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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Wife, or Choosing Your Battles

I've discussed our topic of the month, evangelism vs closet gaming, before, so I'll give a brief nod to that topic before I move on to my topic for this week.

Not long after I got Rip City Gamers started, I went over to Dave's apartment on a Saturday to try out We The People, plus another game or two. Dave was pretty upset that I was walking up to his door actually carrying games in plain sight, which I found a bit surprising (Dave is not the kind of guy who you would think cared much for popular opinion. Not that there's anything wrong with that...) I suppose in some situations I'd worry, but in general I don't care if people think I'm a geek or not. After all, I was in high tech for years, and it's hard to get geekier than that. Perhaps the fear of what other people might think was drilled out of me when a group of friends and I played D&D on our front lawn of the first house I owned and they mocked me for worrying what the neighbors would think. Since then, not a problem. In fact, I get people interested by talking about what a geeky hobby it is, as geeky somehow now seems to have gotten socially acceptable, at least once you're over 30.

Now onto my wife. When I first started this group, my wife (who is a very funny, intelligent, beautiful, and wonderful person) hated games. She hated that I spent money on games, that I spent time on games, that they took up space in our house. I think the real issue was time, but compared to many gamers, time spent on games was something less than 12 hours a month total. That's about 30 minutes a day. Sure, I had a bunch of wargames, and spent time playing on the computer, but those she didn't seem to mind so much. But to have actual friends that came over... well, that was simply too much to ask.

This was not the best situation, as I was one of the people who hosted once a month. For about three hours. She really hated me going out on Saturdays, and once when a game ran long and I got home almost 30 minutes later than my original estimate, she gave me the silent treatment for a few days. Note that we didn't have anywhere to be, it was just that I'd said 4pm, and by God I better be home by 4pm. Of course, the answer to that was to say 5pm in the future. And we wonder why kids are lawyers when it comes to household rules.

Many of you, especially the ones married for a while, have immediately said to yourselves, "It's not about the games, it's something else," and I'm sure you're right. I must confess, I have never understood people who think that by giving some not-so-broad hints that I will magically figure out their point. Interestingly, this is also how many people seem to think that God works: "Katrina is God's way of saying that this nation is too liberal." Bummer for the conservatives in the area, I guess, they should have seen this coming. If someone can explain this to me in a clear way (the whole concept, not Katrina), I'd love to hear it.

Somewhere along the line, my wife decided that while perhaps a bit expensive, there were much more important things to worry about. I don't drink to excess, I don't get lap dances, I don't gamble, I don't restore expensive cars (although I do like writing computer music and playing in a band, and that's close to the same price). We are very comfortable financially, agree that raising dogs is better than raising kids, have similar religious, political, and cultural views, and she can decorate the house pretty much as she likes outside of the Zone Of Entropy, otherwise known as the Doug Room.

It's gotten to the point where she will (very) occasionally join the group for a game if she already knows it, will play some games with friends, and has even gone so far as to pick up a $300 order or two on my behalf from Funagain when we used to go down to Ashland at New Years. That last one without any comment on the price, btw.

Perhaps part of the problem was that I tried to make a gamer out of her early on by introducing two-player games. We played Formula De a couple of times (not so much fun with only four cars), and even a shot at Settlers Card Game, but the game that ended all that was Streetcar. After misunderstanding the victory conditions (she thought she needed a loop), and I won the game, she accused me of giving her the wrong rules so that I could win. I find this hard to believe, as we'd been married for about 12 years and I think it was pretty clear that I don't cheat, ever. Again, the silent treatment for a couple of days. I think she was looking for an excuse to get out of playing games period. That, or she doesn't like to feel stupid, enough that she gets defensive to the point of bodily harm.

I've learned over time to only introduce certain games to my wife. First, there should be about three rules, or at least three basic concepts, at the most. Her eyes glaze over when explaining Liar's Dice. Second, the company has to be right. Other couples is a good start here, certainly not people who she considers to be good gamers. Third, the game shouldn't take too long. Unfortunately, this amount of time changes dramatically depending upon the game, and I really can't predict it. Party games that I find incredibly dull she will play for hours, so I generally keep it under 45 minutes if it's a "real" game.

We just got back from a weekend with friends, and while we didn't play a lot (I really wanted to try out Havoc with them, but this wasn't the right night), we did play a party game and Barbarossa, the game that wargamers get excited about until they discover it involves clay. The latter was a huge hit, with the really entertaining part being my wife trying to figure out what the cylinder on top of three legs with two long thin cylinders coming out the top was. "Is it in our house?" "Yup." Do we use it in the bathroom?" "Yes." "Do you enjoy using it?" "Oh, yeah." This is the kind of exasperation that works well for us, and we had a great time watching her figure out that she was looking at our water heater over the course of the game. Much better than a friend's "gun" that looked more like particularly unsavory bacon. My wife has commented at least three or four times in as many days that "that was a great game." !

My wife has also mellowed quite a bit with the game group and with my time spent with them. I've gone from once every other Thursday and one Saturday every other month to at least five sessions a month, most of them at other people's houses. Part of this is that I retired a couple of years ago, although I recently started working for my family and that's taking a bit more time than I thought, plus it's on days she's not at work, so it's kind of like it was when I worked full time. Actually, she encourages me to game more now, as this job can sometimes be a bit stressful. Which is weird, my previous job was insanely stressful.

Anyway, it's been quite a ride. This change has come about over about seven years, so I really can't give a magic answer to what either of us changed to make this a hobby we both could live with.

I'll tell you one thing...she's very happy to see at least some of my games go, and even more to get them out of the second bedroom closet and out of sight in the family room. I guess sometimes it's all about where you have stuff, not what.


  • At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Laurent said…

    Ah the wife issue! Nina does not game much either, I think even less than Mel. I eventried to buy a couple of 2-player Kosmos but it's hard. It's seems the theme is very important for her. Train and cute things work. Art/graphic is important.

    She does not seem very keen on new games (maybe it's my bad usage of American English and the fact that I can not explain rules properly). So besides Scrabble, we played mainly The Reef, Mamma Mia and Lost Cities.

    The other problem is that I win 90% of the time. I think that removes some of the fun for her but my competitive mind can let me lose on purpose. It's like cheating to me.

  • At 2:49 PM, Blogger Eric said…

    I'll admit it. I'm lucky. Jodie had never played games like these before we met, but took to them very quickly.

    Settlers of Catan was her introduction. Robo Rally didn't scare her off, thankfully. This would have been late 1997 or so.

    I distinctly remember her saying a while ago "If, before we met, you had told me that in five years I'd be playing boardgames three or four nights a week I would have said you were crazy."

    As often as not, she's the one to ask for a game these days. She's never shown an interest in wargaming, though she enjoys a light old west skirmish game and hasn't shut the door completely on DBA. I'm not too worried about that, though. It would be almost too good to be true :)

  • At 4:44 PM, Blogger Dug said…

    And here I'd gone to so much trouble to avoid using my wife's name...

  • At 1:28 PM, Anonymous Rita H said…

    Doug has a most charming wife. We've had one "girls nite" when the boys were gaming. I think she spiked the pitcher of Cosmos (or do they call for all that alcohol?). Gaming...what gaming!


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