Ah, late December. The season of Yule-time holidays—be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or something else—bringing family together. When unspent vacation and sick days give a reprieve from the drudgery of work to relax with your friends. When falling temperatures encourage snuggling up with that special someone. Note that none of these things include Star Wars or videogames.
Spouse–aggro is a concern for a number of gamers whose husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or fembot does not share their hobby. It’s a fact: your interests and your spouse’s interests will not always align. And where priorities differ, tensions and arguments can flare. However, this problem is even worse for MMO gamers, whose hobby often requires large investments in time without the benefit of removing you from your spouse’s line-of-sight. I’m convinced that this particular type of relationship tension will ultimately result in my life ending in a tiny apartment with nobody but my guildmates to mourn my passing. And I’m worried that Star Wars: The Old Republic might be the game to do it.
The question is, will BioWare make it easy for fans of TOR to balance in-game play-time with real-world concerns? Or will it be—ultimately—a game that exclusively rewards the “timesink” mentality? See, while I would never describe my years in school as “easy”, those years were filled with an excess of free time I frequently find myself looking back on with envy. It seems so strange to me now. The highschool days where I got out 3PM (2PM on Wednesdays). After which was maybe a little soccer practice, a little “hanging out”, and then as much gaming as I wanted. Or college, where there weren’t even parental limitations on the habit. With classes all scheduled “MWF” so that Tuesdays and Thursdays were an open banquet of electronic entertainment, with only the weeks before tests and papers due to worry about. It was incredible fun, if not particularly healthy.
Yes, I ate canned corn for a week (in a bowl, like cereal) because I was busy in a 5-man instance when the roommates were carpooling to the grocery. Yes, there was a time when our house hosted a kegger and I spent the whole time on a Molten Core raid while drunken people would walk into my room and throw coats on my bed—the toll being they had to get me a refill of Milwaukee’s Best from the kitchen. Yes, frequently nights were spent in my room logged in rather than out with living, breathing, and most importantly local friends. That might have saved me some cash in cover-fees, but sitting around did nothing for my figure, which rapidly became “round”. Fast forward to the year of our lord, 2009 (almost 2010), and I do almost twice as much sitting with none of the fun. Because now I sit in a cubicle from 9 to 5. Yes, free time is a guarded, valuable commodity, and unfortunately gaming isn’t the only priority competing for my attention.
Ignoring the mundane chores and errands that crop up, there’s the jogging and P90X to make up for the cubicle time, there’s the nights actually going out and doing stuff with friends, and finally, there is—[drumroll]—the girlfriend. And let me assure you all, there’s a big difference between a girlfriend living 500 miles away that you see once every few months and a girlfriend who lives in the next room and you pay rent to every month. The girl might not change, but the relationship (and her expectations) definitely will. I quit World of Warcraft—a game lauded as effective birth control and a term that, when googled, returns an advertisement aimed at “male virgins”—over two years ago, and haven’t seriously entertained the thought of subscribing to another MMO since. I made that decision for a variety of reasons, but in no small part because I fear to expose the ladyfriend to the full “fury” of a massively multiplayer online obsession.
But what kind of girl are we talking about here? There are stories out there about “gaming couples” who not only share their hobby, but met through their hobby. And the previously considered elusive “gamer girl” has rapidly become less so, rendering the old gender assumptions about gaming invalid (if they were ever valid to begin with). Well, this particular specimin is many interesting things, but gamer and Star Wars fan she is not. Oh, there are some “nerd” entertainment options that I’ve managed to get her into. I’ve especially had some success comics, where her love of zombie movies made for a smooth transition into The Walking Dead, and from there to Y: The Last Man, Fables, Watchmen, Clumsy, Maus and other classics. And her willingness to see nerdy movies is usually determined more by the leading male star than anything else, which means anything featuring Christian Bale, Chris Pine, Ryan Reynolds or Sam Worthington is easy enough to convince her the worth of seeing. Although she may never forgive me for Fantastic Four 2. No, it’s not that she’s genereally against “things fo diggity likes“, it’s specifically videogames and Star Wars that get her hackles up. Hell hath no fury like a Filipina spurned in favor of Left 4 Dead.
I was able to convince her to watch the original trilogy one time. She found them to be “ok”, and liked Threepio more than anything else. After that I didn’t push my luck with the prequels. As for general gaming, she’s up for some classic board games like Scrabble or Rummikub, and I was able to win her over to play Lunch Money, but tabletop roleplaying was really testing her willingness to put up with my gaming-related poppycock. And this from a woman who dates a guy who ran a comic book store for four years and has a Star Wars tattoo. After patiently sitting through character creation and the opening scene description for an impromptu Star Wars Saga Edition session, her exact words were “Babe, I can tell you’re really excited by this stuff, but I never want to do this again.” As for actual videogames, anything with Princess Peach is “tolerable”, but otherwise they are instruments invented to rot brains and distract people from paying attention to their girlfriends (me) or from doing their homework (her younger brother). She holds this opinion without ever having lived with an MMO gamer, and I’m nervous to see how that goes once I have an active subscriptio
n to something. In a long-distance relationship, one can get away with talking on the phone while raiding (although it makes for some entertaining excalamtions and explanations after a frustrating wipe). Such is not possible while living under the same roof.
So that’s what it boils down to. A must-play game, a galling lack of free time, and a ladyfriend severly disinclined to put up with my balderdash excuses for why I can’t hang out. Is TOR going to be the type of game that tolerates its players to have—[gasp]—a life? Or is it going to be a grind-tastic, hey-I-put-in-the-hours-for-that-win-button exercise in time-sinkage? I haven’t heard enough to ease my worries about future spouse-aggro, but BioWare has made some comments about supporting solo play that may be an answer to my prayers.
VideoGamer.com: Is the idea that you want players to be able to solo everything?
Blaine Christine: Yes. It is in fact a goal. We recognise it as a challenge but we have to support multiple play styles. We know that there are BioWare fans out there that may play this game because it is a BioWare game and they want to experience the story, maybe they’re not a traditional MMO player. So we want to be able to support that. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever see anyone else in the game. But it means that we will balance it in such a way that if you want to play solo, you’ll be able to go through encounters and successfully beat those.
Solo gameplay you say? You mean, no 30 minutes waiting around to get a group together on a night that may or may not fit my schedule but is best for the guild? No 5, 6, or 7 hour dungeon crawl filled with party wipes, re-pops, and general frustration in order to improve my character? Why, yes, that sounds wonderful. And not just for general progression, but also so that I might survive long enough to “level” on up to married life, aka: “you can finally tell your grandmother that you’re living together“. Or even something truly terrifying, like 18-year parasites. See, the theory is, solo play is schedule-friendly. It’s not always about group vs. solo playstyles. It’s not always about hardcore vs. casual mentalities. Sometimes it’s about “She just jumped in the shower, what can I accomplish by the time I hear her fire up the blowdryer?”
Yes, though concerned about potentially finding myself dumped and evicted, that I might be able to actually progress in TOR without having to totally sacrifice the well-being of my spousal relationship offers me some hope. Of course I suppose that there’s always the option of—you know—not playing TOR obsessively to the detriment of my real-life responsibilities, but what’s the likelihood of that?
So who wants to put down odds? Who else frequently deals with spouse-aggro and has similar concerns about TOR’s upcoming release? Let me know!