Let’s see what the flaming barrel of stereotypes has for us to day, shall we kids?
1. Video games can ruin your relationship!
Ah, such a classic and volatile subject. Gal feels like she and her guy aren’t spending enough time together; obvious culprit is guy’s “males only” hobby that he spends a lot of time on! This story, which could take place in almost any decade of the last century, used to be about golf or football (or in some more eccentric cases, reading
books) but now it’s told more about video games than anything else. And of course, video games are an even more juvenile waste of time, right? Combined with feminism, you have a heady mix of couch-potato disempowerment that’s sapping the manhood and responsibility from a whole generation of guys! Woe!
Well, it doesn’t necessarily have to go that way. Rachel Shukert’s story in Salon, which has been the most read piece on that site for the last couple days, ends with a suggestion that a lot of people have made to resolve this “dilemma.” Gaming really doesn’t have to be such an exclusively masculine pursuit, so why not play video games together? We’re currently enjoying a bumper crop of games that aren’t designed exclusively for the post-adolescent trigger-happy guy crowd, from almost every title on the Wii to Rock Band, which Shukert credits with “saving her marriage.”
The thing is, in order to reach this turnaround ending, Shukert first has to set her marriage up as a morass of communication problems and neglect that any thoughtful reader will quickly realize couldn’t actually be fixed by Rock Band. She establishes a more familiar domestic diorama where video games are A Big Problem. Shukert writes exaggerated, campy prose, and at one point mocks herself as a pile of “pathetic, whining neediness.” Her attempts at comic hyperbole give me a glimmer of hope that her actual relationship might not really resemble the hoary scene out of the Honeymooners that she paints. But it still grates like Wolverine playing Chopin on a chalkboard to watch the actors in her scene go through the tired old paces of misogynist relationship roles:
I click on another page, where a forum of concerned women instruct me to regain Ben’s attention by walking around the house dressed in skimpy outfits and waggling my hips provocatively. One enterprising poster, aptly named Cyberhottie69, even suggests draping one’s naked breasts somewhere impossible to miss — like the coffee table, or on his head, like a doughy, undulating hat.
The angle Ben is sitting at makes this impossible, but I sit beside him on the couch, unzip my hoodie to reveal the lacy top of my bra, and press my breasts firmly against his bicep.
Having been targeted by this kind of tactic before, I can tell you that there are few things less sexy than someone “acting seductive” in order to distract you from something you’re trying to do alone. Like reading a book, writing a paper, or yes, playing a video game. OK, so boobhats might be funny once or twice as a joke, which hopefully was what Shukert was aiming for.
Alas, it’s a serious enough stereotype that it seems difficult to read it for humor alone. The Salon comments threads, a pit of incivility at the best of times, are full of hyperbolic statements about how video game addiction is the bane of any relationship, about how needing to compete with an Xbox for your husband’s attention is a serious problem, about how thinking you HAVE to compete with an Xbox is a serious problem.
But it’s really very simple. Regardless of your gender, if you are trying to compete with something else for your partner’s attention it most often means one of two things:
a) your partner doesn’t want to spend as much time together as you do! You may be slightly or gravely incompatible in this regard, and you’ll have to work it out. Yes, being in a relationship means spending quality, attentive time together; it also means spending time apart on your own pursuits. And that’s perfectly all right and healthy sometimes — or a lot of the time, for some relationships. Maybe you should get a hobby too! Or find someone who’s more on par with you in terms of commitment of time and attention.
b) there is a problem in your relationship, or in your partner’s life (depression is often a good culprit) and your partner is trying to escape it through an absorbing activity that helps him or her avoid dealing.
In other words, time away from your partner can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the dosage and the individual relationship. I’m probably not telling most of you anything you don’t know already.
On top of all of this, video games are still seen as mostly male territory that women can’t or wouldn’t want to enter, which just intensifies this feeling of “my boyfriend is somewhere I can’t go, so I have to drag him out or I’ll never see him!” The no-girls-allowed feeling isn’t without reason, since the video game industry has been predominantly or exclusively targeting young men for decades.
On the other hand, I don’t think the majority of gamer guys — at least the ones who have healthy relationships with the women in their lives — are all that interested in preserving their gaming experience as an exclusive boys’ club. Most adult male gamers these days have played games with women, and far too many fantasize about having a girlfriend who will play games with them, as most female gamers will tell you with an eye-rolling grimace.
So at some level, Shukert is right. There is a way out of this ugly 1950s scene, even if just whaling on plastic instruments together for a few hours is not really going to fix everything. Yes, it’s perfectly all right for men AND women in relationships to have individual pursuits; no, there isn’t any hobby that HAS to be exclusively male or exclusively female, which means there are actually more opportunities to do things together than Gendertron 8000 wants you to believe.
But don’t take my word for it: mightyponygirl, as usual, has plenty of smart things to say at the intersection of feminism and gaming. Leigh Alexander at Kotaku seemed to basically like the upending of the “games are bad for my relationship!” stereotype, although commenters point out many of the problems. And Amanda at Pandagon points out a lot of the gaping self-esteem holes and tired relationship tropes all over Shukert’s writing.