The dating site eHarmony claims to match prospective couples based on 29 dimensions of compatibility, not one of them being video game skill level.
This is an enormous mistake.
With games spreading into every niche these days, even couples that found Pac-Man "too technical" might find themselves picking up a Wii, popping in a goofy innocent-looking game they can play together, like Super Mario Bros. Wii, and transforming into another divorce statistic within the evening. I am oversimplifying, of course. There are some rare exceptions that end in murder-suicide instead.
If you care about your relationship, do not play...
If you haven't played this game, you're probably wondering how a cute little platformer with cartoony plumbers, mushrooms, and turtles could set a happily married couple at each other's throats. I was too, so I rented it. Bad idea.
It turns out the game designers spent a lot of time studying all the common wounds lurking beneath the surface of a relationship and came up with a game element to reopen each of them. Here's just a few.
Nobody's good at communication in a relationship, which is why marriage counselors can just safely tell you to practice communicating better while they read a newspaper and pocket your $200.
"What? No, go on, I'm listening."
This game puts that hollow advice to the test, asking you and your partner to keep both of your characters on the screen at the same time. If one character advances upwards, and the other isn't ready, the bottom of the screen will rush up and suck the character you failed to communicate with into a bottomless void of death.
It's easy to ignore the other person not cleaning the bathroom when it's their turn, but you can't ignore your Luigi falling to his death off the edge of the universe while your partner bounces obliviously higher. The only silver lining presents another potential pitfall for your relationship, as you get to return from the afterlife in a floating bubble that follows your significant other around like a haunting reminder of his guilt in your demise.
"Youuuuuu killed usssss, Mario...."
B. Personal space
Even obnoxiously clingy couples will go insane if glued to each other 24/7, so everyone needs their own personal time and space, whether it's a woman's Sunday football-watching time or a man's scented candle and bubble bath time.
Guys and their "man time", am I right?
Many couples don't explicitly set aside these boundaries, they just fall into the habits over time, without realizing why.
That's why they'll forget to tell each other when one of them is trying to perform a delicate maneuver on a tiny platform, while the other, less skilled person leaps up to the platform in blissful ignorance and knocks their partner into the abyss. Falling into old habits, the woman will teach him to stay off the fucking platform the same way she taught him to respect her football time -- by yelling at him. Of course, that never works because he gets all hang dog and wounded.
"Oh my God, moooove..."
I mentioned earlier that when you die in this game, you return in a floating bubble -- it hangs serenely above lava, obstacles and jumping puzzles until your partner pops it. But that floating reincarnation bubble can actually be activated at any time, not just after death, effectively excusing you from the obstacle course. That means I, being the shittiest of gamers, can hit the "A" button and float invincibly around the level while I yell at my boyfriend Mike to hurry up and get past this damn jumping puzzle. As long as one player reaches the goal, both of you get to advance.
He can also literally carry me through.
Suddenly he is having flashbacks to those times when I yell to inform him that the dog threw up and he arrives with a paper towel to find me happily watching TV with my back to the mess. We have done a really great job of denial about these incidents and the last thing I wanted to do was remind him.
Although this wouldn't be a problem if we could train our dog to do this.
But the thing is, he also can activate the "count me out" bubble. If both players go into bubble mode, the game goes, "Hey, no," and you both die, just like we would both die of toxoplasmosis from the cat litter flooding the house if we both tried to "bubble" ourselves from that responsibility for too long.
The cooperative shooting game Resident Evil 5, where you and your partner play a muscular freak and a busty African warrior, seems like smooth sailing in the beginning. It involves you walking down a street with your partner toward a butcher shop. Then you meet a guy who... sells you some meat? We skipped the cutscene.
After that, you're walking down another path. This is the type of adversity our relationship is more than strong enough to withstand.
I walked the SHIT out of that path.
Unfortunately the actual game then starts and involves shooting things and facing the right direction, which is too rich for my blood. But after interviewing and looking through the divorce documents of couples who have gotten further in the game, it's pretty clear it was designed by sadistic marriage-haters:
Nobody likes nagging. That's why this game allows you to nag your partner with the touch of a button, particularly the circle button. While they're, for example, being beaten up by a gang of zombies, you can have your character impatiently shout at them to "come on!".
You can also thank your partner, but that takes two buttons (circle + left) or perfect timing (immediately after they rescue you or give you an item) so it's much easier to nag them than to thank them, which is sadly as realistic a social game mechanic as I have ever seen.
The average relationship.
Another sore point in any relationship is usually who holds the purse strings, and how tightly. The way most couples work is that no matter who makes how much money, it all theoretically goes into an "our" money pool, although when it gets spent on a plasma TV or a pair of Jimmy Choos, suddenly the other person gets upset about what "my" money is being spent on, everyone having interesting and often very specific ideas of which dollars in the "our" money pool secretly have their name on them.
"...you had me work a second job so you could get a diamond-covered Mercedes?"
You can see how this would apply to a cooperative game where ammunition can be very scarce. Who "earns" the ammo, the person who killed the monster/crate it dropped from, or the person who picks up the ammo? How can you keep track anyway? Does it tend to turn into "our" ammo when the other person is hogging and burning it, whereas you see it as "my" hard-earned ammo when you are shooting it very wisely (of course!) and your annoying partner is screeching about how wasteful you are?
And if you've been cleverly avoiding real-life "mine/ours" issues by keeping separate accounts, this game will blow the cover off your little charade. When you generously offer your broke partner 10 rounds of ammo, they won't just see what you're handing them, they'll see your entire inventory, including the hundreds of rounds you're keeping for yourself.
"Wait, when did you pick up a diamond-covered Mercedes?"
First of all, if one person in a relationship plays World of Warcraft and the other doesn't, the relationship is already pretty much over. Or at least it will be once Cataclysm comes out.
But WoW is actually a pretty good game for couples to play, until you want to raid. Endgame content is built around 10 and 25-player raids, which means you need strictly organized guilds run like a top-tier college sports team.
Except you can only bribe potential recruits with WoW gold.
The game is pretty strict about the combination of classes you need on certain fights, so a guild often wants one half of a couple but has no room for the other, sometimes because the other person just sucks, but more often because the person is the wrong class, which is something they couldn't have planned for and can't change. This can make things awkward between couples.
Anyone who's ever had trouble getting their significant other to fit in with their group of friends can see the problem here. The person the guild doesn't want is going to feel insulted and hurt, the person the guild does want is going to feel guilty and conflicted, and it's all going to be expressed with passive aggressive hinting because nobody wants to be rude and spell it out.
Even if they don't overhear the, "Yeah, she is a bore, but, if we invite him, we have to invite her," conversation, they'll pick up on the vibe sometime. Sooner or later, you'll come face to face with the, "it's me or them" question, which is probably one of the trickiest boss fights you'll ever face.