Lessons in Gaming
Or, “How I Spent My Summer (and Fall, and Winter)”
OK, I’ll come out and say this right up front: I realize that it’s been a while.
Thus far, our bearded taskmaster has been generous (or maybe just forgetful) enough to overlook the fact that I haven’t contributed a new column since last June. Granted, I have participated in various other small ways over the past several months, but they aren’t much of a substitute for “Gamer Girlfriend.” Recording podcasts is fun and all that, but I’d much rather write my own article than riff for an hour with six other people. It’s not that I don’t like the riffing (I do!); it’s just that I do so enjoy a captive audience.
But fear not, gentle reader. Just because I’ve been a delinquent writer for nine months doesn’t mean I’m going to subject you to two pages of talking about how I’ve been a delinquent writer for nine months. Rather, I now seek to turn your attention to my other hobby, in the pursuit of which I have actually been quite diligent over the last year: videogaming. (Smooth segue, right?) Basically, all those times when I was thinking, “I really should be writing my article right now,” what I was in fact doing was playing Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy VI, Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, Shadow Hearts (at least, a little bit), Dark Cloud 2, and the new Ace Attorney game, to name but a few.
Now, the more observant among you may have noticed that (with the notable exception of the Ace Attorney game, which stars Miles Edgeworth, and is therefore awesome), the vast majority of my gaming of late has centered around RPGs. Over the past couple of years, I have come to love the compelling package of storytelling, character building, treasure hunting, and puzzle solving that these games all provide. They are intellectually challenging, aesthetically pleasing, and just generally enjoyable.
Plus, it turns out that I am really good at them.
This last point, oddly enough, has been the cause of some friction between Michael and myself of late. It isn’t that he begrudges me being good at “his” hobby; in fact, it’s quite the opposite! It’s more that he doesn’t always seem to remember that I’m actually good at games. Maybe on some level, he still can’t quite believe that he’s succeeded so thoroughly in turning me into a gamer that I can actually play games without his help. And he does so like to be helpful.
It was around the time that I was playing Final Fantasy IX that we both realized this was going to be a problem. I was happily playing the game, and Mike—very helpfully—pointed out that while I was on the road to Lindblum, I should go look for this hidden item because it was “totally cool,” and it would yield in some neat power ups for one of my characters. I politely thanked him for his advice and promptly fetched the item. Then, while I was exploring the woods around Treno, he suggested that I take a quick side trip to visit an optional area that had some really neat character development scenes. I protested slightly, because I had some other business to attend to, but in the end I went. Then, while I was preparing to battle the monsters in Oeilvert, he strongly recommended that I use a particular set up of characters because that was what he liked to do, and he had found that it worked out well.
By this point, I was beginning to give myself tension headaches from all the gnashing of teeth, so I soon came to the conclusion that something must be done. First, I tried subtle hints, then stronger ones; but try as I might, the dear boy just didn’t seem to be getting the hint. Finally, I just outright told him that I appreciated his concern, but that I really did not want his help and I would be very grateful if he would stop treating me like I was an inept gamer and LET ME PLAY THE GODDAMN GAME.
This did not go over well.
After a few rounds of yelling, some tears, a little bit of pouting, and a peace offering in the form of letting him play the “Chocobo Hot and Cold” minigame for me, Mike admitted that his overzealousness wasn’t actually because he thought I was a poor gamer. Rather, he just had a hard time staying quiet because I was playing a game that he had loved as a child, and he got really excited about sharing his knowledge and experience. We both agreed that I needed to be allowed to play the game for myself; and after that point, he was a lot better about staying out of the way. Mostly.
It’s weird to say, but I think that my interest in RPGs has marked a turning point in my career as a gamer. I feel that I have graduated somehow; that I am now playing the kinds of games that “real” gamers play. And—as an added bonus—as I develop as a gamer, so my relationship with Mike develops, too. Occasional “helpfulness” notwithstanding, I have noticed a shift in his manner of late. He still loves to share his Experienced Gamer Wisdom; but at least now (more often than not) he backs off before I have to tell him to shut up.
It’s quite gratifying, really. After three years of dating, I have finally earned a new level of respect in his eyes. In many ways, it is not unlike leveling up in a videogame. I move through the stages—Girlfriend, Best Friend, Lover, Future Wife, and now Fellow Gamer—and our relationship gets stronger (and smarter) as I go. It is an odd progression, to be sure. But then, when did anyone ever accuse us of being normal?