How PixelJunk Monsters Saved My Marriage

One house. One newly wed couple. One television. Unless you find some sort of common ground -- quickly -- this is the kind of thing that can break marriages. At the very least it’s the starting point for the definition of boundaries. Who rules the roost, who wears the pants? Often clichés are clichés for a reason, particularly when it comes to relationships. Particularly when it comes to control of the television.

My new wife and I lived in the pokiest flat imaginable. We barely had space for a second television, let alone the money. She worked hard, searching for jobs in a competitive market, but unwound after a tough day by completely spacing out in front of the television.

I play video games -- and therein lies the issue, the spousal battleground. Of course, there are TV shows I’ll watch, but more often I’ll simply tolerate them. I can never shake the feeling that whilst watching TV I’m just wasting my time. With video games there are achievements to be had -- rewards. With video games, I’m doing something.

But tragically, my wife isn’t one of those rare treasures who are happy to simply watch others play.

“BORING!” she’ll say loudly, before making a reach for the remote. Again, there are games she’ll play, but they’re few and far between -– and predicting precisely which games she’ll enjoy is hardly a precise science.

But here’s the thing -- once you’ve found a game my wife enjoys, she’ll play obsessively. 120 hours spent on both Pikmin 1 and Pikmin 2. I have no idea how or when she began playing. The Sims 2 –- several hundred hours under her belt -- that one was a little more predictable I suppose. But years of refusing to play shooters, before falling completely in love with Portal? That came out of left field.

“Try this,” I say.

“Ugh,” she groans audibly, “FINE!”

I’m painting a pretty harsh picture of my gorgeous wife, but this is the precise noise she makes whenever I try to introduce her to a new video game. It’s a delicate courtship period, and the first five minutes is critical.

The game I am attempting to foist upon my wife was PixelJunk Monsters, a game I’d been already spent two hours in the office playing for review. I’ve just spent the last hour playing at home. It’s the kind of simple pleasure that I feel compelled to share.

“There are all these monsters trying to eat your babies,” I explain, “and you build towers on the tree so you can kill them and save your babies.”

“That’s stupid,” she says, but she’s still holding the controller, and has now progressed onto the next level. This is a good sign.

Then I showed her the co-operative mode -- a mode in which we could, in the weirdest of ways prepare for parenthood. A parenthood in which we, together, would transform trees into towers, slaughter waves of monsters walking on a pre-determined path, collect money from their corpses and redistribute the resources so we can do it all over again -– wave after wave. All to save our precious babies. Our babies.

It clicked. It was over. She was obsessed. We were obsessed.

For the next month we played PixelJunk Monsters together, almost religiously, every day -- existing without the need for normal communication. We spoke our own language, a fragmented splatter of words adapted to make our playing more efficient. Efficiency was all-important.

- You collect the money.

- Now hurry up and build a laser. BUILD THE LASER!

- Should I build it here?

- No, no, no! Build it up there! Hurry up! The bats are coming!

- Should we get rid of the fire?

- No we need the fire for the fire guys...

- USE THE BEANS! USE THE BEANS ON THE CANNONS!

- YOU DANCE WHILE I USE THE BEANS! THEN YOU COLLECT THE MONEY! DANCE!

Some co-op games are barely co-operative. There's hardly any need for co-operation at all, you both shoot at things -- that's it. In PixelJunk Monsters, in order to complete levels perfectly, a high level of communication and planning was required.

And no level exemplified that more than ‘Treeless Forest’ –- a level that would push our communication skills, and our marriage to breaking point.

‘Treeless Forest’ was not completely treeless. It had four trees, four points from which we could build defences. This meant that organisation was utterly paramount. In other levels it was possible to build haphazardly and adapt to situations as they came -- you could even complete levels perfectly this way if you were smart.

Not in ‘Treeless Forest’.

