AGE: GAMING WITH YOUR SO
Gaming with your Significant Other? Some think it's an unattainable dream others have experienced it as a nightmare. A look at why it's so hard and what you can do about it.
(an #actualgamingetiquette article)
“Table Top Role-Playing Gamers (TTRPGers) are not our world’s version of Gollum hiding in the depths of a cave trying to protect their precious”
Hello friends. The time has come for me to sit you down, look you in the eye, and discuss a very serious matter. The good news is that you most likely already know about “the birds and the bees” so you know that’s not what I’m here to talk about. But it’s a bit related.
Today I am here to talk with you about gaming with your significant other (SO).
We all have either heard or even experienced the stereotype that gamers are loners, cursed to a life of solitude and never-ending bags of Cheetos, living in their mother’s basement, only venturing outside the safety of their den for potty breaks and to grab more Cheetos. The good news is that while that stereotype may once have been the norm, today’s rise of Geek Culture from the depths of a dust covered basement to the heights of the silver screen has shattered that image.
It has shown a light on the fact that Table Top Role-Playing Gamers (TTRPGers) are not our world’s version of Gollum hiding in the depths of a cave trying to protect their precious. These gamers are, in fact, wonderful, diverse, thriving human beings engaging in a unique hobby that actually allows them vast amounts of socialization and creativity.
Here is where I get to the meat of my point today. Because the “un-cool” stigma has been pretty well dropped from Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and other TTRPGs in general, more people are starting to try out and then embrace this hobby. Some of those people happen to be couples.
Yes, girls do play D&D. It’s a thing. Why am I still fighting this stereotype? Oh... gatekeeping, that’s why. Okay well, that’s a topic for another Actual Gaming Etiquette article.
Back to my original point. Actually, I need to make another small point that is related to my rabbit trail above. Recognizing that not all relationships are heterosexual and that my comment that girls now play implies that now there’s a possibility of lots of hetero gaming couples is only partly true. For a long time – we're talking decades here - TTRPGs had a stigma of being a “boys’ thing” so when I say that now girls play – okay okay, there have always been girls in gaming, but up until the past decade they have been few and far between. I’ve definitely experienced the awkwardness of walking into a gaming store and having all the action (read men playing TTRPGs or Magic The Gathering games) stop and have the guys stare at me because I’m a girl that walked in. It’s like those scenes where the man walks into the saloon and even the piano player stops playing to stare. It’s also like lions staring at a wounded gazelle that wandered into their path. Or like the wide-eyed stare of lemurs when a fresh piece of fruit is found. But I digress, when I say that now girls play TTRPGs I mean that the added gender variety gives rise to an added dating pool whether it be heterosexual, homosexual, or other.
Back to the task at hand, talking about gaming couples.
Think of this article as a Hints from Heloise or an Emily Post article about Actual Gaming Etiquette (AGE) when playing with your SO.
Like many things in life, this is a tricky thing. It’s really awesome when all parties in a relationship game together, but it also can get really messy really quick when they game together.
Why is that? It all boils down to communication. Sometimes it’s a lack of communication in the relationship that dries up all the fun, and other times it’s too much communication that spills out onto your gaming mat (that’s not going to wipe off any time soon).
Lots of bad things can happen when gaming with your SO. Here are a few:
The couple gets into an argument “in character” at the table that is clearly not about the game at hand
One member of the relationship feels they are being treated unfairly or made fun of by the other and it sparks a fight. (Also included in this point is when other players feel that there is favoritism going on)
The couple is overly affectionate at the table to the point where the other players are uncomfortable
There are plenty of other things, but let’s address thing #1. Romantic relationships develop by people getting to know each other better. They share intimate details about each other with each other. They communicate their likes and dislikes. Sometimes, the individuals in a relationship have a difference of opinion about things and it’s different enough that the couple needs to address it and work it out before they can really move forward. Sometimes one or both parties has made a mistake or done something that either intentionally (shame on you) or unintentionally hurt the other member of the relationship.
If the couple in question doesn’t talk to each other and resolve their issues and get to a good emotional state before playing, if there is any lingering bitterness when they enter a gaming session, then that friction from life can roll over into the game. At first it starts small, one of the couple’s characters does something to annoy the other, the other player has their character retaliate in-game in some way, and soon that kind of behavior quickly escalates until both players are full out arguing “in-character” about nothing that actually has to do with anything in the game.
