I Don’t Want To Decide Anything

2009 September 8
by Vanir

Astute readers of our About Us page may recall that I have a wife, whose Internets name is Efreak. She’s very pretty, and an awesome mom, and I love her dearly. We will be celebrating 5 years of marriage next week, which is both surreal and wonderful. However, there is one part of our relationship that continues to vex me. You see, as a gamer, my fondest desire is simply to play games with my wife and have fun with her. Why is this a problem, you ask? That’s why I’m writing this article, silly!

In Which Vanir Relays The Origin Story Of Stupid Ranger To Provide Backdrop For His Tale

Way back in late 2003, my bachelor days were coming to a close, and I’d been dating my now-wife about 8 months. My longtime karate buddy Dante was back from college and job hunting, and we invited him and his wife (Stupid Ranger, who I’d only met a couple times before), and we invited them over for New Years at Efreak’s apartment along with a couple of her college friends. After thoroughly disturbing the other guests (I believe the phrase Dante used during Charades was “the Right Testicle of Our Lord?”), we decided it was so much fun we wanted to get together more often. I forget whose idea it was to play D&D, but I was thoroughly excited about the idea. I approached my lady-friend with the idea, and she was apprehensive about it. Eventually, I successfully pestered her enough to try it.

It was rough for her at first, especially the roleplaying, but she got the hang of it eventually. And so the four of us, along with our friend John, embarked on a year-long adventure that would come to be known as the Evensbrook campaign. Efreak played a little rogue gnome named Goudy Sans Sarah (she’s a graphic designer – if you don’t laugh, she will negatively readjust your kerning). I loved that campaign. I thought Efreak did too. I was wrong.

In Which Vanir Completely Chubs His Perception Check

Things went really well for a couple months. But slowly, the frustration she was feeling started to get the best of her. She was too scared to tell me she wanted to quit, and I, of course, was too blinded by the fact that I had a wife who played D&D with me to notice. However, I did start to take notice when she started referring to game night as “F#$*ING D&D”. It was, at the time, like a bomb went off in my face. That sucked. A lot.

In retrospect, I can’t say I’m really surprised there was a breakdown of communication. It was during our first year of marriage, and wow did we need to spend some skill points on that. And we eventually got through that and a lot of other stuff in the years to come, but gaming was one thing we never really saw eye to eye on since. We’d play a little Rock Band every now and then or the occasional game of Scrabble, but by and large we’d just hang out and watch TV. And, as previously stated, my heart’s desire is to game with my wife. So, it never really sat very well with me.

Consequently, every couple of months, I decide to try another game and see if she’ll play it with me. Usually, it’s a videogame. And unfortunately, it usually results in her getting frustrated and not wanting to play anymore. Which sucks, and is not the outcome I wanted at all.

In Which Vanir Discovers That Level 5 Married People Have More Skill Points

This very cycle was perpetuating in my living room yesterday night, this time with Carcassonne on the Xbox 360. I’d recently played the tabletop version with friends and enjoyed it, and thought perhaps it might do the trick since the console version did all the math for you. Well, she got frustrated again, and I got frustrated again, but something a little different happened this time. I’m not quite exactly sure what, but I think our communications circuitry might have finally adapted.

We started having a very enlightening conversation as to what it was we both want out of games. I’m certain we’d tried to have this conversation before, but this time it worked a lot better. The things I enjoy in a game are somewhat typical of a lot of “gamer” types. I like twitch games and shooters, but I have a special weakness for turn-based strategy (disclaimer: I suck at it, but I love it) . I like a lot of interactivity in my games, and I like to feel like I’ve accomplished something when I finish one. And, as you may have guessed, I loves me some roleplaying.

