point. Many gamers actually buy games for the non-gamers in their lives, in an attempt to entice them into playing. Most gamers have pure motives for wanting their game widows or widowers to play. They know their spouse, their parent, their child, is not happy during the time they play, and want to include them in the pleasure they get from their game. But some just hope that if the naggers play too, they’ll stop protesting.

So why is it game widows won’t just play video games, too?

First:

Puh-leeze, I definitely thought to myself in 2008.


Destiny, Ted explains, is a living world, “like an MMO.” As such, there is no “pause,” Ted says.

Ted and I are getting married. I need him to sign his name to something, probably some contractual thing. “Teh-duh!” I intonate, separating his name into two distinct syllables. My clarion-call carries across the house.

“Just a minute!” he yells back from the living room. A half-hour passes. He’s on the Vita for at least two more.

Later, Ted tells me there is no “pause,” not in the sense where games often have a “pause.” He isn’t even playing multiplayer; he is on a solo mission. “I can’t put the game down,” he explains to me, helplessly.

This, I do understand.

I am not angry with Ted. I am furious with Destiny, however. Due to a design flaw—in this case, the flaw is with a game that cannot be paused—I am finally experiencing true relationship strife.

Destiny is only playable for the next couple days, or so Ted informs his mother, who is in turn only visiting for the next couple of days. She and I are waiting for Ted to set down the Vita.

It is so easy for me to become Ted. Ted is playing the game correctly, which is to say, he ignores me until any solo mission or match is finished, just as the developers intended.

Thanks to Destiny, and by Destiny’s very design, I become the howling woman in the living room, begging Ted to find a stopping point. I hate it. I hate it. I am now the worst type of “game widow.” I am a complete and total nag—I am a woman who needs Ted’s half of things done—while simultaneously understanding I am some sort of hypocrite.


“Why don’t you just create a Destiny character?” Ted idly asks me, his eyes fixed on the television, his hands on a controller.

By now, Ted has been playing for days. I suppose that’s normal for a “gamer.”

“No offense,” I say, and I say this lightly, “but I no longer have any desire whatsoever, to play that fucking idiot game.”


“Are you not going to mention the fact,” Ted recommends to me, “that I talked about all this on Twitter?

“And about the lack of pause?” Ted concludes. Now he smiles at me: “I got a ton of support from dads.”

That’s very nice, but instead of feeling sorry for dads, I feel sorry for moms.

For a while, Ted and I had a Pokemon problem: Ted hid in the bathroom to play. I knew what he was doing, too, because literally nobody can shit that much. And I was annoyed. Unless I locked myself into the toilet, as well, I couldn’t keep up with him. I stopped playing Pokemon after one week because—cooking, cleaning—I knew there was no way to catch up with Ted’s toilet breaks.

I am only angry because I imagine my eventual children imagining me as the fun-killer.

Of course, before I met Ted, I wasn’t going to be married or have children at all. Now I am (already!) the fun-killer. I am the woman who watches her husband disappear, and I am upset, and that is what makes me, according to my own set of ethics and virtues, a bad person.


The Destiny beta finally ended, and Ted immediately began playing Titanfall.

“Ted-duh!” I yell across the house.

“Just a minute!” Ted shouts. And, thanks to Titanfall’s design ethos, it’s true.


ETA: This Penny Arcade forum comment (!!) from one John Ham, very neatly synopsizes the column, so if you’d like a tl;dr, skip there! P.S. Ted is not actually an asshole.

27 responses to “On Destiny and “game widows”” »

  1. pete says:

    Great article. I really get what you are going through. Been on both sides of the equation (similiar Pokemon stuff for me and Angry Birds for my ex-girlfriend) and it is so so so frustrating. And I mean both. Not being able to stop is horrible. Not getting any attention and / or quality time is even worse.

    My advice would be self-control training. It’s pretty much “designed” to help you against the “there is no pause”-problem. It helped me a lot and I’m able to play a game like Destiny for an hour and just stop.

  2. Frank says:

    Isn’t this an age old problem with MMOs in general? I experienced it back in the Dark Age of Camelot days and later with World of Warcraft which was even harsher.

    • Jenn Frank says:

      I mean, I guess? I’ve been an MMO addict for sure, although I’ve dropped out of each MMO only because I don’t particularly enjoy the feeling of being in the “thrall” of anything. I don’t like feeling “addicted.”

      Maybe another part of it is, prior to meeting Ted, I had a personal “no dating in the industry” clause with myself and, as a pretty direct result, I’ve literally never dated a fellow “gamer” before. Again, I’ve been the “gamer” in every other romantic relationship, one of which lasted 6 years, and certainly I’ve never felt like a “game widow” before. So watching Ted play Destiny was a totally new experience for me.

      • Joshua says:

        I think MMOs by their nature require more scheduling. You don’t (usually) just turn one on and hop into a raid, you have coordinate with people to get something started, so chores can be planned around that schedule. Most MMOs these days have moved away from multi-hour raids and toward more focused 30-60 minute instances as well.

