When Jake Walker upsets his girlfriend, Jaci Boydston, he might buy her flowers.
When Jaci feels she owes an apology to Jake, she agrees to play a round of the Nintendo fighting game “Super Smash Brothers.”
Jaci and Jake, who both attend Kansas State University, are a modern couple dealing with a modern issue. One of them is a gamer; the other is not. Theirs is not an unusual plight. For decades gamers and non-gamers in love have struggled to find harmony.
At Kansas State the frustration is rampant. Like most college campuses, it is a place where the release of “Halo 2″ last year was the best of times and the worst of times. And while there is such a thing as couples in which both people are into games — and while there are sometimes boyfriends who are the non-gamers — the most frequent complaint involves game-crazy guys leaving their girlfriends out in the Xbox-free cold.
“I’ve started to dislike games a lot more since the start of the relationship,” said Megan Hockman, during an interview with MTV News in the dorm room of her boyfriend, Clinton Smith.
Senior Erin Moore says her boyfriend, Jari, binges on Xbox right across the hall from her apartment, where his gaming friends live. “He doesn’t come home until 4 in the morning because he’s been playing Xbox all night,” she said. Once, she got angry. “I went over and stole the game controllers and hid them around the house, and I hid them separately so if they found one they still couldn’t play.”
Beleaguered girlfriends like Megan and Erin have found solace in Girlfriends Against Video Games, a new campus club. It started as a joke — and it still exists primarily as an online message board at the K-State portion of Facebook.com — but it’s become a sounding board for dozens of local students suffering gaming-induced relationship heartache.
Why are some gamers leaving their girlfriends for Mario, encouraged to play in class and getting a crash course in race relations? Watch Overdrive to find out.
The group was started by junior Jenn Calovich, a girlfriend with her own gaming-obsessed boyfriend. She said she’s taken most of the obsession in stride and even bought boyfriend Jeff Kung a subscription to Xbox Live for Valentine’s Day. For his part Jeff said he’ll stop playing a game when Jenn pays him a visit, though he’ll occasionally “put it on pause and sometimes hope that she might leave early.”
Students have poured out their complaints on the Facebook group’s message board. The stories of struggling couples blend together. “They’ll grow apart and tension will get high and they’ll just break up,” Jenn said. “I’ve heard that story a lot.”
What started out in jest — and inspired the less serious Boyfriends Against Girlfriends Against Video Games counter-group — has been a relief for some members. Megan joined the group earlier this fall. “I went and read about it, and I was like, ‘Well, that’s everything I feel.’ ”
Megan has been fretting about Clinton’s obsession all year. “I think the biggest issue I have is how much money he spends on it,” she said. “He has a campus job, and campus jobs don’t pay very much at all. Then he gets his paycheck and spends it all on video games.”
Clinton has found a way around the financial obstacle. “Recently I started giving plasma to help pay for video games,” he admitted. That nets him $55 a week.
Megan has tried to get Clinton to pull back on his gaming, but her most serious attempt backfired. “I think the one thing that I said to make him so mad [was that] he needed to grow out of video games,” she said. “He didn’t want to talk to me for a week.”
“I just remember sitting there being absolutely furious that she said that,” Clinton said. “That’s what I love to do, and I don’t see any reason to grow out of it.”
That type of intervention also failed with Geoff Matousek, 19. Last year, after seeing that his gaming was hurting their relationship and causing him to skip classes, his girlfriend asked him to play less.
He tried. “I probably hadn’t played more than once or twice in that week,” he said. “I guess I was going through withdrawal or something. When the next week started, I played continuously, like every day. Probably four to five hours a day, maybe more.”
He finds it cathartic to play games. “It’s a place for me to release my anger and talk to people online,” he said.
At the end of the school year, his girlfriend broke up with him. “I truly loved her, but gaming affected that,” he said. Only now does he think he’s got his playtime under control.
Last May then-junior Jaci wrote a lighthearted column for the school newspaper warning her fellow Kansas State students about gamer boyfriends. “By far the hardest thing to get used to was the hours upon hours spent using a chunk of plastic and some cords to make a little guy on TV fight with other little guys on TV,” she wrote.
She offered warnings but wasn’t able to identify many solutions. At the first in-person meet-up for Girlfriends Against Video Games in October, members offered suggestions of how best they can cope. “Lay down the law,” said Erin, who said she’s found success tearing Jari away from games by wooing him with the idea of going to a movie. Others suggested trying harder to play games with their boyfriends, if just for a little while.
Jenn said non-gaming significant others need to make sure that meeting the gamers they love halfway really means meeting them halfway. “There comes a point when being the cool girlfriend means your give and take is more like you’re giving instead of taking.”
Then there are the suggestions the gamers themselves offer. “One thing that I always found is a thumbs-up in the girlfriend department is turning off the video game as soon as they come in,” said Jaci’s boyfriend, Jake. “[It's good] if you have a ‘disposable’ game that you can be playing, and then they come in and you say, ‘Oh, how’s it going?’ and just turn it right off.”
It’s a bit of a scheme, he admits. “You’re not actually giving up video games,” he said. “That’s not the thing we’re trying to express here. You can hide the video game. You can play them when they’re not there.”