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.

Comments

Very insightful.

I find this all so odd. How do you get those stickers off anyway? Yeah she should have shot you instead of leaving.

Christ man, just remember to stay the hell away from New Super Mario Brothers Wii. If LBP could affect you that deeply, a game of NSMB would lead to double homicide.

Uh-oh...my wife and I just bought NSMB recently...we've had one play session so far, no fistfights yet. We were planning on playing some more tonight...keep your eye on the news!

I can't believe the crap people get paid to write, when I read things like this and Elysium's article for nothing here.

This game tears couples apart and yet somehow it's only ESRB rated E (for Everyone).

Oh, the injustice of it all.

Really good read; will keep it mind the next time the wife and I approach a new game.

Switchbreak wrote:

Christ man, just remember to stay the hell away from New Super Mario Brothers Wii. If LBP could affect you that deeply, a game of NSMB would lead to double homicide.

Oh god yes. Hell hath no fury like a woman who just had her ass griefed by her husband in New Super Mario Brothers.

And you may as well just kill yourself if she manages to beat the super mega giganto bowser while you're just floating around hanging out in your bubble after dying for the umpteenth time.

I've been the one being covered in stickers by their SackSpouse, unable to remove them. Fortunately, I had discovered the 'slap' mechanic by that point, and the game devolved into a bizarre sticker vs. slap race.

Beyond that, the game rapidly gets balls-hard and the missus' interest in the creation aspect waned within minutes of her discovering the amount of work involved in creating anything non-trivial.

I'm enjoying the various articles and comments about games as "systems", that a major part of the enjoyment we Gamer Geeks get out of them is discovering how they work, how they can be interacted with, and then exploited for fun, entertainment, growth, and progress. I think this idea goes a long way toward explaining why we all like them so much, even across wildly different genres.

And while I enjoy nothing more, my wife can't be bothered. She loves a good book or movie, but can only consume them in one sitting (she's been known to read for eight hours straight to finish something). Now I'm trying to figure out why she likes Tetris (for hours). Or Rock Band (until her eyes start to cross). But after expressing a little interest in World Of Goo, she gave up on the third level because the game threw something new at her.

Is the rest of the world too linear, or are we gamers gluttons for punishment?

That was depressing. I was sort of annoyed when one of my friends covered up the picture of my cat I had put in my Pod, but then I got over it and covered up the picture of himself he had put with a picture of me. I'd say the fault, if any, was hers for taking something so easily and clearly reversible so seriously (it was in the tutorial, for gosh sakes).

Come to think of it, I was also sort of annoyed when I kept getting slapped by people without knowing how to do it (I certainly hope you didn't do it to your girlfriend).

My new resolution: stop placing ear decorations all over platforms in multiplayer so you can't tell where they are.

Hmmm. Dunno what issue with her might really but I do think she may have overreacted. Well, it happens; it has happened to me a few times with some of the women I've dated over the years; the lack of familiarity with videogames in general creating a huge breach. What I do is apply copious amounts of patience and play a little dumb with some mechanics, this usually gets them interested enough in the game we're attempting to play without getting them turned off by the steep difference in skills. It's hard to be patient, however.

I guess my equivalent of LBP would be Cookies & Cream for PS2. My then-girlfriend and I eventually beat it but it put a strain on our tempers.

Good read, though!

JFarside wrote:

Is the rest of the world too linear, or are we gamers gluttons for punishment?

Some people play for the challenge. Others play as escapism for a few and as soon as a challenge is brought up they stop. Why do you think your average facebook game has millions of users? There's absolutely no challenge to those games, but they look pretty and they make you feel good. I can't say that either way to play games are wrong. It just how it is.

Jesus christ, just man-up and apologize. Then get on with some more fun.

JFarside wrote:

I'm enjoying the various articles and comments about games as "systems", that a major part of the enjoyment we Gamer Geeks get out of them is discovering how they work, how they can be interacted with, and then exploited for fun, entertainment, growth, and progress. I think this idea goes a long way toward explaining why we all like them so much, even across wildly different genres.

And while I enjoy nothing more, my wife can't be bothered. She loves a good book or movie, but can only consume them in one sitting (she's been known to read for eight hours straight to finish something). Now I'm trying to figure out why she likes Tetris (for hours). Or Rock Band (until her eyes start to cross). But after expressing a little interest in World Of Goo, she gave up on the third level because the game threw something new at her.

