Growing up, it was not uncommon to find a pile of books in place of a gaming console next to the family television. It wasn’t so much that my parents abhorred video games, it was more that we couldn’t afford a Nintendo for a family of three, so books of many types, were how we usually passed our time.
I had spent summers reading stories about fantastical adventures and coming of age, tales about thrilling horror and suspense, and well-loved classics from the 19th century. I had fallen in love with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and had bookmarked pages in V.C. Andrews’ novels. I had creased the spines of several Choose your own Adventure series, and tried desperately to keep The Chronicles of Narnia pristine.
Fast forward to today, my venture into games have primarily been tapping at a few mobile applications like Pokemon Go and Mortal Kombat X, or frantically button mashing through console games like Super Smash Bros. My love for stories though, is a large part of who I am, and video games, hadn’t quite taken up shelf space in my heart.
When I met my husband, who had grown up on video games, we seemed like such an unnatural pairing coming from two different worlds. Here the introverted bookworm meeting the ambivert video gamer, was like watching a strange episode of two people speaking entirely different languages. At least, that was how things seemed at first, until we found common ground.
We both had a love for stories, bonding over tales of our childhood, segments of pieces the other had never heard, and futures we had yet to experience.
Video games were more something that we shared separately — I had tried once, when we were dating, to play World of Warcraft on Vanilla servers in order to enter into his world, only to end up in tears after under an hour of play. I was pressing the wrong buttons, navigating in the wrong direction, and kept falling further and further behind on progress. I was not escaping the world and unwinding, as I was feeling anxious and stressed, like I had failed some greater world order, and I had failed him.
We don’t talk about that day anymore, as it was a sore moment in our relationship, more my perfectionistic self could not understand why it was taking me so long to learn the motions he had learned effortlessly in his younger years. I had given up on gaming, but I had not given up on him.
Then entered Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which was a game I had heard would be the perfect fit for the casual gamer. I would try one last time to enter into the world that didn’t seem to want my poorly coordinated joystick movements or poorly timed button pushes. A last ditch effort before I gave up on understanding what made video games so interesting to my other half.
Somehow the gaming gods heard my plea, because Animal Crossing seemed so straightforward. There wasn’t the pressure to push a certain sequence of buttons at a specific timed interval, or to necessarily work through items in a specific order for a strategic outcome. I was no longer left confused and frustrated because I could go at my own pace, and no longer needed to run against someone else’s stop watch.
As I gathered shells, collected bugs, planted flowers, and shook trees, my husband would point out key tips on how to best utilize my tools to get the most bells.
I would explore the ocean for sea creatures, journey to different islands for materials, and collect DIY recipes for the most random creations. While I finished my meals on the couch, as he joked about his “gamer wife” learning to play with one hand, he would reorganize my home or pave pathways for the island we created together.
When I spoke with the neighbours and coordinated my outfits, he would read up on the next milestone to prepare for the arrival of K.K. Slider. He strategized while I explored, and he guided when I was lost (yes, you can get lost when you don’t know how to read the map while navigating).
We complemented each other in different ways, reminding each other of how our relationship is one of support through giving the other space to enjoy what we do best. Co-opting the game, we exercised patience, giving each other a chance to control what was happening in our virtual world. Everything was simple, everything was straightforward, and everything only mattered if either of us wanted it to matter.
I can’t say that I fully understand the gaming world, having only dipped my toes in the water. In the same way my husband doesn’t appreciate why I gush over The Hunger Games (yes, I have a soft spot for teen fiction). We take the same lessons that our relationship is built upon, and we compromise, we support, and we share in our discovery.
So when the bookworm met the video gamer, they began a new chapter. And then many subsequent chapters on different interests and ideas. Transcending the pages, the bookworm documents their stories while the video gamer imagines their world, all the while they both are building and developing their journey, in their own ways, together.