I’ve been a gamer for most of my life. My parents had an Atari and I can remember playing Pong, Mario, and Frogger late at night with my dad. I remember frantically running on the Power Pad with a boy who often visited our house because his mom was friends with mine (hello, Chris R.!). I remember huddling around a Mortal Kombat 2 case with a group of friends, late-night LAN parties with DOOM II, Starcraft battles with my college boyfriend and his friends, and recently, playing every game possible with my husband, aka The Husband. My point is that I have never known a world without co-op gaming. It’s a great way to spend time with a friend, or more importantly, your significant other.
Over the years, as we’ve encountered other gamers in MMORPGs and in various jobs and social circles, I always listen to the same lament: “Man, I wish I could get my girlfriend/wife into gaming.” In fact, I often jest that with the number of questions I receive about “how do I get my spouse to play with me,” I could easily become the Dan Savage of co-op questions. To be fair, I have encountered a few girls who wish their boyfriends/husbands were interested in gaming with them, but to be perfectly honest, that number is far less than men. So I’ll refer to the non-gaming partner here in the feminine tense; it’s just the most common.
So guys, I present to you my tips on getting your girl (or guy) to game with you. With the right games, some patience, and some sharing, you too can bicker and argue over who keeps stealing all the goddamn health packs and why in the Omnissiah’s name would you choose that as an upgrade?
Far too often, gamers lose sight of what an intimidating experience gaming can be. When I talk to non-gamers, the biggest complaint I hear is “the controller looks so confusing!” And you know what? It probably is, especially if the only controllers you’ve ever held were a NES and your iPhone. Maybe diving head first into Gears of War 2 is not the best approach, mmkay? It’s just going to result in frustration for you both. Think of gaming like riding a bike: when you first learn, you need training wheels to help keep you steady. Once you learn, however, the balancing act becomes second nature. So too is it with the controller. Once it becomes second nature to know the difference between LB, LT, D-pad, right analog stick and B, gaming becomes a lot less intimidating.
Most people over the age of 25 have played NES or SNES at least once in their life, so try to stick with simple, 2D side-scrollers. Castle Crashers on XBLA is a great starting point because not only is the action fairly simple and easy to follow, it’s also a great way to start learning your way around the controller. Also, it’s just stupid fun for beginners and advanced players. I’m sure saying “Normal” difficulty goes without saying, but I’ll throw it in there anyway. Again, the exercise here is to have fun. Once you feel comfortable proceeding from 2D games, start picking more accessible titles. For instance, if you want to dive into the FPS genre, Borderlands is a great introduction both to split-screen, and also to the shooter genre. The game tends to be fairly forgiving in the control scheme and it has a nice humor aspect to balance out the shooting.
These are a few of my favorite things.
Remember that not everyone likes the same type of games. Shooters maybe up your alley, but maybe she prefers RPGs? Again, don’t grab Call of Duty and expect your significant other to jump up and down with glee. Recently, we discovered Dungeon Siege III, and found it to be a great beginners co-op RPG. The control scheme was simple, and the shared camera will cut down on any camera mishaps. What do I mean? A good friend of mine gets exceptionally frustrated when her boyfriend tries to drag her into FPS games because that whole “one stick moves your body, one stick moves your head” thing is not a second nature control scheme. That type of fine tuning it takes to not stare at the ground or run into walls comes with practice. So grab Dungeon Siege III and start experimenting with how you and your significant other co-op.
Believe it or not, fighting games are a good way to encourage healthy competition and shit-talking (more on that later). No, seriously, that’s a good thing. Just remember the level of the person you’re fighting, and try to avoid spamming trips, jump kicks and other cheap tactics. Remember, the goal is for them to want to play. While it has not yet been released, what I remember of playing Skullgirls at E3 made me think that it will be a good way to get your girlfriend/wife involved. In the meantime, grab the most recent Mortal Kombat through GameFly to test the waters.
Zomg, let’s take it online!
MMORPGs are generally a gateway drug to co-op play. We played with a lot of husband/wife duos in our day, and typically, the significant other was talked into playing by the gamer, and they found themselves enjoying the experience. As far as MMORPGs go, World of Warcraft really is the most accessible offering I’ve played, and now that they have launched their free-to-play model (up to level 20), it’s a good time to try it out. Vindictus is an entirely F2P MMORPG that appears to have a decent following.
An area that is especially difficult to dive into is the RTS genre. I can remember back in 1999, I was big into turn-based strategy, and my boyfriend was big into a game called Starcraft. I had played Warcraft, but it never struck my fancy. I ended up playing Starcraft with the boy and his friends and it was never an enjoyable experience for me because, at the time, I just didn’t have the skill set or desire necessary to play. And this is coming from a lifelong gamer.
If RTS is your passion in life, I would highly recommend League of Legends as a beginning offering. It’s not an RTS, but it shares many of the core elements (without the annoying resource management) and you can play versus bots or other people, depending on what your significant other is interested in. It’s a fine way to start picking up some of the skills necessary for “core” RTS games. A word of caution though: you may have to accept that Starcraft 2 may never end up on your co-op menu. They just aren’t for everyone, and, in my humble opinion, fewer genres bring out the frustration and irritation quite like the RTS genre.
What’s gonna work? Team work!
Sadly, sometimes you want to play a game that just isn’t a co-op title. Dead Space 2, L.A. Noire, Catherine; these are all great titles, but sadly their story mode is single player only. What is a gaming couple to do? Play together, naturally!
I’ve mentioned the past that The Husband and I switch control every half hour (or forty-five minutes, or seventy… it really depends on how vindictive we’re feeling), and this works surprisingly well. It can be hard to convince your other half to watch you play a game when they have nothing invested. Is someone stealing a car? Oh joy. A giant monster in zero gravity? Whoopee. But when you’re switching control, it is an instant connection that makes you want to stay and watch.
How this works is The Husband plays for 30 minutes (and no, cut scenes don’t count, or else Metal Gear would be an even less enjoyable experience…), and I sit next to him on the couch. I offer helpful tips like “Hey, moron, you just passed up three packs of ammo and a box full of money!” Or, if we’re in the midst of a particularly difficult boss encounter involving adds, I call out that I see them coming. After his 30 minutes, it is then my turn, and he plays watcher. He offers helpful tips such as “Are you going to stop sucking at this any time soon? Why don’t you serve him tea and a biscuit to choke on?”
The reason this is such a fun, vital play style is that it really allows your partner to develop their own play style and feel for the controls. You can offer helpful guidance, and there is little pressure from PvP or split screen.
Lemme sum up:
The bottom line is patience. As a couple who have gamed together for more than 10 years, no one is more critical of your gameplay than your spouse. Truly, you hold your partner to a higher standard than that of anyone else, and it’s easy to get frustrated. Especially if you are a superior player than they.
Remember to pick accessible titles and understand that not everyone likes dudebro games (Halo, Gears), RPGs (Dungeon Siege III), or RTSs (Starcraft 2). Find what works for y’all and go for it. Even if she just partakes in the occasional casual game with you, it’s better than where you started.