If one ever wants to enjoy the companionship of anything besides Ethernet cables, Cheeto dust, and a malnourished cat, they’re going to need to make some compromises where video games are concerned. Thankfully, there are features in games which both players and developers can keep in mind in regards to that rapidly growing segment of the gaming community: the empty husks of humanity whose spirits have long since been crushed by the cruel burdens of an unforgiving world — also known as married people, or those in some otherwise long-term relationships.
To provide a voice from the other side of the coin, I’ll be talking with Lisa Olsen, a writer who herself is married to an avid gamer. Not to mention that she came up with this whole idea in the first place, so if anything comes off as screwy here, it’s totally not my fucking fault. Anyways, here’s what we (as spouses) would like to see more of in games.
#5. Defined Exit Points
When you’re a family guy or gal, you must be prepared to spring into action at a moment’s notice. In my case, this often involves things like emergency Starbucks runs and the management of periodic fecal-related catastrophes brought about by the myriad of beasts and small humans who live in my home. I especially had to be on high alert when my wife was pregnant, as I suspect things would have ended rather badly for me if I were to have told her to “Hang on a minute! Jeez!” as I timed her contractions with a search for one of No More Heroes‘ in-game save toilets.
“Daddy, why does Mommy cry whenever she hears the word ‘Ubisoft’?”
Autosaving is a standard feature nowadays, and that’s great for the most part. Mostly gone are the days when you had to search for a stupid typewriter in order to save the game, or worse, lose hours of gameplay after failing to reach the next checkpoint. Heck, in olden days, you often couldn’t save at all. But today, I can play most stuff, like the new Mad Max game I’m into now, and drop in and out without any aggravation whatsoever (aside from my frustration over the lack of any boomerang-throwing feral children in the plot). Sure, maybe save points make a game more “engaging and intense,” but frankly, I’d rather avoid the type of intense situations that could arise when my wife’s asking for some help with the diaper changing and I’m busy bumbling around looking for a goddamn Moogle.
Or when it’s roleplaying night, which would present a clear conflict of interests.
Speaking of open-world games, it’s not the ability to save that can be the issue; it’s the fact that a lot of times, there’s really no defined break in the action. There’s no intermission, if you will, that could serve as an opportunity to help out with dinner or get up and put out the occasional dinner fire. Here’s Lisa’s take on it:
“The only way to make a relationship with a gamer work is if your partner is willing to determine a point where they will stop for the evening to spend quality time with you. And it helps if they play games that facilitate that. To give credit where credit is due, my husband does a great job of having a set time every night that he is ready to come downstairs. And I in turn am flexible about it. If he’s in the middle of a boss fight, he can have a few more minutes if needed. As long as he takes that bosses’ death as a clue that it’s time to give it up for the night.”
And then there are the issues that can arise when a game just doesn’t fucking end. And as much shit as games like The Order: 1886 take for being too short, could it be that, sometimes, that’s not such a terrible thing?:
“A game that can be beaten is generally preferred, from my point of view, over those open-world games with ever-increasing expansions and new gear that he just has to have, with no exit point in sight. When he beats a game, many times he goes through a few days to a week before he starts the next one, and I get to use that time to catch up on TV shows with him, or sometimes even get a sitter and go out for the night.”
“OK, I think I’m starting to see Mom’s point.”
So aside from something episodic, which would give the player gentle reminders that there is another human being in your midst who might enjoy speaking with you in a language that wasn’t made up entirely of grunts, it would also be nice to have a clear-cut finale occasionally. I like games that I can play over and over again, sure, but I think I can sort of wrap my head around that. Lisa elaborates:
“A few months ago, he was playing Dishonored, and beat the game. My hopes raised, my mind starts thinking of all the fun things we could possibly do this week. And then he said, ‘I think I’m going to start over.’ I said ‘What?’ His response was, ‘I didn’t like the ending. I am going to play through it again to see if I can get another ending.’ ‘You mean, right now?’ ‘Yeah, let me just play a little bit more tonight.’ So the ‘game over’ screen is not always what it claims to be.”
I guess the point is that the concept of making the paths you take in a game result in different outcomes is cool and all, but for your partner, it can be an anticlimax, if you catch my drift. What I’m saying is, even though a game has multiple endings, that doesn’t mean all of them will be “happy endings.” And if you still can’t tell that I’m talking about sex, then I just wasted 36 cents (plus $3.99 shipping) on this stupid double entendre encyclopedia.
I should have known that the best resource for sophisticated romantic banter was right in front of me all along.
#4. Replayable Dialogue and Cutscenes
One of my favorite things about getting a new game is the first few minutes after I slip in the disk, and any 12-year-olds reading this can feel free to alter a couple of words in that last sentence to make it sound completely filthy (just in case you’re getting bored). I really like those opening cinematics, and sit rigidly at attention as they lay the entire foundation for the experience to come (you can stop doing that now). I need to plan it out, however, so that I’m reasonably sure that nobody’s going to barge in right in the middle and make me pause (or completely miss it) with some inane bullshit about walking the dog, burglars in the basement, a hurricane, or whatever.
