WHEN IT COMES to video games and marriages, it’s usually not good news. Pop culture, books, and movies are littered with anecdotes or comedy sketches about a scorned, frazzled wife being dumped by her husband for the latest video game.
I can picture it now: Usually the wife comes into her husband’s dark, dank gaming den in some wildly uncomfortable lingerie in an effort to seduce the bleary-eyed, caffeine-laden husband off some game or another. It ends in screams and rough and tumble—but not the good kind.
Not in my case, though. I swear that playing video games with my husband of two years, Jethro, now 27, has actually made our marriage stronger—and now I feel closer to him than ever.
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the world as we knew it in March 2020, Jethro and I hadn’t even been married a year. We spent our first wedding anniversary that summer locked in our small two-bed flat in London, lamenting what could have been. We exhausted everything: running, cookbooks, redecorating, our record collection, and the coffee. It got tense at times—this wasn’t a life for a newlywed couple, surely?
In all honesty, we’d never really gamed together before. Jethro liked difficult adventure games with impossible puzzles, logic, fighting, and big-ass weapons. I didn’t. I liked games with bright colors, friendships, and “doing good.” The closest I ever got to fighting and big-ass weapons was in Fallout 3, and even then I ran away from rabid dogs.
We like different things and have wildly different personalities, so gaming together was never considered. Jethro’s a numbers man; he’s cool, collected, and incredibly logical. I’m a creative, a writer, an overly sensitive Pisces with a terrible memory and zero logic. We’re polar opposites when it comes to both life and gaming. So our gaming lives have been very separate, very personal to us individually, and we’d never had a chance to bond, or work together as a couple, when it came to our screen time.
Turns out we’re not alone. There have been a handful of studies over the years that have revealed the negative impact that gaming can have on marriages. Shockingly, in 2018, the website Divorce Online suggested that it saw a marked increase in Fortnite being cited as grounds for divorce among their users. Around 5 percent of all divorce papers it received that year claimed that the game had a role in breaking up their marriage.
In an earlier study, published in 2012 by the Journal of Leisure Research, researchers found that 75 percent of (often male) gamer’s spouses wished that the gamer in their relationship would put more effort into their marriage. They claimed it led to dissatisfaction in their relationship and arguments, as it got in the way of family time and intimacy.
However, the same study revealed that among couples who shared gaming time and played together, 76 percent felt gaming was good for their marriage. They were more satisfied in their relationship as they were on the same team. It revealed that working together works wonders.
So when it came to joining the hordes and buying a Nintendo Switch during lockdown last year, I was nervous. Skeptical, even. I was imagining playing on Animal Crossing until 4 am, picking peaches and swimming for clams while my husband slept alone in our bed, and vice versa. I worried that we’d fight over the console, and I would end up eating alone while my husband swore and sweated over fighting Dynamax Pokémon in Pokémon Shield.
I ended up watching him for hours trying to catch 150 Digletts on the game’s Isle of Armor expansion, and I felt myself getting irate—losing my patience over something that was meant to be pleasurable. I was snappy, had nothing but negative comments to offer on his playing style and technique, simply because I couldn’t get involved. At times, I ended up sitting farther and farther away from him on the sofa, resenting the console that was supposed to be ours. That was until we purchased 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.