If you’ve been with your partner for long enough, you don’t even need to hear them clear their throat before you know they’re about to speak. After I clicked on the Halo: Master Chief Collection and waited for it to install on my PC, I noticed a stillness in the air. I looked up and saw my husband looking at me with trepidation. “On a sunny day in Berkeley, I played this game for eight hours straight,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “I was there.”
I wasn’t precisely there, of course. I was in the next room, growing restive. If you’re a certain age, there’s no way you don’t know about Halo. Halo was the Xbox killer app, an utterly absorbing first-person shooter with amazing gameplay in an immersive world. It spawned sequels, franchises, even a TV show.
Even if you didn’t know anything about video games, you knew about Halo. You knew about Halo even when you specifically didn’t want to know anything about Halo. The entirety of my single life spanned the eight years that Halo was dominant. Halo was my enemy. I hated Halo the way Taylor Swift hated popular cheerleaders. Halo is the game that almost made me and my now husband break up.
If you live, or have lived, in proximity to a gamer without being a gamer yourself, you probably know what it’s like to consider a game your personal nemesis. Maybe it was Halo or Gears of War. Today, it might be Fortnite or Apex Legends. The easy thing to do here would be to write from the perspective of a wronged partner. While there’s some debate over whether video game addiction is a real mental illness, most people who study it agree that the games’ compulsive allure is a cause for concern.
It would also be easy to write about the toxicity in gaming that drives women away. I don’t dispute that this exists, but it hasn’t been a factor for me. Both now and at the time, my now husband and his friends did everything they could to encourage me to join in.
In an embarrassingly ironic turn of events, gaming has become one of the primary ways that my husband and I now spend time together. Seventeen years after I issued a passionate ultimatum that he simply had to stop playing so much, I finally discovered that it’s fun to have a hobby that we can both participate in together at home. Before we had kids (and a global pandemic), we might have gone rock climbing or mountain biking together. Now we log on after the kids are in bed and yell, “Strafe, motherfucker, strafe!” at each other.
Both my husband, and everyone who knows me, has asked what took me so long. Seventeen years after the fact, it’s hard to figure out why I couldn’t bring myself to play. As best as I can figure it out, here is what stopped me:
Gaming is physically hard. Gaming requires an incredible amount of fine motor control. If you’ve played video games your whole life, you might not even realize that moving joysticks and pressing buttons to coordinate moving, shooting, and camera angles simultaneously is difficult. If you don’t own a console yourself, it’s hard to ask for a turn to practice.