Significant others and gaming

My girlfriend and I were driving back from out weekly ballroom dance lesson (insert joke of choice here), and we were chatting at random, bouncing from subject to subject. At a lull in the conversation, I switched topics and brought up the fact that for the second day in a row I had heard from another member of my old Warhammer group that was getting in to X-Wing Miniatures. I figured this was more relevant to her than the previous player because she had met this person previously; we happened to duck in to a local hobby store about a year ago for a gift while he was there for a Warhammer tournament. The conversation started something like this:

Me: “So [guy] told me last night he’s getting in to X-Wing and bought a bunch of ships from somebody.”

Her: “I remember meeting him, he’s a bit older than you, right?”

Me: “That’s right. We used to play Warhammer together all the time at [random store]. He’s really sharp and he’s always fun to play against.”

Her: “Well, competition is good. How old is he anyway?”

Me: “I couldn’t say for sure, but if I remember correctly his kids are college age.”

[a short pause]

Her: “What do all the other women do?”

This caught me completely off guard, because until I went back later and thought about the connection between my gaming friend and his family, I saw no link between her question and the prior conversation. At first, I didn’t even know I had heard her right, so I asked her what she meant. She elaborated by saying that there were probably a lot of guys out there that were even more into gaming than I am, and she wondered what all their wives and girlfriends did while the guys were gaming.

Now that I understood what she meant, I explained as best I could, and basically covered the following:

  • There are some ladies, although admittedly not many, who are gamers themselves will participate along with their husband or boyfriend.
  • There are also plenty who aren’t brought into gaming by anyone else, and just come by themselves because they enjoy it.
  • There are other women who will come along to watch for moral support, or just enjoy being present for the banter and conversation.
  • As silly as this may seem, some are present for a distraction. I’ll never forget my last game of the 2009 40K ‘ard Boyz tournament semi-final. My opponent knew he was fighting an uphill battle against me, and entry to the Chicago finals was on the line. In desperation, he sent a text message to his girlfriend who was shopping nearby. She showed up for the last couple of rounds with a couple less buttons fastened on her shirt than she had earlier in the day and starting leaning over the table to “watch the action”. My Orks would have probably been quite pleased with that if they could have looked up.
  • There’s also probably a non-insignificant number of hobby gamers that are single, and the aforementioned distraction attempt might have worked on.
  • Of the situations not already mentioned, it’s hard to say, because it doesn’t come up much in conversation while gaming. You never want to ask someone random in mid game “How’s your wife?” only to find out that they’re coming in to play in order to forget about the fact that they’re in a fight and he’s sleeping on the couch tonight. If he doesn’t mention what his SO is doing, other guys are not about to ask. But there are a few gamers I know well enough to talk about family life, and I’ve seen or heard of a few of the following situations:
    • While they’re gaming, their significant other is at work – This happens a lot with the younger crowd who are more likely to have retail jobs with unusual hours.
    • They take a night off to relax:
      • I happen to know a family where the kids come along with dad for game night, which gives the mother a night of peace and quiet.
      • I’ve also recently seen a child carrier on the table next to a new dad before, he alternated talking gibberish to his daughter and maneuvering his Space Marines.
    • Their partner indulges a hobby of their own:
      • I have lost count of how many times over the years I’ve rushed through the last turn or so of a game with someone so that they could be done and packed up before their wife returned to pick them up after an afternoon at the mall.
      • An old gaming store in the area that closed several years ago had a “Warhammer widow’s corner”, where players’ wives and girlfriends would read, gossip, and work on scrapbooking projects (the store may not have made money on it, but they certainly never stopped stocking scrapbook supplies).

We continued to talk about this for a few minutes after we arrived home, and she asked a vital question: “Does it bother you that I don’t go with you to play?” A lot of people might look at that as a dangerous line of conversation, especially given that she knows that some of my ex’s would come along on my gaming excursions to watch or play. I answered without worry or hesitation though, and I fully meant every word of it. I would be excited if there was something she wanted to pick up and play, even if it wasn’t something I already participate in. But I do not want to drag her along and ask her to do something she would not necessarily enjoy. I completely understand that her interests and my interests are not always going to line up perfectly, and I think it’s very beneficial for us as a couple to have things that we do separately. So would I like her to play? Sure. Does it bother me that she doesn’t? Not a chance.

We already have a couple separate groups that we have board game nights with, and she’s sneakily good. Sometimes I wonder if she realizes how fast she picks up new games. Ticket to Ride? I think she’s got better than a .500 record with even with 3+ players. Trains / Dominion? Don’t ever count her out. Settlers of Catan? She’s played a handful of games and yet puts serious pressure on the veterans. Clue? She’ll tear you apart. In these instances she is playing to be social, to interact with her friends and family. That’s very different from showing up to a game night or a tournament to play a stranger for the sake of playing the game. I think that’s the reason she doesn’t have any interest in picking up some of the games that I enjoy, and I have no problem with that. Competitive gaming isn’t for everyone.

As it stands now, I think we have a healthy balance in our relationship. I don’t set a strict gaming budget for myself, but I’m never going to think twice about whether to fund a vacation or buy more gaming supplies. At the same time, she’s not the type to question how much I’m spending on what, but perhaps that’s because I don’t give a reason to. We’ve established a regular schedule to our weeks: Sundays, we might not be doing much, but we find things to do together, either cheering on our NFL teams, or catching a movie, or just a lazy day at home. Monday, I’m gaming, she catches up on her shows or has dinner with her friends, usually something that I wouldn’t care to eat. Wednesday, company softball game for me, ceramics class for her. Thursday, X-Wing league at a local store? No thanks, weekly dinner with the extended family that night, or our dance lesson, as we’ve recently had to start moving that around to fit it in. Fridays and Saturdays, there’s usually something going on gaming-wise on one day or the other, but I’ll only go if we don’t have plans to do something together.

Gamers, your significant other can be as big or as small of a part of your hobby as you’re each comfortable with. There is no right or wrong amount of involvement to have, it’s all about what works right for the two of you. If you two are inseparable even while surrounded by gaming nerds and pushing plastic army men around a table, rock on, I hope you both brought a sense of humor because I’ve got bad jokes for days. But if he or she wants some time to themselves, more power to them.

Oh, and if you’re reading this, random guy from South Carolina playing White Scars and trying to distract me during our game back in 2009, thanks for the view and the ticket to the finals.