Saturday, January 9, 2010

Can Lego Games Ruin Relationships?: Playing With Others When Others Are Your Girlfriend

Is it just me or does Lego Batman have a HUGE head?Sorry I’m late guys, I’ve been playing multiplayer New Super Mario Bros Wii all day. Back to business.

So my boyfriend and I have tossed the idea around of playing a video game together, and the jury is still out.

You have probably reasoned out by now that I have a lot of friends that play video games, most of which are male. To some degree or another, most of my male friends have either found girlfriends who dabble in the genre themselves (even if only to play Pokemon) or convinced said girlfriend to try out a few simple games to ease them in, starting with a gentle multiplayer and working them slowly up from there.

While persuading your girlfriend to participate in Smash Bros Brawl or Halo3 with a bunch of your best gaming buddies isn’t particularly feasible (unless she is, like me, competitive at the former and completely unashamed of how much she sucks at the latter), many of my friends have taken a smarter route and started off small – a Mario Party here, a Mario Kart race there, maybe even a venture into a Wii game or one of the various plastic instrument titles. With just enough patience and some creative subtlety, they’ve found a happy compromise.

But are collaborative games good for your romantic relationship?

I know a couple that is very near and dear to this blog, and it was around this time last year that they started playing the Lego games together. I was living with them at the time. A number of other guys with girlfriends heard about this and were initially quite jealous of the idea. It’s an exciting opportunity– when you and the person you love can enjoy the same social activities and learn to jointly appreciate the same passions. My boyfriend was one of these  jealous individuals, and recently he has been anxiously awaiting the  release of Lego Harry Potter.

Inexperienced, I am tentatively interested in this idea. I like to collaborate, I like to play video games, and it’s fun to play with friends. I would be very much willing to pay for online gaming if I weren’t so picky and miserly. It sounds like it would be fun to tackle adventures, defeat levels, and accomplish goals with a partner. After all, I’ve never felt closer to my friends as I do when I’m playing the New Super Mario Bros Wii with them, even if we did just collectively lose over 20 lives on world 5 level 2.

But then I started thinking about it a little more, and I became worried. Anything can be a slippery slope when romance enters the equation. My Lego-Game-playing friends did a lot of yelling while they played –  both at each other and at the game – and they always wanted to play, thus the yelling occurred rather frequently.

Inspired, I ran an experiment shortly after I bought a Wii for my pregnant sister and her husband for Christmas. Because I hadn’t bought them any games, we decided to rent a few while I was visiting her, and I tossed Lego Star Wars into the pile. My brother-in-law and sister both love Star Wars. They both love the Wii. I thought it might be a good opportunity for them to strengthen their teamwork efforts in preparation for an arduous and painful labor.

Maybe it was just about their personality types, but they weren’t really interested. My brother-in-law hinted that he enjoyed his video games alone. My sister preferred Mario Kart. When they did attempt to play together, they spent most of the time arguing about how much time should be allotted to figuring out the controls and butting heads when their pacing was different.

My sister and I can play Super Mario Bros together. My friends can all compete against one another without too much animosity. But I wonder if couples can play together in a healthy way? I wonder if collaborative video games are in fact bad for relationships?

Certainly, relationships are complicated entities. Learning how to accept your significant others’ flaws and weaknesses in stride with their good qualities is always a challenge. And no two video gamers are alike or enjoy a game in the same way. Some are platform experts with lots of experience, while others are slower and meticulous, checking every crevice and cranny for secrets. Some  infuriate their partner by completely missing the ledge they were aiming for eighteen thousand times. Constantly re-learning patience and understanding is vital for the survival of a relationship. Do collaborative video games provide useful practice for such real-life challenges, or do they exacerbate differences and elicit unnecessary arguments?

There's a lot of visible tension in this photoIt’s a complicated question, and I would love additional input. Does Lego Batman destroy relationships, or can it heal them? Does Lego Star Wars painfully expose the existing flaws of a relationship or does it strengthen our ability to cope with them? Should I let my boyfriend drag me into Lego Harry Potter or should I just stick with my ol’ standby Mario favorites with my housemates? 

I mean, look at all the resentment that Kazooie has for Banjo, all because they went on an video game adventure together.