Everything I Know About Relationships I Learned From Computer Games

I'm not really a video game person, it's true. I think I had a Super Nintendo as a kid, but my cats ate the cord. So, computers it was. I used to sit at my desk playing Asteroids, pretending I was a Federation Starship Captain back in the day (look, my AOL screenname was CaptZork, so sue me). And playing these games taught me a lot about relationships, as I spent more time with circuits than with people.

When I first started dating, I treated my relationships a lot like the Aztecs in Civilization. We'd start off being cautious, trading a little here and there, admiring each other but not wanting to get too close. Then we'd band together out of need, our shared goals and mutually beneficial researched technologies leading to diplomatic agreements while we wiped out those who stood in our way. We'd make Wonders of the World, and compliment each other on our conquests and resources. It would seem, for a time, like we were unstoppable. Until one of us asked for something a little TOO much, went a little too far, pushed a boundary on our territory that should've been left alone. Then it would be nuclear warfare, and all our hard work would end up in flames.

Having watched the whole thing burn more than once, I realized this was not the healthiest approach, especially when you have multiple lovers on the playing field. For a time, I decided to go more towards relationship anarchy, avoiding the power hierarchy of primaries and secondaries and going for a ruleless approach. To me, this ended up being a lot like Myst. Just like my experience with Myst... I always felt like I was missing something, like there were these confusing and not obvious puzzles but I should grin and pretend it was working for me anyway, even though I found the whole thing hugely frustrating. With little guidance, I just wandered from situation to situation, not feeling secure, but also not feeling like I was moving forward or even really enjoying myself. It looked pretty enough... but I didn't want to stay there.

Zork spoke to me in my dating approach too, mainly in that I spent a lot of time staggering in the dark, trying to map out what I needed to do and where I was supposed to go next while trying not to be eaten by a grue (or fall over a tripwire of miscommunicated needs). Like in Zork, I used to find myself somewhere, wishing I had remembered that one thing, cursing that I'd have to go back because I hadn't anticipated enough steps into the future. I love Zork, but it's not an easy game... and you often have to play it over and over before you get to the end, completely focused on it, painstakingly mapping and taking notes. Not so bad for a game, but not the best for a relationship style.

All these other approaches fell away when I got a Google calendar and started to micromanage my relationships. Yes, this was my romantic era of The Sims, where codependency is king. In my desire to care for my partners, all my partners, I ended up acting like a mixture between a mother and a puppetmaster. Wanting to be present for all your lovers is a worthy goal, of course, but the problem with micromanagement is that you can never stop or everything will go to shit. It can be a lot of pressure, when you feel like you have to make sure everything is working and everyone is ok or they're all going to piss themselves and set the house on fire. Ok, hopefully that's not a concern in your real life relationships, but I imagine you get my drift. You can't control your lovers, I've learned... and smothering them with love is a type of control.

In the end, all of these approaches involved overthinking it, at least for me. I found my relationship style in the simplicity of Tetris. Yep, that incredibly basic game. What I love about Tetris is that it starts slowly, and ultimately, the way to keep the game up is to be adaptable, to see what needs doing and do it. For me, it feels really meditative, even as it gets faster- I'm an anxious person, and Tetris works for me somehow, keeping my mind busy without making me TOO frantic. There's frustrations, sure (sometimes the piece you get isn't the piece you really need, for example)... and not all pieces fit in every slot. You make it work as best you can, and you keep going. Mistakes get made, and you can give up, or adapt and keep going. You have to keep working at it, but you also can't dwell on problems or you might make those small problems worse.

Eventually, when you just can't keep up anymore... that's it, the game is over, but you still feel good about what you did. Each time, it becomes a little easier to anticipate and keep up with all the different pieces. Plus it can be played on all sorts of devices, from the side of a building to a graphing calculator! And unlike other games... you can't win. It just keeps going until you can't do it anymore.

That may seem like a weird analogy, but it's one that really holds true for me. The only difference is that in Tetris, it starts off easy and gets hard... and in my experience with honesty and trust in relationships, it's the opposite. It started off hard and every mistake added up into disaster. But as I got the hang of it, I began to welcome my errors as opportunities to learn, to practice adaptability, to challenge myself.

Love's roadbumps have become just that... challenges, where once they shut the whole game down or made it miserable to play. And I've learned the most important lesson for relationships- SELF CARE. Now I know that it's ok to step back from the game and stretch, that I do, in fact, need to eat, that if I can't solve a puzzle I may need to take space and come back to it later. And that's ok.

Through play, I learned how to do the work.

Categories: advice, best of, communication, dating, fake it til you make it, games, geekery, love, love is a dog from hell, mistakes were made, nonmonogamy, reflection, self care, Uncategorized

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