Efreak, on the other hand, loves games of chance. She likes Rock Band. She absolutely hates strategy games. When I asked her why, she said she gets so stressed out that she feels like she’s going to have a heart attack. That’s when it started to make a little more sense to me. When she comes home from work, and she’s frazzled out of her mind, one of the things I’ll frequently hear her say is “I don’t care, I just don’t want to decide anything“. She’s been making decisions and stressing out at work all day. She doesn’t want to do it at home on top of all that. Decisions aren’t relaxing for her, ergo strategy games aren’t relaxing for her. And here I was picking a lot of turn based stuff because I thought it would be slower paced (and I like it). My dear wife informs me a lot of women feel like this.

How in the hell did I miss this? So what does she find relaxing? “Traditional” games like Life,  in which you don’t have to decide very much. The excitement of winning a race just from random chance appeals to her. Card games (sadly, the only one I really know is poker, and that’s only because… well…). Games that you can use your brain on (but not strategy) like Trivial Pursuit. I don’t understand why she likes Scrabble. I’m usually thinking two moves ahead when I play that game, but whatever she does it makes her more than a match for my limited intellect.

There is also a certain amount to which, for some reason, she gets intimidated because “you’re so much better at these games than I am”. I don’t generally pwn the crap out of my wife every time we play games, but it’s a factor nonetheless. Playing a game of chance, in this case, makes her feel like she’s on equal ground.

In any case, it’s plain to see we’re different kinds of gamers. Now, the trick is going to be finding where that Venn diagram intersects so we can have some fun together.

In Which Vanir Ponders The Road Ahead

Well, the road ahead for damn sure contains Boom Blox, as that’s one game Efreak specifically said she’d love to play with me. And she’s a huge Beatles fan, so this is a no-brainer. We’re also going to head out to our FLGS and try to find some stuff we’d both enjoy playing.

In the meantime, I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone with similar experiences as ours to either tell your tale, or (better!) to share what you’ve done that helped you. We surely cannot be the only couple who have gone through this!

Ultimately, it comes down to one of our old standbys here at Stupid Ranger – the only thing that matters is that everyone at the table is having fun. Finding out how to do that in one’s marriage might take some time and effort, but I can’t really think of a better reason to get back on the horse and keep trying.

Until next time!

10 Responses leave one →
  1. September 8, 2009

    Dave bought Tales of the Arabian Nights when we were at Origins and we’ve played it a couple times. It’s a long game, but I really like it. It’s cool because while you *can* play with some sort of strategy, and you *can* roleplay (to a certain extent), you don’t *have* to do either to have fun.

  2. Thasmodious permalink
    September 9, 2009

    Well, my tale is so similar I could practically just C&P your blog entry, change the names and go with it.

    My wife and my brother’s wife used to game with us. I didn’t pick up the warning signs, either. I did pick up much frustration and I blamed my wife for it. I didn’t read the signs as a player not enjoying the game. She would jump at any chance to talk OOC during the game and relate stories about work, life, pop culture, etc. She came to dread D&D nights. It was the same as your situation, she was afraid to tell me she didn’t want to play and I was too stubborn (or expected too much from her) to see it myself. Finally it came out, she stopped playing and everyone was happy. Except my brother’s wife, who was really in the same boat, continued to play with us for another couple of years. The frustrating thing there was the rest of knew she wasn’t that interested in playing, she just didn’t like to let her husband have a good time without her. As a player she never read a book, remembered a rule, and despite playing for since high school (around 15 years when she finally quit), she still often asked “which is the d12?” Finally, she admitted to herself she didn’t want to play and that she could tell her husband. There was much rejoicing by the rest of us.

    My wife is just like yours when it comes to gaming interests. She has zero interest in shooters, RPGs and strategy games, likes trivia games and whips my ass at Scrabble consistently. She loves Life, as well (a game which I just really don’t see the point).

    Also like you, we eventually talked it out and found some common gaming ground.

    Now, my situation is interesting because I have a daughter that is getting of gaming age and I am homeschooling her. Games of all stripes are a major part of the curriculum. I hope to encourage her into RPGs, and she seems interested. But I want to make sure I stay aware of the warning signs and don’t put her in a situation like my wife ended up in (me frustrated with her, her not wanting to disappoint me but not wanting to play).

