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Funny To A Point – The Dreaded Question

by Jeff Marchiafava on Sep 09, 2016 at 10:56 AM

When it comes time to be lazy in front of the television, my wife and I make a pretty damn good team. Our taste in movies and TV shows isn't perfectly aligned, but there's enough overlap and open-mindedness between the two of us to keep us both happy and entertained. For every Bollywood marathon, there's an equal and opposite Tarantino marathon – and neither of us blames the other if and when they eventually fall asleep.

More often than not, even the outliers manage to sucker in the supposedly uninterested party. My wife gets frustrated by some morally gray shows like The Americans, but that doesn't stop her from glancing at the screen every five seconds when I watch them "by myself." And as embarrassing as it is to admit, I've garnered a certain appreciation for The Ghost Whisperer – even if I'm still dying for a Supernatural crossover episode where Sam and Dean bust in to torch the corpse of whatever ghost Jennifer Love Hewitt is saying "I have a gift" to.

But the one place where we do diverge is gaming. That's not to say my wife doesn't play games at all – every now and then she'll get even more obsessed with a mobile game than I do (and I have a bad track record) – but when it comes to console games, she rarely joins in. Even so, we still spend that time together; I sit on the couch and play games, and she sits next to me with the tablet and watches videos of...well, I don't know what because I'm too busy playing games.

My wife isn't so easily distracted. More often than not she's genuinely curious about the games I'm playing, which inevitably leads to a question I always have trouble answering: What's it about?

For her, the question is inherently plot-focused, and I have no problem whipping up a succinct answer when it's a TV show or a movie. The Hateful 8 is about a bunch of bad guys stuck in a cabin together. Star Wars is about the Jedi (i.e., space wizards) facing off against the evil Empire ("You know, Darth Vader?" *hoo hee hoo hee*?), plus Han Solo is who is a smuggler but still one of the good guys, even though he totally shot Greedo first. Okay, so maybe all of the answers aren't succinct, but I still have no problem summarizing them.*

However, when it comes to video games, I always have a much harder time getting over the what's-it-about hurdle. To figure out what the hell is going on, I looked back over some of the games I've recently played, along with my pathetic attempts to explain them to my wife:

Dark Souls III
What's it about?: "Well, you're kind of a dead guy who's trying to collect souls from monsters."
I felt pretty good about that explanation, but her follow-up questions made me realize just how little of Dark Souls' lore I actually understand. Why am I taking their souls? Who are the monsters? How does collecting the monsters' souls actually help? After a dozen or so I-don't-knows, her questions were eventually replaced with concern over how much I jump every time an enemy lunges out of nowhere to attack me. Stupid monsters.

Fallout 4
What's it about?: "A nuclear war destroyed the world, so now I'm exploring the wasteland and collecting stuff. Oh, my son is missing, too."
I spent the first hour of Fallout 4 fidgeting with sliders in the character creator, during which my wife continually offered advice for making my guy less ugly. She was snoring on the couch by the time the game actually started, so she missed the opening sequence. I gave her the aforementioned answer the next evening, then ignored my missing son for the next 30 hours and acted like a complete lunatic instead. At least she didn't wake up during the (sadly) real scenario I found myself in shown above!

Inside
What's it about?: "I don't know." Followed by, "I still don't know," and, "Seriously, you've seen everything I've seen, I have no idea what's going on."  
My wife had a hard time believing I would go into a game completely blind, and instead assumed I was stonewalling her for information (again, the footnote provides some context). Even after I convinced her that I was just as clueless as she was, she couldn't help but continue asking follow-up questions. Who are the guys chasing the boy? What do they want with him? Are they aliens or what? My wife was just as mesmerized by Inside as I was, and gasped every time I fumbled my way into a gruesome death (like a professional!). One of my biggest gaming regrets of 2016 is finishing the game when she wasn't home – I really want to see her Veronica Cartwright-esque reaction to the last 30 minutes.

Uncharted 4
What's it about?: "It's basically Indiana Jones the game."
Uncharted 4 was by far the easiest game to explain, in no small part because I had recently made her watch the Indiana Jones trilogy. However, Uncharted's cinematic nature and strong script also made it an easy one to convey – she watched through the opening hours and saw the introduction of Drake's brother, Sam, so keeping her up to speed just entailed sharing any plot points she missed. She wasn't in any danger of mistaking Uncharted 4 for a movie like that classy old Sony ad, but the series' characters and bombastic set-piece moments are about as universally appealing as video games get.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
What's it about?: "Lara Croft is on an island looking for something."
I thought explaining Rise of the Tomb Raider would be easy, as my wife already had a vague idea of who Lara Croft is (albeit from the dumb Jolie movies). Then I realized that despite being four or five hours into the game, I had no idea what the hell the actual plot was. She's on an island looking for some relic that proves her dad wasn't crazy? And her mom is working with the bad guy? I still don't know what I'm doing in the game, other than shooting a lot of dudes in the head with arrows.

Goat Simulator
What's it about?:  What the hell is wrong with you?:
She didn't actually ask me that – but her eyes did. And I had no good answer.

Overwatch
What's it about?: "There's no story, you just shoot all the other players."
My wife has as low of a bar for storytelling in competitive multiplayer games as most developers do and her brothers are playing it, so Overwatch got a pass. Thank god – I don't even want to attempt making sense of the nonsense lore Blizzard has been dishing out in its video shorts and comics for the game.

Doom
What's it about?: "Someone opened a portal to hell on Mars, so I've got to kill the demons and close it. And then kill whoever opened it. And maybe go to hell and kill everything there, too."
I started playing Doom right after a week of nonstop Overwatch, so my wife's first question was, "Is this still the cartoony one?" Then I ripped the heart out of a mancubus and shoved it down its throat, to which she replied, "This is not the cartoony one."

Ark: Survival Evolved
What's it about?: "I just woke up on an island full of dinosaurs. I don't think there's a story."
After watching me punch trees while in my underwear for five minutes, she asked a follow-up question: Is it fun? Nope, not really.

Dangerous Golf
What's it about?:  "It's like golf, but indoors, and you try to break as much stuff as possible."
I staved off any follow-up questions with the good ol' shrug-I'm-a-guy routine.

No Man's Sky
What's it about?: "I'm some kind of cosmonaut traveling to different planets and exploring them. There's also something at the middle of the universe, but I hear it's a total bummer."
Now that I think about it, "What's it about?" is a whole lot like the "What do you actually do?" question that has been plaguing No Man's Sky since its announcement. However, my wife didn't dive down the rabbit hole of conspiracies and hysteria surrounding No Man's Sky, so to her the game still seems pretty cool.

So, what do my sorry video game synopses say about me? First of all, I probably need to pay more attention when characters stop shooting each other and start blabbing out the story bits. But more importantly, gameplay is still king in my living-room realm; a game doesn't need a strong plot – or any plot at all – to keep me entertained for hours on end, and that's pretty cool. My explanations might not always satisfy my wife's favorite question, but if I'm happy, she's happy – and I don't have to worry about fighting her for the controller!

*In the interest of the complete and unadulterated truth, my wife might take issue with this point: Thanks to my obsessive fear of spoilers, my first answer to plot inquiries is usually "You'll see." However, I've slowly learned that it's better to just spoil a bit of the story than have her mad at me during the whole damn movie.

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