Historically, all of this started with chat rooms and MUD's (multi-user dungeons). The thought of a bunch of Dungeons & Dragons players hovering around a monitor anxiously anticipating the results of the moves they had made via green or amber type reminds me of how I played football via text on my old Apple IIe in the same way. Either way, it wasn't the most fun you could have, so it's no wonder technology has advanced to keep us interested in the games we're playing.
I remember that my playtime on my Apple IIe was never very long. Instead of the bitmapped type, I could go over to my small bedroom television, turn it on and play my Atari 2600 by the hour. My favorite from back then? Raiders of the Lost Ark for Atari, and oh, looking back at it, the graphics were bad.
Another game I loved from back then was Pitfall.
But there were only so many vines you could swing from, backs of crocodile heads to jump on, scorpions to avoid, ladders to climb, and various other things to jump over. It was the same screen over and over again. After dying to a fire or falling into a tar pit for the fifteen-bajillionth time, I'd find myself bored again and switching cartridges to find something else to become bored with. But that was the extent of home video game entertainment back in the 80's and it was cutting edge at the time. Cutting edge or not, it never held attention for very long.
Yep, it wasn't easy, back in the days of bitmaps, to sit by the hour. Yes, you could definitely spend hours doing it, but at one point or another, you always shut it off because let's face it, it would become boring. Back then, there was only so much you could do with a video game that only had a joystick or a paddle as it's controller and eventually, you'd either beat it or become bored with it. Finally, when we had amused ourselves enough with it, it would sit and collect dust while we found something more exciting to do.
Now, let's fast forward to thirty years later. Instead of the same screen over and over again, or bitmapped type on the screen, we have something far more engrossing than what we once did. Enter the online world.
Instead of this:
We now have this:
Isn't it funny how far we've come?
The point is, now, in video game culture, there are a multitude of immersive environments that give a sense of realism to what we are playing. Yes, it's all still pixels on a screen, but in comparison to the days of the old Atari 2600's and ColecoVision consoles, even back to the archaic lines of text in a MUD, it's something completely different. It's a whole new world and people are lining up by the millions to explore the plethora of new environments spawned from the imaginations of game designers.
Trust me when I say that when someone has grown up in a world where video games were only a quarter (25 cents) for three lives, the prospect of having unlimited lives or the inability to die at all, but if your avatar does die, the fact that you can resurrect and keep going has a pretty strong appeal. The game never ends, it just keeps going and in turn it has allowed us to sit longer, become more engrossed and engaged in what we're doing. We're not getting bored anymore doing the same thing over and over again because the days of those types of games are long gone.
Now, I'll be the first to tell you, I'm not a console gamer. Closest I come to a console video game is my Wii that I do my yoga with every day. That's the extent of my console gaming. I tried playing games on my Wii, but, I became bored with it, much like I did with my Atari 2600 and my Apple IIe back in the 80's. No, the juice now is with my computer. All seven hundred and fifty gigabytes of hard drive space, quad core processor, and six gigs of RAM that make everything I ask it to do run like silk, even though it's now two years old. When a computer runs as smooth as mine does, it's comparable to sitting behind the wheel of a high performance sports car, enjoying the incredible power in your hands. It makes the archaic text football game I played on my Apple IIe back in the 80's look like I was playing with blocks. Now my game time is spent in immersive worlds that have text on the screen yes, but it's not telling me the action that is happening to my character, instead, it's conversation between me and other players.
We've all heard of the proverbial sports widow, whether they are football, basketball, baseball, hockey, you name the sport, there have always been sports widows. With the advent of online worlds, there is a whole new wave of widows coming to the forefront. Yep that's right, like watching a game on television, we've got a whole new set of folks who have no interest in online games and hence, they watch their spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend or relative plug away by the hour leveling toons, solving puzzles and spending time adventuring with people in distant cities connected to them via the internet, much to their neglect and chagrin.
Now, as anyone will tell you, when you have a great toy, you're not very likely to put it down. With the advent of social worlds like WoW or Second Life, well, we've come upon a whole new set of widows that would rather see our computers go up in flames or see our subscriptions cancelled rather than hear another word about our gaming adventures. They don't care if we just hit 80 or downed the Lich King, they don't care what new clothes we designed and put on to our avatars. To them, if it all went away, they'd be happy, just like the football widow who breathes a sigh of relief when the season comes to an end.
However, what ever happened to showing interest in what your partner does? Now, I'll be the first to say I envy all of the couples who engage in their recreational activities together whether it be hiking, watching sports, going to the movies, playing video games or the list of things a couple can do together. It's always fun to see them enjoying themselves and sharing their adventures, increasing the enjoyment of their chosen activities because they do them as a couple.
