Video Gaming Vicariously

“Hey, look—Shovel Knight is on the 3DS too! And it’s cheaper.”
“Sorry, no good. I can’t watch you play it on a handheld system.”
“Oh, right. Let’s go back to the PS4 section and get it there.”

My partner and I have had an exchange like this at the store any number of times. Me watching her play through video games is such a given that she plans for it, including taking it into account when she buys a new title.

But this doesn’t seems to be the common theme in the video-game world, or so I’ve been told. Most girlfriends, wives, and female friends supposedly don’t like to watch video games. Husbands, boyfriends, and other men come home from work and the video game is something to be enjoyed only while the woman is at the gym, taking the kids to soccer practice, or napping in the other bedroom. Only then do the controllers come out and are men able to lose themselves in the virtual worlds of dueling fighters, leveling-up elves, and puzzle-creating robots. In the world of video gaming, I am, apparently, an oddity.

A person playing a video game on the Xbox

Marco Arment via Flickr

I am a woman. I am a woman who likes video games. I am a woman who likes to watch her partner play video games. Those right there are three things that cause coworkers to stare in confusion, friends to shake their heads, and video-game store customers to feel green with envy. But I swear, honestly, I’m really not that strange!

But you’re a gamer, right?

No. I’m really not.

To put this in perspective and add some background: yes, I do like video games. I am not by any means a rabid fangirl who lives Mario and breathes Square Enix, but I have enough knowledge to reasonably not be lost in a game store and look like a complete fool. I will even occasionally play some survival horror games and one or two puzzle adventures, such as Resident Evil or Tomb Raider, but beyond that, I don’t consider myself a gamer.

It all boils down to the fact that I really don’t have the patience or the drive to game myself. I’m not so good at shooting, aiming, or fighting. While I can pick up games like Resident Evil and learn to shoot the many guns, I’m not a master and reasonably never will be. I just don’t have the patience to run around a level and fight the same Pokémon-looking creatures over and over again, just to earn that special sword. And fighting games? The easy setting still leaves me too frustrated to get very far.

Honestly, if I didn’t live with a partner who does live and breathe many of the console worlds, I would probably have a stack of six games tops and still be living on the PlayStation 3 (whose primary function would be as my Blu-ray player and access to Netflix).

No, more than playing the games myself, I actually love to watch my partner play them.

What’s so great about watching video games?

Unlike me, my partner is a master gamer. She is has worked at a video-game store and can answer your questions on any game, from Madden to Call of Duty to Littlest Pet Shop. She actually knows all the details and cares about her games—she’s even had published reviews here and there. She’s also the woman you’ll meet at an anime or video-game convention dressed as one of the characters and who will kick your ass in that fighting game you spent months training at. She is obsessed with playing a game right the first time through, even if it takes multiple resets and constant trial and error. She learns the combos for fighting games, and she plays a game until it is finished and she can show her achievements off with pride.

In all honesty, that’s what makes watching her play the games so enjoyable. While she’s solving puzzles and collecting coins in Bowser’s castle, I get the enjoyment of watching a movie that consists of the plot of the video game. I get to see the amazing cut scenes in Final Fantasy and the detailed facial expressions of L.A. Noire. Sure, I could see a lot of that if I played the game, but I am not that good. I am a button masher who can’t remember the combos you have to press to defeat the giant lumbering toward you, no matter how many times I try. So, it makes a lot more sense for me to watch while she battles the hordes and the dragons. I guess, in a way, I am using her gaming abilities to enjoy the story, but neither of us really care.

It takes cooperation

My favorites have to be the mystery and puzzle games, in which you don’t just have to battle this monster or that robot, but rather you have to use your brain a lot. In situations like this, I get to take the place of the navigator. In L.A. Noire, when my partner is interrogating a suspect, both of us watch the expressions and decide whether the character is lying. In Portal 2, while she’s attempting to solve the puzzle, I’ll make comments to help her sort it out, and the puzzle seems to be solved that much quicker. In Mortal Kombat, I’ll cheer her on and marvel at how she manages to beat her opponents almost every time.

Putting two brains together while playing video games is fun. Aside from us both essentially playing the game in some respects, there are comments to be made and jokes to laugh at. She doesn’t mind me watching her playing the games, and I’m eternally grateful that when a game comes out that I want to watch, she won’t play it unless I’m there with her. Once in a great while, there are two-player modes that I can take a crack at. She will inevitably beat me, because she picks up the games so much faster, but attempting is still fun.

When I do play video games, they tend to be the ones she will not play. I do love survival horror games, especially those with zombies—the kind intended to keep you up at night watching the shadows. Her? Not so much.. So, instead, I will battle the giant spiders in Resident Evil and take pictures of the creepy ghosts in Fatal Frame, and in the end, we’re all happy.

So it’s really not boring just to watch?

Video games aren’t what they used to be. This is a good thing—trust me. A large majority of games now have compelling stories and detailed graphics. It’s not just a little plumber in overalls going through level after level looking for coins and a princess (not that there’s anything wrong with Mario). Now, we have plots. We have graphics. We have action. We have romance of every type. And we have fun! If this sounds like the trailer to a movie coming out or the next big novel, well, that’s exactly my point.

By and large, when your significant other picks up a video game now, it’s not going to be low-quality graphics accompanied by an endless loop of high-pitched music that drills into your ears. If you pay attention, you might actually discover that there is a whole lot more. Some of the plots in video games actually rival the movies coming out in theaters today, and some of the animation is impressive enough to make DreamWorks and Pixar outright cry.

By no means am I calling every video game out there a stunning piece of art destined for a museum—I can certainly attest to there being stinkers, but that’s the same chance you really take with anything. Still, if you open up and give it a chance, you might actually find that inside the epic medieval quest your husband or boyfriend is playing, there is a romance and story fit for a full length film. Perhaps, inside that bloody fighting game your wife or girlfriend is playing, there are some very interesting back stories and even some hilarious endings.

Video games don’t have to be played in secret by one member of the family. They’re entertainment, pure and simple, and chances are if it’s something your chosen partner likes, maybe it’s something you’ll like too. It’s not for everyone, but with everything that’s out there today, the time for dismissing it just because it’s a video game is long past and gone.

So step into the room and sit on that couch while they’re playing. You never know—you might actually enjoy watching them play too.


Elyse Shuldhiess

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