Forget couples therapy, do Cooperative Gaming!
I didn’t grow up in a house with video games. After a tense game of Chutes and Ladders which ended with my father flipping the board yelling, “Stupid chutes!” we barely had board games. The first video game console that entered our house belonged to a boy my sister dated. She dumped him before we could get to a second level of any game. Goodbye Nintendo, you had such potential.
So in result, I don’t play video games. I enjoy watching them be played because it’s like watching a choose-your-own adventure movie. However, whenever I grab the controller and try to play, I seize up. I seem to be ocular-pollically impaired; my brain has problems coordinating actions between my eyes and thumbs. I hold the controller in my sweaty palms, eyes big on my confused bobble-head wondering where I’m supposed to look at the TV, while my thumbs move my avatar like it has Parkinson’s disease.
My husband Jeremy, being a gamer, would love for me to get involved with his passion. Every time a new game comes out with “cooperative playing”, he tries to pique my interest. “We both can play this one together,” he would say. “It will be like date night!” I tried playing the game Halo with him and spent fifteen minutes trying to find my way out of a corner. Playing Sims was frustrating, to say the least. This is the game where you create a life that is better than yours and have your wee person live it and succeed more than you ever will. Jeremy and I thought it would be fun creating our own living situation within the virtual world. While he left the house, got a job and partied with the neighbors, I died of starvation because I couldn’t stop sleeping in front of the toilet.
No matter if you are playing a cooperative video game in the same room as your partner or over a headset with some 8 year old kid in Tallahassee calling you a dipshit, the way to succeed in your team mission is with communication. You have to talk through moves and help each other complete tasks. Just like real life! I feel that the gaming corporations have really missed the boat on a prime marketing demographic for these games: married couples. Then again, no dude would ever buy a game that is supposed to evaluate your relationship. Perhaps marriage counselors?
One of Jeremy’s favorite games came out with a cooperative play option and I had to try. Portal 2 is a puzzle game where you have a gun that…ah…shoots a portal that gets you…let me just have Wikipedia explain. “The game consists primarily of a series of puzzles that must be solved by teleporting the player’s character and simple objects using the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (dubbed the “portal gun”), a device that can create inter-spatial portals between flat planes.” With the co-op play option, you and your partner figure out puzzles together in order for you to continue through the game together. There is a lot of, “you put your portal there and I’ll put mine here. Put your other one there and I’ll jump through to land there…etc, etc.” What I found playing this game with Jeremy was that is totally tested our communication skills. I would ask him to explain to me in words where he wanted me to put my portal (that does sounds dirty) and he would have to practice patience as I constantly fell and died. It was a lot of fun! When we solved a puzzle, we knew we did it as a team and no one died or got divorced.
The first game I was able to really get my head around and fully enjoy was Rock Band. It bridged the gap between playing a game and my strong desire to be Joan Jett. Jeremy would play drums on the hardest level, while I would be fingering salty licks (pressing buttons) on the guitar on medium mode. So I wouldn’t get too frustrated, we would play with a “no fail” option applied. In a regular game, if a song is hard and you are not playing exact enough, the game will kill you off. You can continue to live if the other players hit certain chords or sequences of beats giving you back life. With the “no fail” option, you can suck to high heaven and still keep playing not having to rely on anyone else. My type of game!
The morning of January 1, 2009, Jeremy and I decided to start the New Year with a challenge. Rock Band has a level called The Endless Setlist where you can play every song the game has in its collection, a total of 84 songs. The difficulty of play increases with each song and you can’t play with “no fail” so if you die, the game is over, you have failed and brought shame upon your family. We said fuck it and decided to start the year as rock stars.
The day was long and our hands were cramped, but we were “performing” well. We could taste the victory of completion. We had been playing for almost 10 hours straight, had one pee break and were surrounded by cracker wrappers and any food you could stuff in your mouth with one hand between songs. Then the last three songs came to view.
These last songs were not only the hardest level, but they were songs neither of us knew, had no logical tune and no consistent rhythm. The bands and their song titles were Abnormality – “Visions“, Dream Theater - “Panic Attack” and last but not least, Judas Priest – “Painkiller“. These “songs” are total “batshit”. Until this point neither of us had come close to “dying” or had to “save” the other. When the last three songs hit, we were toast. Sweat was flying off of Jeremy’s arms as he flailed around trying to get the nonexistent beat on the drums. I was audibly grunting and begging my ears to pick out a playable tune. Panic crept in at the thought that we might start the New Year as failures and not the fake rock gods we were meant to be. We had to get through this together. These were the phrases that were yelled out by one or both of us at different times:
“I’m going to die!”
“No you are not!”
“I’m working on it!”
“We should just quit.”
“We will never quit! Not after all we have been through!”
When we completed the last of 84 songs, stillness filled the room. All you could hear was our heaving breaths and the applause of our adoring Rock Band fans on the TV. Jeremy and I looked at each other and dropped our fake instruments. “Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.” And then we went to separate rooms and did not speak to each other for the rest of the day.