        Of course, there’s still stuff to do without a group in most MMOs. However, while soloing in an MMO also doesn’t have a literal pause button, you can usually find a relatively safe spot somewhere to walk away from the keyboard and not get attacked.

  3. Brendan says:

    Being a “fun killer” is just an alternative term for “parent” dont worry about that too much.

    The lack of pause function is hardly a valid excuse anymore. Most MMO games carry next to zero penalty for death. You can always put the controller down and walk away for a few minutes. The worst thing you might have to endure is logging back in.

    Its a lesson I wish I had learned in my relationship way sooner than I actually did.

  4. Max says:

    I understand wanting to keep playing, and I understand the no pause thing being annoying for all involved. What I don’t get it is why one can’t just drop the controller, attend to life, and then get back to it and figure out how you’d been killed.

    That was about half of the reason I played a rogue back during my (*cringe*) four years playing WoW. Life calls? Vanish. That said, alt-f4 is an ability for all classes.

  5. Jason says:

    The lack of pause is a real pet peeve of mine. Life happens. You should always be able to pause (and ideally quick save) in single player.

  6. Justin says:

    Can’t say I’ve been in the reverse situation much, but I think part of what makes games feel different (to those that aren’t playing) is that the player is very much preoccupied, but they’re still in the same room (or at least very accessible).

    I wouldn’t call Destiny’s design flawed—even in solo missions, online players can appear in your game. Removing the pause feature keeps it consistent with the modes that more directly involve other players online. Dark Souls is another primarily-solo experience without a pause feature and of course this is the case for all multiplayer games. Though, for future Destiny reference, it’s not advertised much but you can actually quit a mission and resume it later w/o losing much progress if for some reason the player really does need to leave the controller.

    But back to the point. I think if someone is partaking in their hobby, it’s ok for them to be able to do it uninterrupted. If they go out to play basketball or see a movie, there’s no pause button there, either—people understand it’s not convenient for them to stop what they’re doing so they mentally break that time off and understand that person is unavailable till they’re done. Them being in the same room while gaming makes them seem more accessible, but you might as well think of them as being elsewhere.

    • Justin says:

      Of course, reasonable moderation is still expected with games just like anything else

      • I’d agree with that, mutual respect is necessary. You can have gaming time where you’re not disturbed for random stuff… but on the other hand, you don’t disturb vacation or family time with your gaming either.

        If the game starts to take priority over everything else in your mind, it’s usually a good idea to take a forced break for a few days and rethink your schedule.That said, I’ve never been really into pro multiplayer stuff. It may be easier for me.

    • salty-horse says:

      Games that provide no pause button in single-player mode are just wrong.

      Here’s a similar article by Json McIntosh about Dark Souls: http://gameshelf.jmac.org/2012.....out-pause/

  7. Ben says:

    I spent every spare moment of the Destiny beta playing too, and whenever my girlfriend would bump me or walk in front of the TV she’d get a series of angry, urgent grunts. After talking about Destiny (and the essay!) in the shower this morning, we’ve decided that the best policy when Destiny finally comes out is that I’ll just let her know “Hey, I’m gonna be playing for two or three hours, during which time I will be useless and effectively absent.”

  8. Andy J says:

    I suspect it’s not a design flaw. It’s a deliberate choice because Destiny’s monetization model is likely going to include microtransactions, and that means that the higher the barrier to exit – the harder it is to put the game down – the more money the developers make.

    You’re going to see a lot of games in the coming years with no pause, or rare checkpoints, or hour-long XP multipliers, or other strategies for artificially prolonging the amount of time in which a player can be sold something. Your choices are to try and change the course of an entire industry, or to demand your significant other develops an ounce of impulse control.

  9. J says:

    I never quite understood all this. When I was with a girl, I dedicated most of my attention to her, very, very rarely I browsed or chatted, mostly because I had to.
    Sometimes I stopped playing for 2 or 3 days because we were on a special weekend or something. IF I found a moment where she was asleep, then I’d play for a bit, but never when she was awake.
    I honestly think that my time is more worth spending with the person I’m with, than most games (with very few exceptions).

  10. TimeStop says:

    Sounds like you should remind Ted that real life also does not have a pause.

  11. Brainwright says:

    I’m less inclined to call this a video game problem and more a culture problem. Nags happen because they lean on someone else to take the lead. This is an act of apathy, and apathy is contagious.

    Probably the best way to fix this is to sit and make yourself comfortable where ever your supposed addict is. Use your best puppy dog eyes.

    Is this a pathetic ploy for attention? Yes, but so is helpless nagging. Helpless nagging only has a shred of credibility because helpless nags browbeat anyone who notices their nagging is helpless.

    At least my way involves a lot less stress on the vocal chords.

  12. G. says:

    And it’s happened once again
    I’ll turn to a friend
    Someone that understands
    Sees through the master plan

    But everybody’s gone
    And I’ve been here for too long
    To face this on my own
    Well I guess this is growing up
    – Slavoj Zizek

  13. Barney says:

    Very well-captured. I know from experience how difficult it is to express — often to the very people you’re trying to live with — the awful injury done by gamers who make you feel, as you say, like “some sort of hypocrite” because you are urging them to stop and yet you sympathise completely.

