Little Big Trouble
All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest - never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership.
-- Ann Landers
My girlfriend fell in love with LittleBigPlanet in the game kiosk section of Toys ‘R Us. The moment she laid eyes on its glorious 2D world, she knew it would become a part of our home. It was the perfect mix of cuteness and simplicity, a wonderfully personable break from the tedium of the Lego franchise, adorned with stuffed sackpeople. But it was also on the PS3, a console we did not own.
For months, she sulked as she tried to find a way to get the game into her life. Quietly, I plotted. On the morning of November 27, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 6:45 a.m., logged on to GameStop.com, and purchased a PS3.
I thought I was performing a service of charity (one that would let me play Metal Gear Solid 4, Flower and a host of other exclusive titles I had been eying, but charity nonetheless). Certainly, the look of disbelief that shone across her face that Christmas morning affirmed that I won that year’s “best present ever” competition. When I reminded her that Little Big Planet was hiding somewhere in the labyrinth of wires and boxes, she just about teared up. Sure, it was blatant consumerism in the guise of gift-giving, but it was the one (extravagant) thing she wanted that year, and I delivered.
So why is it that we haven’t touched the game since Christmas day?
In a few words: It tore us apart.
In less melodramatic terms: We had a fight. Over a vidjagame.
It certainly hasn’t been the first time a game has caused trouble. There have been many accusations of “not spending enough time” together as a result of the Xbox—we’re sitting next to each other on a couch, how is that not quality together time? In the days of Lego Batman, there was many a time when my impatience would result in sore feelings and sustained, strained silence. And there’s the famous reason, which shall not be repeated here, behind the demise of our fabulously successful Rock Band supergroup.
LittleBigPlanet was a different kind of fight, though. It wasn’t a fight borne of haste or irritation. It wasn’t a matter of skill or ability. It was a consequence of different expectations of the game.
For the first 20 or so minutes, my girlfriend and I had a perfectly enjoyable time decorating our sackpeople and exploring the ways we could interact with the LBP world. We’d bop on each other’s heads, point, dance and frown our way through obstacles and toss each other to and fro as we snatched the orbs found in the world. On a few occasions, we used LBP’s grab mechanic to hold on to each other as we explored, sacktongues lolling around in panting joy. We walked, hand in hand, facing flames and pits in a hostile, wondrous world of delight. A more harmonious union could not have been conceived by man or sackgod.
And then we reached the point where the game showed us how to apply stickers and adornments to the world. We browsed the limited selections—tails, ears, flowers—and mused about their best use. I decided to stick a tail on her Sackgirl. As she ran about, frantically trying to shake the object from her person, my deft cursor pursued, and attached a pair of floppy rabbit ears to her head.
She was not amused.
So not amused.
I laughed at her reaction and waited for her to get back at me. She complained, loudly, and demanded that the objects come off. I waited for her to figure it out herself. Instead, she put the controller down and walked into the living room.
I sat there, toying with the game for a moment, before I shut it off. Unable to see her side of the problem, I seethed with fury. To buy her this console, I had stretched my already thin budget to its limit. I purchased this thing, an expensive joke of a system I was loathe to invite into my home, at the expense of other presents I had in mind for family and friends. And here she was, disturbed because of a simple game mechanic she could undo with a few taps of a button.
We had words. She accused me of ruining “her game.” I let her know she could play by herself from now on, content with the knowledge that I would not ruin “her game” again. We stewed. I left for lunch and returned to a meek “I can’t get those things off.” I removed them, without a word, and went off to read.
Away from the initial conflicts of emotion, I can understand the frustration that led her to walk away from the game. It revealed to me the immense gulf in practice between us. The way I ingest gameworld knowledge in the abstract before putting it into practice, the way I predict or assume how certain interactions will carry out, this all affects my ability to work within the world presented to me. But this isn’t a natural intuition or an uncanny gift. It’s the result of countless hours spent working in the midst of these functions and laws and it’s inside knowledge she just doesn’t have.
More to the point, I was treating the entire thing as a game: a system to be understood, conquered and razed. She viewed it all as an exercise in partnership: playful, light and, above all things, shared. She wasn’t upset because I was using something from the game to play around. She was upset because I was turning the game around on her, using something she couldn’t understand against her.
She was upset because I was making a fool of her.
I haven’t touched LittleBigPlanet since.