Because what could be more immersive than the entire Eastern Seaboard being a “haptic” effect?
At the very least, I’d like to have the option to watch it again without having to restart the entire game or listen to some annoying jackass on YouTube. It’s frustrating enough when you can’t skip the lame ones, but when you come across a cutscene that you’d actually like to watch, is it so much to ask to be able to rewind them? I do appreciate it when a game lets you access all that junk in a repository somewhere in the menus, but not many games do that. And then there’s the potential strife that can pop up when you’re playing something that’s dialogue-heavy, as Lisa explains:
“Movie-style dialogue that cannot be repeated is a really good way of ensuring that any sentence that starts with ‘Hey hon’ is inevitably going to be cut off with a hasty, short, ‘Shhh!’ Or, in other words, ‘Shut up and don’t talk to me, because regardless of what you were going to say, you have to wait. I can’t miss this very important scene that determines the entire future of my fictional character.’ This could easily be remedied with dialogue that can be repeated.”
Because Lord knows, one slip-up and you could wind up missing your chance at going knuckle-deep on Urdnot Wrex.
Or spelled out for you in static text, I suppose, as some games do. Or in a dialog wheel. Look, I should emphasize something here: We’re not saying that there are no games which take these issues into consideration. But when you’re playing one that doesn’t, shenanigans can ensue. Tragic shenanigans.
Lisa: “Imagine this hypothetical situation. I am going through Facebook, and find that a mutual friend has just been diagnosed with cancer. Feeling the need to share this tragic news, I start talking and get that ‘Shh!’ In my mind, it clearly puts the priority of video games above all other aspects of life, though I know that to him, it is simply that he is currently in a game without the feature of replayable dialogue. He has no idea of the enormity of what I was about to share, as it could have just as easily been a funny e-card from Pinterest. But regardless, he didn’t have time for me at that moment.”
Cancer would probably be more fun than Battlefield: Hardline‘s single-player campaign, anyhow.
Look, we’re not claiming that these types of features are for everybody. But if I’ve learned anything about relationship dynamics from episodes of Cops, it’s that saying “Shh!” on a regular basis could be one of the quickest recipes for becoming that shirtless guy who’s sitting on a curb with his head in his hands while his wife, restrained by local deputies, screams variations of “Motherfucker!” in the background. Just saying.
#3. Adjustable Difficulties
The feeling of being challenged is why many folks enjoy gaming, and even though a lot of titles give you a choice of difficulty modes, picking the “easy” one is often viewed as something shameful. And the disgrace involved in making such a rueful life decision is only reinforced by those games which openly mock you for choosing such a cowardly path.
I’d imagine that living openly with a manbaby fetish would actually be a rather rough road to plow.
But taking the path of least resistance in a game can sometimes actually carry over into the real world, and that can be a good thing. Especially when you’re looking to avoid the type of “challenge” that comes with fighting the dog for enough space to sleep on the couch. According to Lisa, taking the route of the milksop just might help calm the entire ambiance of a household:
“He set out to play Metro, and decided to choose ‘Survival Ranger Normal’ which is the second-hardest of five difficulty settings. I hear his frustration level rising every time he tries this particular fight. I get to hear his rants, his comments that the game is impossible, that nobody can beat it (until the next day when he figured it out), that he was doing everything right and it still wasn’t working. When I finally pried him away from the game for the night so we could watch a show together, he was more angry and frustrated than after a hard day at work or his fantasy team losing. Play your game, but find the level at which you find it a challenge, but at that perfect level of challenge where it is still fun. Metro, at least, gave him the ability to go down a level (to “Hardcore” …), if he had chosen to do so, though he would have had to redo beaten content.”
Or finish up those Dark Souls games quick-like, while there’s still some summer left and living in the garage isn’t such a hardship.
Yeah, I get that. If I’m coming home pissed off after a stressful day, why increase the tension with a game that’s supposed to be relieving it? I’m not a Dew-guzzling, online epithet-spewing adolescent anymore (or at least, arguably less so), so maybe every now and again, I could dumb things down for the sake of domestic harmony. Full disclosure here: I’ve actually avoided playing the hardest difficulty levels for years, and usually stick to “normal.” Let’s just say there was this one time that I found out that I wasn’t the “bad enough dude” that I thought I was, and I don’t need any more presidential blood on my hands.
#2. A Gore And Obscenity Filter
Many gamers assume that violence/profanity filters are solely for sissy born-again types who can’t handle the truth of how constant head explosions and profanities are just a fact of life in most post-apocalyptic wastelands (and cubist 3D pyramids). But when you’ve made the decision to share your life with someone else, you should keep in mind that the other person involved probably didn’t factor in a relentless stream of n-bombs coming out of the television every five seconds as part of the romantic journey. Unless they’re big Tarantino fans, of course. And not everyone is such a big fan of the other thing Tarantino’s famous for, either.
Lisa: “As an occasional spectator of his games, even unintentionally, I appreciate when he plays ones that give him the option to dial down the violence, as more games are actually allowing. Regardless of your personal thoughts on gore, a game feature that allows the gamer to change the level based on the household’s needs is a valuable and appreciated one. Showing respect to your significant other’s tolerance is a small, sweet way of showing that you care (or pretending you do).”
