Meeting in the Middle: How To Play With Someone Who Sucks at Video Games

Posted by | May 13, 2014 | Opinion, Tips for Parents | No Comments
Xbox controller gamingphoto credit: Marco Arment via photopin cc

Although my husband Eric and I met while working for a video game company, our experience with video games could not have been more different. Eric had been playing computer games since he could reach a keyboard, while I had played a few NES games with my siblings as a child and then didn’t really play again until I found myself employed in the industry. This meant that not only was I not familiar with the history of games, I hadn’t kept up with the practical implications of four generations of console innovation.

Why were there so many buttons?! Why did I need TWO joysticks?! What do you mean one joystick is for the camera?!

Needless to say, most “modern games,” with their moving in three dimensions and aiming and shooting, were totally lost on me. That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in playing them. Working in the industry and meeting Eric, a walking encyclopedia of video game history, had deepened my appreciation of video games as an art form and I was desperate to dive in and experience them for myself. Unfortunately, my utter lack of skills meant that playing video games with my husband was going to take some work. On both our parts.

After a lot of trial and error we figured out ways that we could game together and both have fun. Here are the basic steps we took to finding that middle ground.

Step 1: Find Genres You Both Like

Just because you live, breathe, and dream Call of Duty doesn’t mean that your partner does too. It’s okay if you don’t like the same sorts of video games; you can still find ways to game together. I tend to prefer casual games on my tablet, whereas Eric is more into deep, involved RPGs like Skyrim. But, when we play games together, we generally gravitate towards puzzle games or beat ‘em ups like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game.

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as general preferences, so find games that play to the strengths of both parties. Maybe one of you has an eye for detail, but the other is great at twitch platforming. Why not try a puzzle platformer like LIMBO? One likes cars and the other likes blowing things up? How about a game of Mario Kart?

There are all sorts of games out there now, so go experiment to find the right genre together.

Step 2: Accept the Skill Deficit

People who haven’t grown up developing lightning-quick hand-eye coordination are going to take a LONG time to catch up, if they ever do. Do what you can to level the playing field instead of moaning about the gap. If you’re playing a co-op game and the less-skilled player just can’t keep from dying, make sure the game has an option for reviving dead avatars. Find games that de-emphasize combat if that’s what’s tripping your partner up. If the trouble is memorizing buttons, maybe opt for PC games, as most of us are at least already comfortable using a mouse and a keyboard.

Sometimes playing a game together means that only one of you is controlling the game. For games that are heavy on story and dialogue choices (Mass Effect Trilogy, The Wolf Among Us), the more-skilled gamer could take care of combat and moving around while the other, less-skilled player gets to make all the decisions. This way you are both invested in the story but get to contribute to finishing the game in different ways.

Step 3: Be Patient & Positive

Eric can be a bit of a “back-seat gamer,” which has led to more than a couple of breakdowns on my part. It felt like he was criticizing the way I was playing. After talking it out and realizing that my self-consciousness about my gaming skills was making me extra sensitive to his nagging, Eric realized that he needed to change the way he played, too.

If all I heard when I played was how terrible I was, what was going to make me want to keep playing? From then on, even the silliest of my achievements was met with high-fives and hugs. Die in three minutes instead of one? High five! Make it through that door without hitting the door frame? High five! And while there was a certain amount of self-deprecation in the celebration of these “achievements,”  I started to realize I was really having fun. And I was actually getting better at playing.

Sure, video games still might not be my #1 choice for entertainment, but having an invested, encouraging partner to guide me has exposed me to storytelling and experiences I would never have experienced otherwise. Gaming with different skill levels and interests can be done together. It just takes a little work.

Mariko McDonald

About Mariko McDonald

Mariko McDonald is a freelance writer, indie game evangelist, and amateur cat-wrangler. Her favorite games are Mass Effect and Bubble Bobble. You can see more of her pop-culture ramblings on her blog, Gamerwife.com and on Twitter (@gamerwifeblog).