If one ever wants to enjoy the companionship of anything besides Ethernet cables, Cheeto dust, and a malnourished cat, they're going to need to make some compromises where video games are concerned. Thankfully, there are features in games which both players and developers can keep in mind in regards to that rapidly growing segment of the gaming community: the empty husks of humanity whose spirits have long since been crushed by the cruel burdens of an unforgiving world -- also known as married people, or those in some otherwise long-term relationships.
To provide a voice from the other side of the coin, I'll be talking with Lisa Olsen, a writer who herself is married to an avid gamer. Not to mention that she came up with this whole idea in the first place, so if anything comes off as screwy here, it's totally not my fucking fault. Anyways, here's what we (as spouses) would like to see more of in games.
#5. Defined Exit Points
When you're a family guy or gal, you must be prepared to spring into action at a moment's notice. In my case, this often involves things like emergency Starbucks runs and the management of periodic fecal-related catastrophes brought about by the myriad of beasts and small humans who live in my home. I especially had to be on high alert when my wife was pregnant, as I suspect things would have ended rather badly for me if I were to have told her to "Hang on a minute! Jeez!" as I timed her contractions with a search for one of No More Heroes' in-game save toilets.
"Daddy, why does Mommy cry whenever she hears the word 'Ubisoft'?"
Autosaving is a standard feature nowadays, and that's great for the most part. Mostly gone are the days when you had to search for a stupid typewriter in order to save the game, or worse, lose hours of gameplay after failing to reach the next checkpoint. Heck, in olden days, you often couldn't save at all. But today, I can play most stuff, like the new Mad Max game I'm into now, and drop in and out without any aggravation whatsoever (aside from my frustration over the lack of any boomerang-throwing feral children in the plot). Sure, maybe save points make a game more "engaging and intense," but frankly, I'd rather avoid the type of intense situations that could arise when my wife's asking for some help with the diaper changing and I'm busy bumbling around looking for a goddamn Moogle.
Or when it's roleplaying night, which would present a clear conflict of interests.
Speaking of open-world games, it's not the ability to save that can be the issue; it's the fact that a lot of times, there's really no defined break in the action. There's no intermission, if you will, that could serve as an opportunity to help out with dinner or get up and put out the occasional dinner fire. Here's Lisa's take on it:
"The only way to make a relationship with a gamer work is if your partner is willing to determine a point where they will stop for the evening to spend quality time with you. And it helps if they play games that facilitate that. To give credit where credit is due, my husband does a great job of having a set time every night that he is ready to come downstairs. And I in turn am flexible about it. If he's in the middle of a boss fight, he can have a few more minutes if needed. As long as he takes that bosses' death as a clue that it's time to give it up for the night."
And then there are the issues that can arise when a game just doesn't fucking end. And as much shit as games like The Order: 1886 take for being too short, could it be that, sometimes, that's not such a terrible thing?:
"A game that can be beaten is generally preferred, from my point of view, over those open-world games with ever-increasing expansions and new gear that he just has to have, with no exit point in sight. When he beats a game, many times he goes through a few days to a week before he starts the next one, and I get to use that time to catch up on TV shows with him, or sometimes even get a sitter and go out for the night."
So aside from something episodic, which would give the player gentle reminders that there is another human being in your midst who might enjoy speaking with you in a language that wasn't made up entirely of grunts, it would also be nice to have a clear-cut finale occasionally. I like games that I can play over and over again, sure, but I think I can sort of wrap my head around that. Lisa elaborates:
"A few months ago, he was playing Dishonored, and beat the game. My hopes raised, my mind starts thinking of all the fun things we could possibly do this week. And then he said, 'I think I'm going to start over.' I said 'What?' His response was, 'I didn't like the ending. I am going to play through it again to see if I can get another ending.' 'You mean, right now?' 'Yeah, let me just play a little bit more tonight.' So the 'game over' screen is not always what it claims to be."
I guess the point is that the concept of making the paths you take in a game result in different outcomes is cool and all, but for your partner, it can be an anticlimax, if you catch my drift. What I'm saying is, even though a game has multiple endings, that doesn't mean all of them will be "happy endings." And if you still can't tell that I'm talking about sex, then I just wasted 36 cents (plus $3.99 shipping) on this stupid double entendre encyclopedia.
I should have known that the best resource for sophisticated romantic banter was right in front of me all along.
