“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?
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.