The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 11
I am a solitary person. I avoid crowds, I avoid parties. I prefer peace and quiet over noise and activity. Much of this is a result of social anxiety, but nevertheless, I am a reserved, even-tempered person who actively seeks solitude.
In terms of my gaming life, I have never had much interest in playing with other people. Since I was young, I never much understood the appeal of multiplayer modes—well, I do understand it in an intellectual sense, in that there are marked differences between playing alongside (or against) AI-controlled characters and enemies and those controlled by actual human beings. But I am not an outwardly competitive person, either, and I tend to avoid conflict and confrontation whenever possible.
Yes, that word "avoid" is coming up a lot. And if I'm being honest with myself, I do have a tendency to avoid a lot of things. I have always strived to live in a world of my own devising, set at my own pace, and there's only one person I've ever truly let into that world: my wife.
Video games, by and large, have always been a part of my life. Ever since I first picked up a controller, I've only experienced one minor hiatus from gaming, during my first year of college. But even then I didn't stop gaming altogether—in fact, one of my fondest memories from that time was, ironically, one of my very few multiplayer experiences: playing Soul Calibur II with friends and roommates. What can I say—college forced me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one. Really, I don't even like fighting games.
It is perhaps more than coincidence that this was also the year that I met my wife. You see, unlike me, she really wasn't into video games. The only game I'd ever seen her play, or heard her talk about, was Dance Dance Revolution on the PS2. She used to play video games a bit more when she was young, and her family actually had multiple consoles over the years, from the Sega Master System to the Nintendo 64. By the time she was in college, however, her interest in video games had all but evaporated.
As I was a staunch soloist in terms of my gaming—and I tried DDR maybe once before deciding I couldn't stand it—I pretty much let her be. I remained in my solitary gaming world, while she busied herself with anything and everything else, only pausing on occasion for a fleeting glimpse into this "other" part of my life, which sucked away so much of my time and attention and which she—through no fault of her own—was simply not a part of.
For years, this was the norm. But ironically, despite having very little to do with the gaming part of my life, my wife was actually the one who bought me my first Xbox 360. At the time, I had been raving about Oblivion—longing for it, really—for ages. Beyond the name, however, she had little idea what the game was or why it was apparently so important to me. We didn't have much money at the time, and so I was stunned when, that Christmas, she surprised me with both the console and a copy of Oblivion.
I was thrilled with the gift, of course, and extremely touched that she would go so far to get it for me. But now I see that it was much more than that: she was knocking on the door. I was still lost in my own solitary gaming world, but she was reaching out to be let in. Even if it only meant that she could be the one to introduce me to Oblivion and the Xbox 360, at least she would be able to play that small role in this part of my life that was seemingly closed off to her. This was Christmas of 2007, and it would be another year and a half before the door finally cracked open.
I bought Resident Evil 5 shortly after launch, in Spring of 2009. I had enjoyed soloing my way through RE4, and looked forward to doing the same with the new Resident Evil. I hadn't even considered the game's co-op potential when I got it—frankly, co-op was a foreign concept to me, one that didn't really even register as a possibility. I had, quite simply, never played anything co-op. Ever.
So I started the game solo, and had played perhaps halfway through the first chapter, when the possibility of playing co-op really struck me. I suggested it to my wife, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Say what you will about Resident Evil 5—it is a great co-op experience, regardless of whether or not it defiles its survival-horror roots. We had a blast with the game, and my eyes were opened. She picked up the controls and gameplay with relative ease, and before long, she was begging me to play as much as I was begging her. I had let her into my solitary gaming world, and not only did she seem to be enjoying it just as much as I was, her presence actually made that world a better place.
Naturally, I began the hunt for another co-op experience. I was determined to continue riding this high, to find some way to hold onto my wife and keep her inside this part of my life that for so long had been such a lonely place. What's funny is that I never even knew before how lonely it really was, how drab it could be sometimes, until she stepped in to light it all up. And now that I'd experienced that, I wanted nothing more than to hang onto it for as long as possible.
Thus, I discovered Borderlands. The idea of an FPS—as I've related elsewhere—did not particularly excite me, but I'd heard great things about the game overall. My wife was on board, and so began our journey to Pandora.
Perhaps a half hour into the game, it became apparent to me that she wanted to quit. She didn't get the control scheme, she was overwhelmed by the game's complicated mechanics and open-world format—in short, she just didn't like it. RE5 was clean, straightforward, simple in concept. Borderlands, on the other hand, had flung more weapons and character progression and numbers at us in the first half hour than we'd seen in the entirety of Resident Evil 5.
I was taken aback by her aversion to the game, and all the more so because I was enjoying Borderlands far more than I thought I would. The very elements that were causing her to feel overwhelmed were mechanics that, as an RPG fan, I both loved and felt comfortable with. I wanted to play this game, but even more, I wanted her to want to play it. As much as I was enjoying it, the thought of having to abandon her to forge ahead on my own was not appealing in the least.
So we took a break, and I convinced her to give it another shot. She was hesitant, but willing to try. I think she could see how much it meant to me, and I really believe that she wanted to like the game just as much as I wanted her to. I held on to the hope that she would come around, that she would somehow get used to it, and maybe even grow to like it. Honestly, I didn't expect or even hope for much more than that. At the time, I felt utterly relieved that she agreed simply to stick it out for a while, even if it only ever amounted to a little more time together.
Slowly but surely, Borderlands grew on her. Once she got a better grasp of the controls, she started to have fun with the combat. Once she began to familiarize herself with the daunting variety of weapons and equipment Pandora throws at you, she became as addicted to the game's over-the-top loot system as I was.
Over the course of two years and more, the two of us have scoured every inch of the game's world—including all of Borderlands' expansive DLC—across three playthroughs. I have spent every second of my time with the game by her side, and frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Borderlands has become our go-to gaming experience together, and her enthusiastic company has solidified our journey to Pandora as not only one of my most memorable gaming experiences, but one of the most meaningful aspects of our lives together.
Okay, so my tale has been a bit sappy, I'll admit. It is just a game, after all. But those of us who are passionate about games know that for us, our passion extends much further than that. It's more than the controller in your hands. It's more than the images on your screen, more than the sounds emitted from your speakers. It's about the experience; it's about the journey.
Throughout most of my life, I have undertaken this journey in solitude. I have traveled countless lands, lived countless lives. I have defeated enemies innumerable, I have saved worlds and I have destroyed them. All along the way, I accomplished the unfathomable, and all along the way, I was completely and utterly alone.
This is and was a very real, very significant portion of my life, and I had walled it off from everyone—even the one person for whom, if it came right down to it, I would drop video games altogether without a second of hesitation.
Because, in truth, she is what's real, and in the end, it is just a game. But the moment that she steps into it, that's when it becomes something more. She is what made this journey real; she is what transformed my time in the simple video-game world of Pandora into an experience that mattered, an experience that, unlike every other world I've traversed in all my years, transcended the normal limits of what a game can be, what a game can mean.
I am still a solitary person, and the vast majority of the time I am perfectly fine with that. I travel other lands, I live other lives, and most of the time it is a lonely venture. But every once in a while, a knock will sound at my door. And every once in a while, the love of my life will join me as I voyage into impossible realms. She may not be able to share in or even understand every aspect of my gaming life, but when she does deign to grace my travels with her presence, the journey is always that much brighter for it.
So, if I happen to vanish next week, take heart. Chances are, I've returned to Pandora. But rest assured—I am not alone.
This one's for you, Chrystal. Pandora is calling, and I can't wait.