System Lords
The Husband & Wife Videogame Super Team

Chuck Wendig | 8 Feb 2011 12:16
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You're doing it wrong. Playing videogames, I mean. That's okay; I was doing it wrong for a long time too.

This is how I used to do it:

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I'd sit on the couch, ensconced in blankets (if wintertime) or bare-chested and lightly dusted with Cheeto pollen (if summertime). I'd have coffee and/or an alcoholic beverage close at hand. I'd clutch the controller with a grim, arthritic grip, my eyes facing forward - utterly hypnotized by whatever game played on the screen in front of me. It was purely a solitary affair. If my wife (at the time, girlfriend) came in, I might ignore her. I might nod in her general direction. Were she to make a small suggestion - "Did you try pushing that boulder?" - I might snarl and hiss like a spitting cobra. Or, like a child trying to learn how to do somersaults in the backyard, I'd vomit forth a petulant scream: "Don't watch me! I'm doing it by myself!"

Sure, I might be playing with other people halfway across the world, but internally? At home? The living room was my sanctum, the glow from the television my firelight. I was alone, a rogue warrior, a ronin with a game controller.

Then came Portal.

***

I fooled myself into thinking I could play Portal without wanting to wing my controller through the TV screen like some kind of non-returning boomerang. Sure, I could play the first couple of levels, but it wasn't long before my only solution to the game was to gnaw on my Xbox in the hopes of forcing it to submit.

Wife came in. Asked to be handed the controller. "Can I try?"

I rolled my eyes and tossed her the controller. "Pssh. Sure, like you can do any better."

Turns out, I was right for once. She couldn't do any better.

Except her failure was wholly different from my own. My problem wasn't that I couldn't manage the manual dexterity of the game. I could jump and fall and fling portals around like it was nobody's business. I just couldn't figure out where to go or what to do beyond making recursive portal loops through which to plummet. My wife's problem was an animal with different stripes: she knew exactly what she needed to do to solve the puzzle, but couldn't accomplish the "jumping around like a monkey" necessary to achieve said solution.

It was then that our eyes met and maybe, just maybe, we really fell in love for the first time.

It was chocolate and peanut butter. It was beer and hot wings. It was Master Chief and Cortana.

Gingerly she handed me the controller.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" she asked.

"I am," I said. Unusual, because I wasn't thinking about sex or bacon or, I dunno, sex-bacon. "I'll handle the jumping and the button-mashing. You handle all the thinking."