All Is Fair In Love and Co-op

My wife and I play a lot of co-op games together.  It’s one of the main ways that we enjoy spending time together.  She’s been encouraging me for a while to write about it, primarily because she believes there is a lot to be said for co-op gaming with your significant other.  I tend to agree with that sentiment, so I’m going to take a bit of time and share our gaming experience

Co-op is not PvP.

First off, let me stress that the lady and I exclusively play cooperative games together.  Both of us can tend to get frustrated in pvp situations, and the last thing I’m trying to invite into our nightly quality time is arguments over who’s better at Street Fighter

or Starcraft.  In fact, neither of us even really enjoy pvp when we’re on the same team, as losing to nameless, faceless jerks on the internet isn’t either of our ideas of a fun night.  That slims down our game play choices significantly, but that’s ok because there are plenty of amazing co-op choices out there.

Communication is key.

Whether you and you partner are tag-teaming a dungeon in World of Warcarft, massacring undead hordes in Left 4 Dead, or solving a challenging puzzle in Portal 2 you’re always communicating.  It’s intense communication, too.  Playing games together is a great way to cut through all the hearts-and-flowers style communication and get right to the real stuff.  Though it may only be a game, how people communicate in moments of intense focus can be very telling.  Does your partner panic when they’re overwhelmed?  Do they communicate what they need clearly, and support you when you communicate your needs?  As the relationship with my wife grew, so did our gaming synergy.  I won’t lie, we’ve had arguments over games.  We’ve gotten frustrated with one another.  But as we learned to play together, we also learned how to communicate better.  It’s not trivial either; our communication in every area of our relationship is better because of our in-game communication.

You learn who they really are.

If you pay attention, you can learn a lot about a person by the way they play a game.  If a particular piece of loot drops, and you both need it, do they always ask for / demand it?  Do they always give it to  you?  Do they suggest a coin flip?  Does your partner run straight for all of the health pick-ups, paying no attention to your health?  Do they collect all the weapons and ammo, leaving you with the measly pistol?  If you watch closely, you’ll find that the answers to these questions often answer deeper questions.  The fast paced nature of games makes selfishness easier to spot.  That same selfishness in games is guaranteed to manifest in real life.  Your partner might also prove to be wonderfully loyal.  Do they always have your back while you reload?  Do they share the health and ammo equally, making sure that you’re stocked up?  These are good signs that your partner cares about your success in game, and this same real-life manifestation rules also apply here.  The lady and I have always worked relatively well together, but as we played games more, we learned a lot about teamwork and sharing.  Games like Diablo 3 get really hard at higher levels, and sharing loot, staying together, etc… is required for for the success of both players.

There is a meta-game, too.

Playing games with your partner teaches you to not only enjoy the game in your own way, but to share in that enjoyment with someone else.  For example, when my wife and I played through Borderlands, she found that she really enjoyed sniping.  I also really enjoyed sniping.  Playing 2 snipers made it harder to gear up though, as we were constantly competing for the same weapons.  I decided to get a bit out of my comfort zone and play as an up-close shotgun wielding maniac.  Not only did I find that I really enjoyed that, but it enhanced the experience for both of us.  We weren’t competing for loot, and our play-styles complimented each other very well.  In this case, she was less experienced in shooters than I was and I wanted her to feel comfortable, so I changed my play-style for her.  That said, she’s done the exact same thing for me as well.  As an avid mmo player, she acted as my healer when I first tried to tank a dungeon.  The fear of letting my team down as a bad tank was largely eliminated knowing that she was there to back me up.  The point here is that gaming together isn’t just about what happens inside the game, it’s also about learning give and take in a relationship.  In any successful relationship you learn these things, but gaming offers a structured set of rules that makes it much easier to examine what is happening between you and your partner, and use that as a learning experience.

Games are safe.

The best part about gaming with your partner is that you can learn a lot about them in a safe environment.  If you find that your partner is a selfish jerk in every single game you play together, there is good reason to believe that they might just be a selfish jerk.  Maybe it’s time to move on.  You learned this quickly though, because games pull out our best and worst tendencies.  You don’t have to suffer through an eight year relationship before you see their true colors.  Now, I’m not trying to suggest that games are some type of relationship crystal ball, they certainly aren’t.  They do however, help you and your partner quickly assess how well you fit together.  My wife said something to me a few weeks ago, and it stuck with me as one of the most true statements I’ve ever heard as far as gaming and relationships go.  “Every couple should have to finish Portal 2 on co-op before they can get a marriage license.”  And that’s why I married her.