    One thing jumps out though:

    “I am only angry because I imagine my eventual children imagining me as the fun-killer.”

    What does the emphasis on ‘me’ mean here? You, as opposed to Ted? Are you suggesting this is ironic (presumably because you’re not a ‘fun-killer’ type person at all, or it would be unjust for the label to be applied to you)? Because this is the greatest difficulty: especially if you sympathise and then cut something out, then of course you’re the one that’s the fun-killer. Who else would it be? You can’t have the cake and eat it!

  14. Kismet says:

    I’m going to go ahead and get Ted in trouble here. Destiny’s “design flaw” is easily worked around. There are plenty of safe places to hang out without needing a pause feature. Also, there’s usually very little penalty for dying – if any – and if you die, you don’t respawn.

    Ted is fooling you into letting him play uninterrupted. Don’t blame Destiny. :)

  15. Djordje Nagulov says:

    Great article! I usually don’t comment on stuff I read, but your essay struck a note with me. Now this, I thought as I read, is mature writing about a hobby I love. Light and funny, yet also frank and willing to acknowledge the shades of gray.

    As I get older (turned 36! have a kid! nooooo….), I have less and less patience for all the juvenile hand-wringing that passes for ‘literary’ games writing these past few years.

    So thanks for this!

  16. doug says:

    Great piece. However I think the premise is flawed. And Ted is not being completely honest about how the game plays (which if you had played the beta you would have realized and probably had some pointed questions).

    In single player mode you are either in free-roam – which essentially consists of side quests that take about 5 minutes each – or doing story missions. My experience was that the story missions lasted about 15-20 minutes each. I viewed this as actually a really good design decision (a much bigger positive than no pause was a negative) – if I had say 1/2 hour to play I knew I would be able to knock out a piece of content. A lot of games, 1/2 hour doesn’t seem to be enough time to get through anything, but not so with Destiny. Very friendly to a more casual audience.

    But wait – there’s more. Outside of some very specific circumstances, there is zero penalty for death. So if you have to walk away from the game, and you die, it isn’t a problem. The only exception is when you enter a ‘darkness zone’, if you die, you go back to the beginning of that area. However these are essentially the boss fight battles and last about 5 minutes max.

    And more. If you are playing a mission, but have to quit for some reason (essentially, return to your ship), when you restart them mission, you keep the progress you had made. I got d/c’d once very close to the end of the mission, and when I restarted the mission, I was right back where I left off.

    Now, if you are playing multiplayer raid content, then yes it is going to be more MMO-like. However there was only one raid in the beta and I doubt Ted was just playing that over and over (and even that was maybe a 45 minute time commitment). Similarly if you are PvPing then pausing is a bad idea, but like most shooters each match is only 15 or so minutes.

    So really I think the problem is that Ted simply didn’t want to put the game down. Not the lack of a pause button. My $0.02.

  17. Mark says:

    I hadn’t heard there’s no pause button in this game. I didn’t play Dark Souls for that reason, and I guess now I’m not playing Destiny now either. Shame, it looked pretty good.

  18. Jenn Frank says:

    Holy Moses! Sorry for leaving ~12 comments to flounder in queue!

    In skimming these, I really do feel awful for Ted. (Not too awful, but enough of you ratted him out on the matter of “free-roam” that I feel a pang of pity for him.)

    • Floor says:

      I do not feel sorry for him. Unless you were harassing him every 5 minutes while he was gaming, he should just be able to put the game down after wrapping up his quest. Destiny does not have a pause button, but it is not necessary because you can just quit with no penalty as people have pointed out. The only thing where I can imagine not being able to quit within 5 minutes (in a quest there are more than enough places to stand still and not be attacked, even if that doesn’t matter) is multiplayer. PvP takes like 15 minutes, a strike mission with two others (PvE) takes about 45 minutes and a raid when Destiny goes live will likely take 2-3 hours (less than WoW).

      The most likely reason is he didn’t want to put it down: the game was for a long time in closed beta and the beta itself was only a week. I’m hyped for the game as well so I can understand his feelings, however he was a total ass I guess cause there’s really no excuse.

      Don’t hate the game, hate the playa!

  19. Jeremy says:

    Jenn,
    Has the reverse situation occurred between you and Ted? Like, you’re so addictive to a particular game and he plays the role of killjoy?

    And if Destiny is that addictive then those people are going to make money hand over fist.

    • Jenn Frank says:

      Ted says that it HAS happened—but only while I’m reading. When I’m reading something, I just don’t hear anything. I might as well be asleep. (In those cases, he generally isn’t a killjoy; he just wants or needs my attention at that moment, and it takes a lot of “hey!” and hand-waving and shoulder-tapping to get it.) I’m sure I’ve been oblivious while playing a video game, but Ted, fortunately, hasn’t remembered it yet. Heh, heh.

      Anyway, yeah. Destiny is gonna make bank.

  20. cube says:

    I mean this in the best possible way: That hurt to read.

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