Gamer Interrupted: Playing together with different playstyles

Robin Torres
R. Torres|12.12.07

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Gamer Interrupted: Playing together with different playstyles
Each week, Robin Torres contributes Gamer Interrupted, a column about balancing real life with MMOs.

Last week, we talked about how Duos can help you balance your gametime with your relationship building time. The comments pointed out an obstacle to pure couple-gaming bliss which I like to call the "Crunchy vs. Creamy" issue. Avid gamers who love the same game can still have trouble playing together if they have different playstyles. Back in the 80's, I heard of a relationship book that said a couple can't live together if one likes creamy peanut butter and one likes crunchy peanut butter. (No, I don't remember the book. Yes, I'm showing my age again. Get off my lawn!) Whether it's peanut butter or gaming styles, I do think gamers of different tastes can play together, but it does take some effort.

There a few general non-gaming things to remember here:

All relationships take effort: They do. Whether roommates or siblings or spouses or whatever, you need to be considerate of the other person and do things to nurture the relationship. If you don't, you will eventually find that your favorite hard-to-find food has been eaten or your mom has found out about that time you did that thing or you're facing legal fees and an empty bed.

All favorite leisure activities can be timesucks: Golfing fanatics, bowling or pool league players, sports TV watchers -- they will all tell you about how their families and non-participating friends feel neglected by their "fun time". Well, actually, the smart ones will tell you about how they got the people they care about to join them in their fun time.

Balancing necessities with fun makes life easier: If you neglect the rest of your life except for your leisure time, your leisure time will be less fun. Yes, you'll be able to escape someplace where you can ignore real life for a time, but the neglected parts of your life will always end up interfering. The best way to prevent real life from interrupting your fun time is to make sure that everything important in your life gets the proper attention from you as well -- this includes the relationships that are important to you.

So, to sum up, if you are playing with someone important to you but who has a different playstyle, it is in both of your best interests to compromise during your together time. But that does not mean you should only play together. Do have scheduled playdates. But you should also have times you both play, but not together.

For the purpose of clarity, I will be using "he" and "she", but these suggestions apply to all kinds of relationships (except where otherwise noted). It doesn't matter if you are the typical heterosexual couple with 2 jobs, 2 kids and a dog or a gay couple with 2 cats and a gaming loft or a couple of sisters who live 200 miles apart -- this advice will still apply regardless of the pronouns I use. Here are some tips for some example playstyle combos:

Chatter vs. Player

The Duo suggestion isn't going to work here. If she views your mutual MMO as a glorified chat program and you want to team up for content, you are just going to be frustrated. This often happens with a Timesucker and with someone who lives in a different location. The best thing to do is make time to chat with the Chatter while you are playing a low level or crafting or otherwise doing something that doesn't require a lot of focus. When you need to concentrate, however, communicate that nicely so she doesn't think you are neglecting her.

Power Gamer vs. Journey Gamer

This one happens a lot with male/female couples and I think it derives from that whole gender difference thing. The Power Gamer wants to level up, get the best gear and progress through any endgame content as quickly as possible. The Journey Gamer wants to enjoy the story arcs, try out different classes and stop and smell the Dreamfoil. He would rather destroy unwanted drops while she wants to collect all of the drops that belong to a set and run back to town often to store them. It is much like another aspect of their relationship -- he would prefer to go straight to the endgame and she, while liking the endgame, wants the journey to be just as pleasant. Whatever this couple's solution for non-gaming playstyles, the gaming solution is simple: play apart some of the time and have a Duo for together time. The Power Gamer must remember while Duoing that his duo character is a together time character - not a get to the end character. And the Journey gamer should not do any crafting or any other best-done-solo activities while Duoing. Another suggestion if you play WoW together is to play your mains separately but join each other for Battleground play. My husband and I do that with good success. I'm still having trouble getting him to respect the Duo these days, but some healthy bunker-destroying in Alterac Valley seems to be an activity we enjoy together consistently.

Militant vs. Hippie

Just like Sarge and Fillmore, couples can love each other while still believing in fundamentally different things. This combo is similar to the Power Gamer vs. Journey Gamer only more extreme. The Militant is an elitist who believes a game should be played "the right way". If you aren't willing to work on getting the gear and practicing the skills important to your class, then he has no respect for you. The Hippie has a much more laid-back view which often includes wearing something because it's pretty or trying to collect all of the different costumes or non-combat pets. The Hippie is often also a Journey Gamer who will eventually get the "right" gear and the leet skillz, but has just as much fun doing cooking quests as healing during raids. This is tough because the Militant is often unwilling to play the game under any terms other than "the right way" and the Hippie is often made to feel inferior. If the Militant is unwilling to form and respect a Duo, the best thing may be to try a different game for playing together. Away from the competitive aspects of his home MMO, the Militant is more likely to relax with the Hippie in a different world. The same MMO but different server won't work, because he will be constantly reminded of the things he'd rather be doing. The Militant has to be open minded and willing to try a specific Duo game with his partner, but the Hippie has to make sure to be considerate, like the Journey Gamer, and to work on her class skills and gear while in the Duo.

Roleplayer vs. Non-roleplayer

In fantasy games in particular, this is a tough one. The non-roleplayer is quick to disrespect any RP activities of his partner with a loud "Lawl, RP!" I think it is harder for all roleplayers to practice their playstyle in any game these days, but trying to get a non-roleplayer to respect even minor roleplaying is usually a painful process. For this combo, I highly recommend forming a Duo in a MMO with some built-in roleplay. There are two that I can personally recommend (though I'd love to hear about more):

  • City of Heroes and Villains: When you create a character, you have to choose a basic backstory framework. Even if you don't fill in the history portion of your character sheet, you have still already chosen if you got your powers through magical means or technology or some other origin. The Non-roleplayer should let the Roleplayer create a handful of fun macros and colored text for him and then just play the game, using the macros when appropriate. When roleplaying super heroes or villains, the Non-roleplayer should feel less self-conscious and the Roleplayer can still create a fantasy character and get all Thee and Thou to her heart's content if she likes.
  • Pirates of the Carribbean Online: This is free to play so it won't add more to your gaming budget. It's also pirates! I mean, who can resist talking like a pirate? Yarrrr! The two of you can quest together and sail ships together and talk to Captain Jack Sparrow together while hamming it up pirate-style.

There are other combos and of course there are combinations of these combos. Also, some players go through different playstyle phases which makes it hard for their gaming partners to keep up. But I do believe that all combos can be worked through as long as both players make the effort. My husband only eats crunchy peanut butter and honey sandwiches and I only eat creamy with strawberry jam, but as long as he learns to respect the Duo and I don't make him wait while I pick flowers, I think we'll do okay. Besides, he can always power-game to his heart's content while I'm writing these lengthy columns.

Robin Torres juggles multiple characters across multiple MMOs, two cats, one preschooler, one loot-addicted husband and a yarn dependency. After years of attempting to balance MMOs with real life, Robin lightheartedly shares the wisdom gleaned from her experiences. If you would like to ask Robin's advice or if you have a story you wish to share, please email Robin.Torres AT weblogsinc DOT com for a possible future column.
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