I’ve seen this happen with romantic relationships and I’ve also seen it happen with friends who just happened to be having a disagreement that they didn’t take care of before the game started. I may have had to learn that latter from the personal experience of being one of those jerks who argued with a friend at the table. No really, it was a shouting match and I had to sheepishly apologize to everyone at that table later. I don’t learn all my lessons the hard way but when I do, I make it as difficult for myself as possible.
The key to avoiding this situation is simple: Talk with each other. Seriously, long before your next game is supposed to start, sit down with your SO or your friend or whoever you are having any real-world difficulties with and talk with them.
I said it’s simple, but I never said it was easy. Did you notice how I said to talk with your partner? Not to your partner. Not at your partner. WITH your partner. That means listening to their side and actually trying to understand it and see it from their perspective. It also means they need to do the same for you. Sometimes it helps to remind each other at the start of your conversation that you will be listening and try to fully understand their side and their perspective and try to empathize with them and that you request them to do the same for you. It can also help to remind each other that you both want to come away with a resolution that you both agree on and the discussion is the way to achieve that.
It’s still not easy, but when you both come to the conversation with the attitude that you are having this conversation to better your relationship together instead of trying to “be right” it really helps you grow together. AND – the important part – taking care of your personal frictions before the game means that you don’t have this baggage that threatens the enjoyability of your game.
Because let’s be honest with each other, we all play because we enjoy it. TTRPGs afford us an escape from the troubles of the real world and no one at the table wants anyone else to bring in their real-world baggage to make in game trouble. We all want to create an awesome story together as a group. And while “The Real Housewives of Dungeons and Dragons” could be an awesome story, it should be just that, a story, not actual real-world drama invading your game like space aliens.
Now to point #2. Perceived fairness in gaming. This is the sword of Damocles hanging above the heads of every player in a relationship at the table.
Why is that? Let’s give an example to illustrate my meaning.
Let’s say that the GM is in a relationship with one of the players. At some point, every one of the other players will be watching to see if the GM plays favorites. Whether it’s by letting their SO reroll bad rolls, or giving them better loot, or helping their SO’s character more than the others, all of the players are looking for this and will either be vocal in calling foul or they will begin to resent either the GM, their SO, or both. So, the GM must be very careful to maintain fairness across the board and to ensure that all the players feel like they are being treated fairly.
The other side of that sword is when the SO feels like the GM is unfairly punishing them, or at least not giving them the cool stuff because the GM is afraid of being perceived as playing favorites. The SO begins to feel left out and singled out because they are in a relationship. A GM must take care to avoid that too.
One last thing to point #2 is making fun of your SO. Whether one of the members of the relationship is the GM or not, if either party feels that they are being made fun of or that something that they confided in confidence to their partner is revealed by that partner that will spark immediate discontent and put a damper on your game.
So how do you avoid this? The answer is simple again: communication. You and your partner need to communicate with all players at the table. Even something as simple as saying, “I have no intention of playing favorites and I’m open to communication if you feel that I am” is often enough to keep everyone feeling happy and comfortable.
Now to address the last point. Point #3. The dreaded mushy couple. You know the ones. They make goo-goo eyes at each other all game. There are secret and whispered conversations that end in giggles. One or both are way to handsy for everyone else’s comfort. They are super distracted AND super distracting. Everyone feels like a third wheel and will be loath to play with you again. Seriously.
In conclusion: The whole point here is that you and your SO should be considerate of everyone’s feelings at the table. Yep, feelings matter, and happy friends are happy players. The moment anyone feels awkward or uncomfortable that creeps in to the game and can poison it.
I have personally found it fulfilling and fun to play with my beau. But the key is communication in the relationship AND communication with your friends (you know, the other players at the table you should not be ignoring) so that you and your SO both come to the table happy, ready to play, and ready to engage with EVERYONE ELSE at the table. Seriously, if you want to flirt and not include anyone on your conversations, just go on a dinner date and let everyone else get on with the game.
One last thing, promise. Most rules have exceptions. For instance, that Gnome Bachelor Party game that my friend ran for her husband, my boyfriend, and myself. We all walked into it calling it a “couples dnd game” and fully communicated with each other and were in agreement that we intended to do our level best to be the awkward mushy couples and it was a lot of fun because we spent half the time trying to outdo each other in ridiculous ways. Again, the key here is communication. As long as you and your players and your GM are on the same page, you’re doing it well.
TL;DR: Solve relationship problems before gaming. Be fair. Don’t pick on each other. Don’t be overly affectionate/flirty. Communicate with your SO and the other players at the table.
All the images in this post are from Unsplash and are linked to their original posts on that site.