#4. Replayable Dialogue and Cutscenes
One of my favorite things about getting a new game is the first few minutes after I slip in the disk, and any 12-year-olds reading this can feel free to alter a couple of words in that last sentence to make it sound completely filthy (just in case you're getting bored). I really like those opening cinematics, and sit rigidly at attention as they lay the entire foundation for the experience to come (you can stop doing that now). I need to plan it out, however, so that I'm reasonably sure that nobody's going to barge in right in the middle and make me pause (or completely miss it) with some inane bullshit about walking the dog, burglars in the basement, a hurricane, or whatever.
At the very least, I'd like to have the option to watch it again without having to restart the entire game or listen to some annoying jackass on YouTube. It's frustrating enough when you can't skip the lame ones, but when you come across a cutscene that you'd actually like to watch, is it so much to ask to be able to rewind them? I do appreciate it when a game lets you access all that junk in a repository somewhere in the menus, but not many games do that. And then there's the potential strife that can pop up when you're playing something that's dialogue-heavy, as Lisa explains:
"Movie-style dialogue that cannot be repeated is a really good way of ensuring that any sentence that starts with 'Hey hon' is inevitably going to be cut off with a hasty, short, 'Shhh!' Or, in other words, 'Shut up and don't talk to me, because regardless of what you were going to say, you have to wait. I can't miss this very important scene that determines the entire future of my fictional character.' This could easily be remedied with dialogue that can be repeated."
Because Lord knows, one slip-up and you could wind up missing your chance at going knuckle-deep on Urdnot Wrex.
Or spelled out for you in static text, I suppose, as some games do. Or in a dialog wheel. Look, I should emphasize something here: We're not saying that there are no games which take these issues into consideration. But when you're playing one that doesn't, shenanigans can ensue. Tragic shenanigans.
Lisa: "Imagine this hypothetical situation. I am going through Facebook, and find that a mutual friend has just been diagnosed with cancer. Feeling the need to share this tragic news, I start talking and get that 'Shh!' In my mind, it clearly puts the priority of video games above all other aspects of life, though I know that to him, it is simply that he is currently in a game without the feature of replayable dialogue. He has no idea of the enormity of what I was about to share, as it could have just as easily been a funny e-card from Pinterest. But regardless, he didn't have time for me at that moment."
Look, we're not claiming that these types of features are for everybody. But if I've learned anything about relationship dynamics from episodes of Cops, it's that saying "Shh!" on a regular basis could be one of the quickest recipes for becoming that shirtless guy who's sitting on a curb with his head in his hands while his wife, restrained by local deputies, screams variations of "Motherfucker!" in the background. Just saying.
#3. Adjustable Difficulties
The feeling of being challenged is why many folks enjoy gaming, and even though a lot of titles give you a choice of difficulty modes, picking the "easy" one is often viewed as something shameful. And the disgrace involved in making such a rueful life decision is only reinforced by those games which openly mock you for choosing such a cowardly path.
I'd imagine that living openly with a manbaby fetish would actually be a rather rough road to plow.
But taking the path of least resistance in a game can sometimes actually carry over into the real world, and that can be a good thing. Especially when you're looking to avoid the type of "challenge" that comes with fighting the dog for enough space to sleep on the couch. According to Lisa, taking the route of the milksop just might help calm the entire ambiance of a household:
"He set out to play Metro, and decided to choose 'Survival Ranger Normal' which is the second-hardest of five difficulty settings. I hear his frustration level rising every time he tries this particular fight. I get to hear his rants, his comments that the game is impossible, that nobody can beat it (until the next day when he figured it out), that he was doing everything right and it still wasn't working. When I finally pried him away from the game for the night so we could watch a show together, he was more angry and frustrated than after a hard day at work or his fantasy team losing. Play your game, but find the level at which you find it a challenge, but at that perfect level of challenge where it is still fun. Metro, at least, gave him the ability to go down a level (to "Hardcore" ...), if he had chosen to do so, though he would have had to redo beaten content."
Or finish up those Dark Souls games quick-like, while there's still some summer left and living in the garage isn't such a hardship.
Yeah, I get that. If I'm coming home pissed off after a stressful day, why increase the tension with a game that's supposed to be relieving it? I'm not a Dew-guzzling, online epithet-spewing adolescent anymore (or at least, arguably less so), so maybe every now and again, I could dumb things down for the sake of domestic harmony. Full disclosure here: I've actually avoided playing the hardest difficulty levels for years, and usually stick to "normal." Let's just say there was this one time that I found out that I wasn't the "bad enough dude" that I thought I was, and I don't need any more presidential blood on my hands.