You love playing first-person shooters. You also love your significant other. Wouldn't it be great if you could somehow combine the two? Then you could love everything, all at once. Yeah!
Don't do it. It's a trap.
I met this girl, let's call her Frannie, while I was involved in theater. I was playing Romeo in an all-male production of R&J. We staged it in a three-theater space, and she was acting in a musical revue down the hall. She was tall, leggy, and she could sing her face off. I was, well, Romeo. We hit it off and started dating. Everything was great. Then, after a month, the Xbox came out. She got one. We got the original Halo. Then, things got even better.
Frannie brought the Xbox over to my place, and we started playing a campaign together. Side by side, we battled the Covenant. We shared our victories, our defeats, and our frustrations. We forged a trust. We developed a way of working together. We were strong. The game engulfed our lives and the relationship was perfect. When Frannie came over, it was all food, sex, and video games. We were falling in love. We were unstoppable. So unstoppable, in fact, that we eventually beat the game. It was a glorious triumph of the heart.
Awesome. So now what? We thought: We love each other, and we love Halo—the game that brought us so close—and we don't want to stop playing. So we decided to battle.
This was a huge mistake. The change wasn't immediate or dramatic, but it was noticeable, like watching a giant ocean liner start to make a huge U-turn. We weren't playing with each other any more. We were playing against each other. Her victories were my defeats, and vice versa. She was competitive. I was competitive. We would size each other up and try to get into each other's heads. We picked apart the other's defenses and strategies. We started fighting. We experienced a steep drop-off in sexual activity. That was a red flag. But it was nothing compared to what happened next.
I prevailed in a particularly hard-fought battle. And then, with a sidearm sling, it went flying. Her controller. Across the room and into a wall. "You're a controller-thrower!" I gasped. "Whatever," she said. She didn't think it was a big deal. I distinctly remember thinking: "Whoa, who IS this?"
I had grown up with controller throwers—kids that couldn't handle a loss in Street Fighter II, hucked the controller, and stormed out of the room. I didn't like it then, when we were twelve, so what was I to make of this kind of behavior from a woman in her mid-twenties? Regardless, past experience had taught me how to handle it.
Growing up, a number of my friends were poor losers. Early on, I'd learned that if someone loses all the time, they get frustrated, and then they stop wanting to play. I just wanted to keep playing. So if there was a game that I was way better at, sometimes I'd take a dive, letting my friend beat me. He'd stay interested, and he'd want to keep going. So, this is what I started doing with Frannie in Halo. Generally speaking, it worked pretty well. Don't get me wrong. Sometimes she'd beat me fair and square. But the game system lived at my place, so I was getting better, faster. This strategy, however, proved unsustainable.
One day, we were playing, and I was in the zone. We had been fighting—in real life—earlier that day. She was in a bad mood, and was taking it out on me. So, you know what? No mercy. I unleashed a Costco-sized can of death on her. Again, and again, and again. It was a bloodbath. Finally the controller flew across the room—again—and I got a bed feeling. She turned to me and said, "Have you been letting me win all this time?" The jig was up. "Only sometimes?" I replied. Cue: Giant explosion of rage. I was a patronizing asshole. We were done with Halo. Maybe we were done, period.
Looking back, it's easy to see the mistakes that were made. Halo wasn't any more to blame for the destruction of our relationship any more than it could be credited for the building of it. The holes were already there, Halo just shined a light through them. Frannie took the Xbox back to her place. The relationship ambled on for another few months, but we were sinking, and we both knew it. We broke up. After a respectable waiting period, we have evolved into good friends.
I've learned that defeat can reveal a part of a person that you don't want to see. It's better to play on the same team—in love and video games.
UPDATE: My phone just rang and whose face did I see? Frannie's. She thought this whole thing was hilarious (thank god), but she had a bone to pick about one detail. The way Frannie remembers it, she spiked the controller onto the bed. "Those early controllers were heavy as shit. If I'd thrown it across the room it would have knocked a hole in your wall." Hmmm, that's not how I remembered it, but it's possible. Either way, Frannie deserved to have a voice in this.
Thanks, Frannie, for reminding me why you're my favorite ex-girlfriend.