The limited trees in ‘Treeless Forest’ meant that, constantly, as the waves of monsters attacking your babies changed, we would have to destroy towers and rebuild different types to adjust, using a small amount of resources along the way. You couldn’t simply level up specific towers to breaking point and hope they would kill all the monsters, because different monsters had different weak points. That’s the nature of PixelJunk Monsters -- that’s where strategy comes from.

We had played ‘Treeless Forest’, at my rough estimate, probably about 30 times. We’d either completely failed the level, or scrambled to the finish with our precious babies massacred. Early on we’d come to realise that a precise strategy was required, we had just consistently failed to strike that precious balance.

Then, it happened.

We ran the level with military precision. We built a specific set of towers at very precise times. We danced like our lives depended on it. We spent out money wisely. We used our beans frugally. We destroyed our precious towers when required -- we made sacrifices. And when the time came, as the last wave of monsters was put to the sword via the the strength of our fully levelled up Mortar Cannons, we felt a common sense of achievement as strong as any I’ve experienced since. Ever.

It was a strange time. We were newly married, we lived in a pokey one-bedroom flat. We existed solely on one wage, and it was a meagre one, but somehow we managed to make it through. Monsters don’t leave behind magic beans and money in real life -- if only! But if we could get through the ‘Treeless Forest’ together, through hard work, planning, and compromise, we could probably get through anything.

And we could definitely learn to share one single television.


Comments

    Yeah, but you secretly like Gossip Girl, right?

      XOXO.

      As one of my friends said, can't wait for the male spin-off - Discussion Dude.

        Chat Chap?

          You guys both made me lol ^.-

            Chinwag Chums.

            .... *slaps himself*

              Babble Bros?

                "A man a word, a woman a dictionary". I don't think the show would last 5 minutes.

                  Thesaurus.com recommends:

                  Scuttlebutt Scoundrels?

                  I reckon they're onto a winner!

    This was a good article. I have a friend that only plays a few games for hundreds of hours. I cant handle it. I need to play everything simultaneously.

    On the tower defense point, have you had time with dungeon defenders?

      I think everyone should have time for dungeon defenders

    My girlfriend enjoys watching me play games \o/ well, except scary ones. When I was playing Dead Space 2 she sat facing away from me, the TV behind her and did school work. She still jumped and screamed every time a necromorph appeared. Ended up playing LBP2 instead.

    I can relate to sooo many things here.

    The relationship Bee and i Share is pretty much exactly the same.. with all my trying i can only get her into very few games. Limbo has been the biggest success so far :P

    Maybe i need to try and give this one a shot with her...

    Although, sometimes i feel as thought i'm dicing with death when i play games with Bee.. i'm always just one comment, or one on-screen action away from being strangled/bludgeoned to death with a controller.

    I think it's a common curse gamers have when talking to non-gamers, that all our advice, as friendly as we try, turns out to sound condescending. :P

      That's exactly how I feel. It's tricky. I feel like I'm wakling this tightrope to get Heizy interested in any game. One false move and it all crumbles.

      When Q and I play games I try and help and she gets upset because I'm yelling and I feel like shit because I didn't mean to...

    Oh I remember those days. How good they were. Except our obsession was guitar hero!
    USE YOUR STAR POWER NOW!!!
    Don't forget the tricky bit in this section!
    LOL

    oh ho hum..

      Aw man. I wish I had someone to Guitar Hero with.

      Especially someone who could do it on expert.

        My wife only likes playing guitar games on normal, so that's where she takes a break and my brother steps in. The brother who can beat every track on Guitar Hero III on expert. The brother who plays expert lead to my expert bass in Rock Band so that I look good when "I" beat the song on expert!

    Really good write-up. Gonna get this game and play it with the GF.

    I have given up trying to get my wife to play games. She is better at TF2 than i am, but she just has no patience for video games at all. She'd rather sit there clicking refresh on Facebook for hours on end than engage in something with a challenge.

    That's a really good article :) rings true in many households I'm sure.

    My wife doesn't mind watching me play games with a good story, Gears of War (watched the whole series) Assassins Creed was another good one, and also Infamous.