  3. September 9, 2009

    That’s a tricky one, since the core of game play (as opposed to an activity) is making decisions. If playing against you is a factor, you can try some more cooperative activities, like cooperative boardgames. A lot of them tend to fall on the more complex side, but it might be worth trying. Space Alert is currently my favorite among those, which is OK for frustration if you don’t mind your ship blowing up sometimes 🙂

  4. September 9, 2009

    @Thasmodious – I’m glad that worked out for you! My son’s only 1, but I am really hoping to get him involved with gaming when he gets old enough. (Right now it’s restricted to giving him giant d20’s to play with.)

    @Dave – Unfortunately, she still feels like she’s competing to see who does better during a cooperative game, so our skill levels usually have to be fairly even for her to be comfortable. I just tried out the Lord of the Rings cooperative board game, and I can vouch for the complexity of such things. My gaming group had a whole table of nerds trying to figure out how to play for the first half of the game, by which point being consumed by the darkness of Sauron was a foregone conclusion. We’ll have to try that again later now that we understand the rules.

  5. Mark Peck permalink
    September 10, 2009

    My wife and I actually got that stuff figured out before we got married. She likes all the old standard board games, well not all, couldn’t get her interested in Stratego or Risk. But yeah, Monopoly (especially the themed versions), Life, Trivial Pursuit ,etc. She also tends to like the old school video games as well, like Pac Man, Frogger and Mario Bros. stuff. It works out great because I dig those too. On D&D days, I shuffle off to the DM’s house to play, and I play my video games when she’s at work or asleep, so it works out well.

    Congrats on your anniversary, also. We celebrated our 3rd on the 8th and just found out we have a future gamer on the way. 🙂

  6. Smiruz permalink
    September 11, 2009

    Great article.

    Ever break out the Uno? I dunno why, but that no brainer game is really rather fun, even as an adult.

  7. September 14, 2009

    Uno’s a great suggestion for someone who loves games of chance; there’s essentially no strategy, so it’s good for “low brainpower” nights.

    I’m lucky in that my wife enjoys roleplaying and board games– though she shies away from the most brutal competition, like Domaine. However, if you are looking for games to share, there are a lot of lighter but still interesting strategic Eurogames out there. Zooloretto has a fun theme and rewards strategic play a little… but is fast and light. Pandemic is a lot of fun– and kibbitzing during turns makes since, given that you’re on the same team and you’re trying to save the world from disease.

    If it’s the complexity, not the roleplaying, that gets in her way of enjoying D&D, there are a lot of simpler games out there. You could try Primetime Adventures with the group and she’ll probably have an easier time than longtime D&D players. Cute games like Cat might appeal– low key roleplaying, more expanding on the world we observe everyday.

    I hope you find many games to enjoy together!

  8. September 15, 2009

    Thanks a lot, everybody. Excellent suggestions!

    I don’t know if Primetime Adventures will be something she likes, but the concept FASCINATES me. And I think it’s time to invest in an Uno deck.

    (and congrats @Mark on both counts 🙂 )

  9. September 21, 2009

    Just did 5 yr anniversary this sept? Check. (9/19 for me)
    1yr old kid? Check.
    Very important to game with spouse? Check.

    OK. That’s wierd.

    Well, more on the cosmic side later. I’ve always kind of made it a checkoff to only seriously date/cohabitate with women who will game with me. Earlier in my life (when my priorities were a tad more hormonal) it was not always so high on the ‘make-or-break’ list. But the last three serious relationships were with people who gamed, and I know what you mean with it being your heart’s desire. It is such a critical part to us it is like being a painter and having your spouse not interested in art.

    Let me ask you a few questions, though. Were you GMing, or were you another player? Did you do some solo work with her at first, really making one on one time, or did you throw her right into the group scenario?

    My wife let me know after things got a little rough on the RPG side that it seemd to be strssful and a lot of work. So we gamed solo for a while, really tailoring everything to what she wanted to get out of it. SH’e been a lot more happy in the group situation since she feels like she can hold her own and then some.

    Anyway, best of luck and congratulations.

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