But, then, we have the diametrically opposed couples. The one who loves to watch TV versus the one who wants to go hiking. The recluse versus the socialite, the gamer versus the non-gamer. In WoW, where I spend the most time, we have a phrase for the non-gaming spouse who loves nothing more than to repeat ad nauseum the fact they hate our chosen form of entertainment. It's called spousal aggro. If you don't know what aggro is...aggro comes from the word aggravate...get it? It's the flak we take from the non-gamers around us when they don't understand what we're doing and/or prefer that we didn't do it, then interrupt us while we are in the middle of heavy in-game action.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that with online worlds, there comes a certain point where each and every one of us who play in them need to recognize the fact we have to put them down. I'll go the point that some people take their gaming far too seriously, to the point of addiction. I remember seeing a video on You Tube of a child throwing a tantrum and destroying his bedroom after his mother cancelled his World of Warcraft subscription. Ok, that's a bad thing. If he was to the point he couldn't survive without plugging in to his online world, he needed to stop. He got too caught up. He needed some time off the computer if his online world meant more to him than the real world.
A lot of the online world widows I know of don't really understand why gamers play. In fairly violent worlds such as World of Warcraft, it serves as a great stress reliever. Think of it this way, some people, like my friend Jeff, work in call centers all day long; they get called rotten names, they're blamed for things that aren't their fault, day in and day out. Instead of taking all of that negativity into themselves or lashing out at the people around them, they relax by killing a few monsters, achieving a personal best or vanquishing a bad guy made of pixels. Personally, I think that's a pretty constructive use for a video game. It also gives a great ego boost as well when you're praised for the good things you've done while in a team environment such as a dungeon or a raid. Even when people are brought low by something as horrible as a death in the family, a relative getting cancer or in the midst of a divorce, that small amount of time, that you might believe is so huge, is really a comfort and distraction to them so they can better cope with the ills that life has dealt them. However, we all need to recognize the fact that online worlds, while they are an escape, are just there for their nutritional value as entertainment, they are not a substitute for real life and they most certainly shouldn't be used to mask a more serious underlying problem. Life has to be dealt with, problems can't be solved if you avoid them by using a video game as an excuse.
Most reasonable players I know, including myself, are evening gamers, ones who partake in their online world of choice only after all of their 'real world' commitments have been covered. It's the proverbial den, circa the turn of the 19th century, where men went to relax after dinner for brandy and cigars to share stories of bravado and to decompress from the rigors of society. It's a few hours in the evening where we blow off steam, play as a member of a team and enjoy the company of friends.
The conundrum that comes along with living with someone who likes to play in online worlds is that the players really get immersed. However, there are some things you can do to learn to live better and happier with your family members who enjoy online worlds, giving you a more healthy and fun relationship.
For all of the online world widows out there, I'd like to suggest a few things. Now before you tell me you've tried them all, let's go through the list of how to get through to your online world engaged other half or relative:
- Have you made an effort to understand the game or activity they are partaking in?
A lot of times, spousal aggro comes from the fact that the spouse of a gamer really doesn't understand the game that's being played. Whether it is role playing, leveling, puzzle based or first person shooter, each game has a unique appeal that the gamer has come to identify with in some part of the experience. A good thing to do in that case is to ask why they enjoy the game, what nutritional value they get out of it and find out if there is some sort of mutual point that you could engage them at so that they feel you are genuinely interested in what they are doing.
If the game they are playing holds no interest for you, that's fine, but you really should take the time to really make an effort (and don't go half way) to get to know why they're playing. Who knows, you may just like it once you understand it better. Either way you go, you may find out something new about your spouse, partner or relative in the process.
- Have you actually sat down and tried to play the game they are playing?
Take a moment and ask your gamer to let you sit behind the controls of their avatar. Ask them to show you how to control the character's movement; have them park you at a test dummy and let you cast some spells or use some abilities. Feel what it's like to press the buttons, do some damage and make things go boom. Give the game an honest chance and try to immerse yourself the way your gamer does. If it's not fun for you, fine, at least you can say you've tried. But here's the caveat: there is a chance your gamer will backseat drive you while you're driving their toon. Be patient, they've spent hour upon hour perfecting their toon and their play technique. Listen to them, but if they start driving you nuts, express some boundaries, after all, it's a miracle you've gotten this far. Allow them to understand how incredibly precious the moment is to you and how much you want to understand what they're doing and how much you want to understand why the game is so special to them.
In online worlds like World of Warcraft, there is quite a bit of skill that goes into learning how to play the game well. It's timing, hand-eye coordination, it's awareness of the people around you, it's learning a strategy, and there is usually a lot going on when an end-game raid or player versus player situation happens. There are lots of mistakes a player can make and it takes a lot of concentration and effort to do things just right.
What is uncommonly known to people who live with end-game raiders is that it is very easy to get into a situation that is frustrating or mentally taxing, especially when a player is learning a new fight. Their eyes are watching timers, health bars, their spatial relationship to other players, their abilities bars (also known as cast bars), the aggro meter, the damage meter, the foe's health bar, the foe's abilities, dodging damage and all the while listening to and communicating with their fellow players. Now ask yourself if it's a really good time to give them grief when they've got all that on their plate already.
If you think it's easy, try again. This isn't Pac-Man on the Atari 2600 back in 1983. Gaming these days takes more effort than it ever did because it's even more complex. It's not meant to be easy. If it were, 9 out of 10, we wouldn't be playing it. They're most likely playing for the challenge.
- Have you asked them questions about their avatars and the game they're playing?