Then there are the games that need an “all of it” filter.
Sure, there are games that will give you the option to dial things down, but it’s not a universal feature by any means. No doubt that over-the-top carnage is what you paid to see if you’re picking up a copy of Mortal Kombat, Bulletstorm, or Doom, but it seems rather odd that one of the best and smartest series of all time seems to have a “Bah, if they can’t take it, fuck ’em” mentality in regards to all the innards splashing about on the screen.
Lisa: “My husband is a fan of the Fallout series of games. He likes the storyline, the character customization, and all of that. He doesn’t mind blood and guts, but I do. Trouble is, when he played Fallout: New Vegas, he couldn’t change the gore easily, because those game designers decided to go with the, ‘If you don’t like it, play something else’ mentality. Even though the first two Fallouts allowed it! Not only that, but they built in perks that come with bonus gore.”
Think Viva Pinata, if all the critters were sun-bloated roadkill.
So I suppose you could think of the “Bloody Mess” perk in Fallout (by which “characters and creatures you kill will often explode into a red, gut-ridden, eyeball-strewn paste”) as a gore filter in itself, then, since you could simply opt not to take it, right? Well, yeah, that would make the overall presentation a little less “snuff film-y,” I suppose. But the game is plenty violent already. And aside from all the ludicrously explosive viscera, that aforementioned perk also comes with a damage bonus. So if you want that extra little bit of in-game advantage, you’re just going to have to accept the fact that a toddler might wander into the room looking for a glass of water and then witness such a copious spray of rampant hemoglobin that it sends them on their own fantastical journey — through a lifetime of intensive, biweekly psychotherapy. And it’s not like your visiting mother-in-law needs any more reasons to tell her pinochle friends what an insensitive louse you are.
“It looked like the son-of-a-bitch’s pants were off, too. You tell me what was going on.”
But most importantly, maybe your spouse would like to look up from a book every now and again without being exposed to the equivalent of a rendering plant gas explosion. Heck, a way to turn that shit on and off (we’re talking consoles here, as PC games have more tweakability) could even be of benefit to the most callous and war-hardened of gamers.
Lisa: “The lack of a gore filter can actually limit his playing. Not because I interfere with his game choices, but because of our kids. He likes to game during their naps on the weekends, and I allow it just so long as they aren’t being shown something gross. When they wake up, he has a choice: He can keep playing if it’s something kid-friendly that they can watch (which they love to do), or turn it off. Honestly, game developers, I don’t get it. What makes you think that the lack of a filter option makes the game that much cooler?”
#1. A Spectator-Friendly Experience
When you’re playing video games, it often means you’re ballhogging the only form of digital entertainment in the room, thereby forcing everyone else in the immediate vicinity to resort to some other way to occupy their time. But instead of relegating your non-gaming loved one to alternate activities such as reading, knitting, or plotting your painful death, wouldn’t it be nice to give them the opportunity to get involved once in a while?
Just keep in mind that repeatedly calling your spouse a “fucking n00b” may be considered grounds for divorce in some states.
I’m not talking about co-op gameplay or some potentially injurious Wii Sports scenario here. I mean, instead of subjecting everyone else in the room to constant gunfire and/or painfully stupid soliloquies, maybe they’d appreciate it if you mixed things up occasionally by playing something with a little more, dare I say it, ambiance.
Lisa: “There is a difference between sitting in a room decorated with beautiful art and a room with dark, depressing, or sad images. The whole point of wall art is what it adds to the ambiance and the overall feel of the room. What is on your significant other’s screen is part of the room’s decor, even if that isn’t the intention.It might be their game, but the room dynamic changes based on what we see.”
The video game equivalent to a fireplace and a bottle of wine.
I can buy that. And hell, entities like Twitch are doing pretty well for themselves by recognizing the fact that there are plenty of people who simply like watching video games. And when you’re playing something that your cohabitants can get interested in, you just might find yourself inadvertently, God forbid, spending time together.
Lisa: “The first game I ever really watched my husband play through completely was Portal. I watched every level, helped him solve it when I could, and was completely drawn into the story by the end. The game had spectator value. One of the most interesting games that my husband has played recently was Bioshock Infinite, and we enjoyed talking and speculating about it together. Both of those games were superb examples of something that was written well enough for it to be a part of our conversations, instead of something that kept us apart.”
“And he just loves it when I call his work and say ‘I need to speak to Big Daddy.'”
And, at least according to this anecdotal evidence provided by Lisa, sometimes the unthinkable can happen, and the person in your life who might have resented you playing games in the first place is now looking to horn in on the action:
So loud, dumb fun is fine and all, but a little nuanced storytelling, an interesting plot twist here and there … before you know it you might even wind up getting encouraged to engage in the same activity that certain influential people always said would end up with me opening fire in an actual mall. Nobody’s really buying that argument anymore, thankfully. Although I might try to convince my wife that the Xbox is a potential fire hazard, and she may have to take the kids to a hotel for the two weeks or so right after Star Wars Battlefront comes out.