Way back in the dark ages, when computer games were something that came on floppy disks that mostly weren’t actually floppy, it was not unheard of for a man to spend too much time playing his computer games, nor for his woman to complain about the amount of his time and attention she didn’t enjoy because of it. (Sometimes the gender arrow pointed the other way, but numerically, not often.)

Then came the internet, and massively addictive massively multiplayer online games, and the situation only got worse. As early as the late 1990s, the “EverQuest widow” phenomenon was getting widely remarked upon. Once World of Warcraft exploded on the MMORPG scene and increased the U.S. MMORPG playerbase to many millions, the “problem” became a widely-understood social phenomenon. (The gendered nature of “the problem” also diminished a little more.)

In geek male circles, it was common and easy to say “Dude, you’ve got an actual live girl in your house, and she’s mad at you because you’re playing with us and not with her? What’s wrong with you? LOG THE HELL OFF!”

But in practice, that doesn’t always happen. My own gaming policy has always been to attempt to prioritize “real life people” above my games. Phone rings? Answer it. Relative wants a hand? Log off and give it. The Nymph walks into the room to show me the panties she bought? Give her my full attention; the raid (the fleet, the gang, the quest, the mobs, the squad, the enemies, the targets, the loot) they are eternal, they will always be there when I get back. The panties? They are gonna walk out of the room, and it won’t take them very long, either.

But, it’s not always that simple.

Early on, it became clear to me that the type of game mattered. Shooting games weren’t quite as bad, because (although addictive) it’s a lot easier to drop in and out of fast-paced shooting games where deaths and respawns are common and mostly painless. But the immersive multiplayer games where you accumulate stuff, and getting the best stuff requires coordination between many different players? The people in those games are also “real life people”, and some of them become your friends, and you make commitments to them just as you would your meatspace friends, and those commitments have power. And that’s very very hard to explain to someone in your life who thinks you spend too much time “typing at that silly box” and cannot comprehend that it can take thirty seconds, or twenty minutes, to resolve in-game affairs to the point where you can safely avert your eyes from the screen.

Obviously living with a gamer helps, although sometime it just means it’s you who’s getting the “not tonight, I promised Malathion_69 that I’d help camp for dragon armor” treatment.

I eventually, and fairly recently, realized that the “I prioritize the real people in my life over my computer games” rule-of-thumb (perhaps call it an aspiration, as it’s not always an easy rule to follow) was a little bit broken. My gaming buddies, after all, are people too, and it’s rude, socially broken, possibly even a teeny bit sociopathic, to tell anyone, by word or deed, “you’re always my lowest priority.”

That said, what’s the real challenge? As always, we need to meet our social obligations, and when you share a house and a life and a bed with someone, they have a legitimate claim to a high-priority interrupt on whatever it is you do to fill your idle hours. But “high-priority” is not the same as “absolute”, nor is it the same as “immediate”. An enlightened balance is the ideal, and how Buddhist does that sound?

I was reminded of my developing thinking on this subject by a sad memory AAG recounts:

Wrapped in a blanket to keep off the cold and armed with tea, I’d take to the porch with a book and a tiny reading light. It was a lovely retreat, and most days I was at least moderately content to spend a few hours out there reading while my husband worked or played computer games.

But on the chilliest Friday something was different. Was it hormones? An extra-hard dose of child-inspired loneliness? Too long since our last attempt at sex? I don’t know, but on that Friday night I needed the comfort and warmth of the man who I’d hoped would be my partner forever. I suggested it to him as he headed off to his work and computer. “Can we have some time alone this weekend? Maybe tonight? Or tomorrow?” I asked, attempting the lowest-pressure sell possible.

“I’m not going to have the time,” he answered. “I really need to finish that project for work, and I need to organize everyone’s fantasy football picks by Monday. Maybe early next week?”

And then he scooted off, leaving me with book and tea on the desk.

It was the first of many moments of clarity I experienced over the state of our relationship. I cried, book and tea forgotten…

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