Part of the draw of online games is how performance driven we all are in our every day lives. Think about those who strive for promotions at their jobs, that live by strong ethical codes and so forth. Those folks are probably trying to do the same thing in their chosen online world. Whether it's solving a puzzle correctly or attaining that next level, reaching the current-end game content and beating the final boss, there is always some sort of neat new thing that they've gotten and are proud of receiving. Ask them about their avatar. What's that weapon they're carrying? Why do they have a staff instead of a sword? Why did they choose that shirt over another? Why are they in a specific location? Why are they casting a particular spell or using a particular ability?
There are lots of neat questions you can ask your gamer if you take the time to understand why they play, the conditions of the world they're playing in and the reasons that they do the things they do with their avatars. What abilities do they have, what do they find as the coolest part of their avatar?
- Who does your gamer hang around with in-world?
Another great part of being in online worlds is that they're social. Your gamer is spending time with folks who have similar interests and the same hobby. Odds are, they've made a lot of friends, they have guildmates, they have people who reside in the same area in-game as they do. Ask your gamer who they are. It's no harm or foul to be interested in their fellow players. More than likely, they'll have more than a few funny anecdotes to share with you. Find out more about who your gamer hangs out and plays with and why. You might even make a new friend as well and get the nutritional value of meeting someone new who shares common interest with your beloved gamer. It might just reveal something about your gamer that you didn't know and can be a wonderful jumping off point for new and exciting conversations over dinner or times when they choose not to play.
- Is it a role-playing world?
Believe it or not, some worlds such as Uru (U-R-U as in "You Are You") are based around the tenet that the player is (outside of the avatars pixelated appearance) for all intents and purposes, the same person that you'd meet if you met them in real life. In this aspect, the people, even though they are being represented as a pixelated character, are just as genuine as in the real world. They represent their personality in the world they play in just as they do in the physical world.
On the other hand, there are role-playing worlds (World of Warcraft has servers specifically set up just for that purpose), in which your gamer has come up with, through their own imagination, a character that behaves in a way that is completely different from their real lives. It is a different play style altogether.
If you have a role-player, a great way to understand them is to ask them about their character. What are their motivations for playing the character in the way they do? What purpose does it serve in the larger picture and atmosphere of that world? Odds are, if you didn't know that your gamer is a role-player and find out that they are, there can be great conversations about their imaginations and their motivations for creating their characters. How do you find out whether or not your gamer is a role-player? Ask! Just the simple question, "is that a role-playing world (or server)?" is a great way to find out. If they seem bashful about it or if it sets them off, don't be taken aback by it. Some people don't like to share those things, but if you reinforce that you're only curious, and you're accepting of the fact they do, odds are they'll overwhelm you with details.
If your gamer isn't comfortable talking about their role-playing, don't push too hard about it. Ask if you can sit in and watch them play. Overall, for anyone who lives with a gamer, it's time well spent to sit and watch your gamer and be amazed by their skill and imagination.
- It's a two-way street.
Ok, so now you've swallowed your hatred for online worlds and taken the time to show positive interest in your gamer and why they play. You've even sat behind the controls and been mystified by how incredibly your gamer handles their avatar. Now it's time for the gamer to do the same for you. As we've covered, spending time with your gamer can provide you new insight into who they are and it is only fair that they spend an equal amount of time with your interests as they do their game. It shouldn't be a tough sell.
If you have a resistant gamer, you should take the time to find out what their in-game schedule is like and plan around it. Yes, I know it seems to be too giving and structuring your life around the play time, but it really isn't. At first, your gamer might be a little hesitant to give up a raid night in lieu of a movie night especially if it's a new occurrence. Give it time. If you've already created a situation where you think they play too much, you need to sit down and talk with your gamer and come to an agreement on relationship priorities and how time should be allotted to give you both equal nutritional value from the situation.
If you both come to an agreement that will give you both equal play time, you'll find life will be much easier. Give them time to adjust to a new habit. However, this does not mean that they can't meet you half way. If you allow a set amount of time for their gaming, they can allow a set amount of time for your activities too. Don't let them get away with not meeting you half way. Relationships filled with nutritional value are also filled with a lot of give and take. Be equal. Don't give too much and don't take too much. Most of all, don't yell or scream when things don't go exactly as planned. Give them lots of reasons to turn off the computer and spend time with you. It's only fair that if you have made the effort to understand your gamer, they can do the same for you.
Online world widows, remember, if you take the time to show interest in your gamer's world, you might find out something interesting. Please don't tell them that you don't have time for what they're interested in, that hurts, and it's not exactly fair. You may not be interested in their game, but you should at least make sure that they are aware that you are interested in them enough so that they've got a reason to turn off the game.
So for all you gamers out there, make time for the real world. Show interest in what the non-gaming folks in your life like to do. If they take the time to understand you, the least you can do is try to understand them. I know you wish for your flasks and buffs in every day life, but remember, you've already got them, they come from within. All the magic you create in-game is nothing compared to the magic you bring by being around the people who love you in the real world. Besides, too much time on the machine isn't good for you. Go outside! Enjoy ALL the aspects of your life, not just your virtual one.