While video games are slowly becoming more welcoming to all kinds of people, there is still a persistent trope that plagues partners of hard core gamers. That is, the ‘gamer widow(er),’ the woman (or man) who finds themselves shunted to the side by their partner in favour of video games. It’s a pernicious and somewhat toxic trope that casts that partner (often a woman) as “anti-game” and gaming in general as something that is incompatible with a functional relationship.
While this term can certainly be used humourously, I find that it is more often used by people bitter about the time and attention that their partners devote to their games, instead of their partners or relationships in general. When Rick and I got together as a couple, I was determined not to be a gamer widow, choosing instead to immerse myself in video game culture and bring a ‘game positive’ attitude to our relationship. However, there are still times when games win out, and I find myself alone in the apartment, even when Rick is technically there.
The most recent incident for us revolves around Rick’s current obsession with Overwatch. It all started on the weekend of free Beta access. While Rick did try to warn me beforehand that Overwatch was all he wanted to do that weekend, I nonchalantly nodded and shrugged approval without really thinking about what he was trying to tell me. He literally did nothing for those three days but play the game. No chores. No outings. Nothing.
I did my best to be understanding considering this was a time-dependent situation, but I was pretty disappointed. To make up for being MIA for 72 straight hours, he agreed that we would do whatever I wanted the following weekend, and even posted about it in an Overwatch subreddit thread for husbands who’d ignored their wives during the free Beta. Surprisingly, someone replied to Rick’s post, saying that he “hates when wives aren’t supportive of their husband’s hobbies.” Rick was aghast.
I’m clearly not the woman this anonymous commentor thinks I am. I’ve been writing a blog for five years about how supportive of Rick’s hobby I am. I advocate regularly for women to get involved and educated about video games. I am not a bitter gamer widow. But when a man is asked to balance his hobby (or work, or art, etc.) with his relationship, it is the person doing the asking that is immediately cast as unsupportive.
Rick quickly replied, explaining that agreeing to spend a day with his wife was the least he could do after treating her like an invisible maid for the better part of three whole days. Like with anything in a relationship, it all comes down to communication. I am very fortunate (or rather, I chose well) to have a husband who is willing and able to negotiate with me over his hobbies. He acknowledges the respect I show his hobby by respecting me in turn.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still sometimes feel left out. When is comes to Overwatch, this feels especially odd considering it is a multi-player game. I could join him if I wanted, but then again, not really. Rick is extremely competitive when it comes to these types of games, and I frequently have to put my headphones on when watching TV while he plays behind me to drown out the sounds of him excitedly bossing his friends around. I’ve tried playing Overwatch on my own, and I certainly understand the appeal and agree it is an exceptionally well made and fun game, but playing with Rick isn’t really an option. I’m just not good enough.
So Rick plays his game and I watch my shows and we take breaks periodically to share what we’ve been doing with each other. I think it’s healthy in a relationship for both parties to have separate interests that they can pursue independently. Problems arise when there is no common ground, no respect and no communication.
As I mentioned in an earlier post about how we prepare for big game releases, communication is key to navigating these issues. As it is with most contentious situations faced in a relationship. Compromise will always be a part of a healthy relationship, whether video games are present or not.
If you’re a gamer widow and you’re angry, the problem is with your relationship. Not video games.