    She isn't much of a gamer herself but enjoys LBP 1 & 2 and Viva Pinata but will only play for about half hour then look for something else to do.

    I'm relatively lucky enough to have a partner who is happy to watch - but only certain games. She was more than happy to watch me play Gears and Gears 2 (story mode only, obviously) and took great relish in watching me play Fallout 3. (she was also the keeper of the subway maps, where I always got hopelessly lost, and managed to guide my directionally retarded self to many a goal)

    She won't play many games, but when I do find one she likes - it's on. I lost my PSP for about 2 months because of Puzzle Quest, and recently I purchased her Puzzle Quest 2 for DS - which has lost me my 3DS for the last few weeks now.

    If I ever decide to play anything multiplayer-shooty, she loses interest rapidly - but has her laptop and various things to amuse her there when I do.

    Moderation is key, as always - but I still count myself among the lucky few.

    My wife is fantastic, I get to play anything anytime and-... oh, right.

    (Has no wife)

    (Curls up and cries, clutching his copy of Dark Souls)

    Everybody loves Plants vs Zombies! I found that my phone had run out of batteries on more than one occasion as a result of this game.

      Run out of batteries because somebody had been playing it to death while I was otherwise occupied.

      I find that mobile games are very wife friendly, leaving you free to play on the TV. You just need to steer her towards the good ones!

    Hit and Miss is a perfect way to descirbe my dealings with my live in gf and video games.

    She generally isn't much of a fan of video games like from what i understand is most gfs.

    She likes the classics (mario i.e) so i guessed correctly when getting little big planet for us both to share. We havent finished despite being pretty close to the end and having purchased the second one its still lays in its wrapper.

    She doesn't want to play anymore, almost like she is done forever with it. She hates me playing most games most recently Batman was apparntly one of the most boring to watch (i know?!) but watched intently to me playing LA Noire. Heavy Rain was another she enjoyed watching and i had to put up with being called a nerd every 10 mins while trying to finish Dragon Age 2.

    She hates this time of year. She sees all these games coming home and rolls her eyes and is like "you know your not playing that till im asleep"

    She insits on watching tv but doesnt really watch it, plays on her iphone on facebook for 3 hours while (like u Mark) Im watching this garbage wishing i was at least doing something more stimulating.

    But in a way i actually like the fact that she isnt a gamer. Working in a game store it seems sometimes all you talk about is games and when you talk to your friedns the converstaion usually turns to games eventually. With Lisa i know i can always go home and never have to worry about games coming up in converstaion, her hogging my consoles or arguing over which is better COD or BF3 and thats why i love her :)

    My lovely wife is no traditional gamer, but she is happy to indulge in the odd game. Burnout 3, Lumines, Guitar Hero(s) and Peggle have had Wifee playing for hours.

    She's also happy to watch me play the odd 3rd person actioner, provided that the script is tight enough. She loved the Uncharted games, Gears of War 3 and Batman:AA. Not a fan of watching me play FPSs.

    Another reason to love my wife: she's not a huge movie or TV buff. Meaning she's happy for me to play games while she does research or reads.

    Match made in heaven. Love you Wifee!

    I was quite surprised the first time I cranked up Gears of War and the missus goes, 'Hey, that looks like fun. Let me try!'

    Two sequels later and she still laughs like a mad-woman at chainsaw executions.

    It's about the only game she likes though. Oh, that and Fruit Ninja. That's got it's hooks in her something fierce.

    I used to date a girl who was mad for tetris... she was the most organised woman I've ever met.

    Christ I miss her, she was one of my favourite people to argue with.

    Might have to finally try and the GF onto Monsters, she loves PvZ and they are basically the same type of games.

    LEGO games are her favourites though, regardless of the subject matter, she clicked with them. Given that LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 is due in November and she being a very big Harry fan, some co-op gaming is just around the corner.

    The only game my fiance has completed is Ocarina of time. I count this as a win :-)

    On the upside I managed to convince her to play four swords adventures with me last night. She actually enjoyed it and said she would play again.

    Thanks Link!

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