People warned Wendy Zamora that falling in love with a gamer was a big mistake. All these years later, she’s glad she didn’t listen.
My husband and I had a rather unorthodox first date. I was on a business trip to Las Vegas and his friends had dragged him there on vacation. I saw him poolside at the Luxor hotel, and after about an hour of smiling at one another, I went over to talk. One of the first things he said to me, after “Hi, my name is Alex,” was “I am really into video games.”
After we exchanged numbers and went our separate ways, Alex’s best friend Eric told him, “Dude, you blew it. You never tell a girl that you love to game when you first meet her. I doubt she’ll call you back.”
But I did. And two years later, we were married.
Whenever I tell people my husband is a gamer, I get a look of concern. Before another word is exchanged, I know the stereotype taking shape inside their heads: the lone, anti-social adult male gamer neglects his family and retreats into his man cave, spending exorbitant time and cash on a childish hobby. People expect me to complain, to roll my eyes, to vent about my sorry situation. But in reality, I fully support, and in fact encourage, my husband’s gaming habit.
I’ll admit that at first, I was hesitant to embrace Alex’s hobby. Although I loved to play video games as a child, I had a fairly limited understanding of how they had evolved since the heady days of blowing on Nintendo cartridges and aiming my Duck Hunt gun point blank at the screen. I had played a few puzzle games on the PlayStation 1 in college and participated in numerous button-mashing sessions of Smash Brothers, but my only other experience with modern games were with a boyfriend who loved to come home from working late and play a few games of Halo instead of hang out with me. (To this day, I still cringe at the sound of first-person shooter machine gun fire.) So when I realized the depth of Alex’s passion for gaming, a little warning signal went off. Maybe he’ll always prioritize gaming over me.
Luckily for me, Alex blasted that thought out of my head from day one. While it’s true that he finds time to game every day, he also finds time to be a wonderful husband and a great dad. I could have left it at that and been perfectly content. But in a marriage, it’s very easy to slink off to your respective corners and isolate, especially if your interests don’t always match up. So I decided that I could leave Alex to retreat into his man room every night, or I could walk through that door and find out why gaming was so important to him.
For Alex, and for millions of other men (and women), playing video games is a cathartic experience. When he injured his knee in college and could no longer play soccer, he turned to gaming to fill the void. What was once something he participated in for fun evolved into a creative escape. Gaming became the medium through which Alex could concentrate many varied interests, from the competitive to the imaginative to the contemplative.
In playing JRPGs (Japanese Role-Playing Games), Alex could get lost in the story, the strategy and the satisfaction of grinding through enemy battles and leveling up. Games like Grand Theft Auto allow for freedom and a little bit of danger because they feature a sand-box concept, meaning the gameplay is not linear—the world is open to explore in all directions, whether you’re participating in side missions or advancing the plot. And first-person shooters, while not my personal favorite, include online gameplay, which allows Alex to get together frequently with his friends—something that, as a father to a toddler, he would have far more difficulty accomplishing.
While games may provide personal satisfaction to people for a variety of reasons, research shows there are other empirical advantages. For example, studies have linked gaming with increased hand/eye coordination, reaction time and visual acuity. Positive effects have been documented across a wide range of cognitive skills from strategic thinking to multi-tasking capabilities. Unlike watching television, which is a passive activity, gaming is an interactive experience that fires off neurons in the brain.
Gaming is no less valid a hobby than working on cars or golfing or playing in fantasy sports leagues. However, despite the fact that in 2012 Americans spent more money on video games than they did on going to the movies, the perception remains the same: gaming is a hobby for geeks and recluses. And since most people don’t want to familiarize themselves with what they don’t understand, I get the look of faux sympathy. Oh, you poor gamer’s wife. You must be so lonely.
Of course, as with any hobby, balance is key. Gaming has a notorious reputation for being a time- and cash-suckage. With games costing an average of $60 a pop, plus additional costs for online gameplay and downloadable content (not to mention associated memorabilia such as action figures, T-shirts and posters), being an avid gamer isn’t exactly cheap. And, as is especially the case with MMOs (massively multiplayer online games) and RPGs, it can sometimes take upwards of 60 hours to play through a single game. However, anyone with an addictive personality can go down that rabbit hole with any number of activities. At the end of the day, it’s not okay to neglect your partner for any reason. There’s no need to blame video games for that.
Have there been times that I’ve been frustrated with Alex’s level of commitment to video games? Of course. It used to bother me that we never went to bed at the same time or that he twitched with anticipation for getting back to the controller when we’d been away on vacation for a week. But we both have made compromises in order to fit our needs as a couple. Alex would never be happy with a woman who made him cut video games out of his life. And I would never be happy with a man who didn’t make his wife and son his first priority.
The way I look at it, I had a choice. I could resent Alex for that other part of his life that I didn’t understand. Or I could participate. So a few nights a week, I come upstairs to the man room and work on my blog while he games. I’m often blown away by the gorgeous graphics and surprisingly complex storylines of games like (the new) Tomb Raider and Uncharted. Sometimes I pick up a controller and play Ratchet and Clank or Little Big Planet (though they’re still way out of my league). In addition, my newfound familiarity with games has not only helped me make a few friends, but it’s also served as instrumental market research for my job developing content for interactive applications.
Someday, my husband plans to open the door to his man room to our young son. Perhaps video games can further bind our little family together. Maybe our son won’t be an enthusiastic gamer, but we can still teach him to appreciate other people’s interests—even those he doesn’t understand.
Follow Wendy at @WendyTZamora
Photo of Alex’s game collection courtesy of the author