Is the rest of the world too linear, or are we gamers gluttons for punishment?

Quoted for truth!

I think the World of Goo challenge probably has more to do with performance anxiety than anything else. Women don't like to be seen "failing" at something in front of people. Of course that's a huge generalization, but none-the-less an observation made by myself and several friends, both gamer and non. My wife will play L4D with me, but not with my friends. She also won't try to drive manual transmission with me in the car, but will gladly drive off on her own without me.

Kojiro wrote:

I think the World of Goo challenge probably has more to do with performance anxiety than anything else. Women don't like to be seen "failing" at something in front of people. Of course that's a huge generalization, but none-the-less an observation made by myself and several friends, both gamer and non. My wife will play L4D with me, but not with my friends. She also won't try to drive manual transmission with me in the car, but will gladly drive off on her own without me.

I'm kind of like your wife. I would love to play more games with my boyfriend but I don't like playing a lot with his friends. I don't like getting smoked all the time. However, if the guys are all playing a game I understand and feel comfortable enough with I will play with them regardless. Therefore, I have been playing Demigod with my boy and his guys the last couple of weeks and I kick butt!

P.S. I taught my boyfriend how to drive MY manual and he doesn't like driving when I'm in the car.

Oh yes NSMB is a relationship strainer, maybe killer. It depends on the seriousness with which it is played of course.

I play to win. Competition is one of my talents/strengths (see Strengths Finder). My wife has Harmony, wants everyone to get along and stuff. She plays for fun. Hell she has thrown games of Rummy to me that I didn't even realize just because she wants to play another game. She enjoys the playing.

But in those later worlds of NSMB (world 6-8?) there is no fun. There is just hard, challenge, and copious amounts of places to accidentally kill your teammates. My low tolerance for mistakes and losing ends up ruining her fun of "just playing" pretty quickly. As such, while we completely smashed the first 4 worlds and most of 5, I think our save game is still stuck in world 7 somewhere, unable to be completed.

Jeez, I've heard of MMORPGs wrecking relationships and the occasional L4D cockblock, but Little Big Planet? Run for it, Spaz, run for your life!

I'm sort of glad my S.O. has no interest in platformers, 'cause NSMBW could otherwise have been trouble.

I'm fine with playing cooperatively and not trying to screw her over at every turn, but she's not into that: she hates feeling like I'm "carrying her" through a co-op experience.

Stele wrote:

I play to win. Competition is one of my talents/strengths (see Strengths Finder). My wife has Harmony, wants everyone to get along and stuff. She plays for fun. Hell she has thrown games of Rummy to me that I didn't even realize just because she wants to play another game. She enjoys the playing.

I eventually adopted a strategy when playing with my brothers of picking them up and throwing them in pits, then avoiding their bubbles while I finished the level. My brothers and I don't get along too well.

Man, there's a whole lot of... well, not hate, but aversion to NSMB Wii goin' on here that I just don't understand. My not-really-a-gamer wife and I played all the way through NSMB Wii (we're working on finishing up the "secret" World 9 now) and never really had any serious trouble. Yeah, we died a lot, but it was fun the whole time, Worlds 6-8 included.

Humble use of the bubble mechanic by both players in appropriate circumstances is really key. Sometimes you're just not in a situation to do the thing that needs done, and you need to float along and let the other player handle things for a minute. I can see how it would get frustrating if it was always one player in that situation, but we didn't find it to be that way.

It really is a great game though, and has gotten more playtime out of us together than pretty much anything else.

Until Pikmin 3 comes along. She loves Pikmin. I'll never get to play the Wii again after that.

Spaz wrote:

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.

Step 1: Tell her all this. Knowing you care enough to dwell on it means a lot to the fairer sex.
Step 2: Apologise for having hurt her feelings, even through a misunderstanding.
Step 3: Invite her to play the game again with you, this time with you both understanding what the game means to her.
Step 4: Revel in the sheer improbability that in a universe of such mind-shattering emptiness, you have someone to love, and who loves you in return.

Great article, my friend.

Haven't had this problem on NSMBWii. I did have this problem with Scrabble. I beat my wife so bad she wouldn't speak to me for days. Threw me out of the bedroom, too. I was, quite frankly, flabbergasted. I'd never seen her react that badly.

The second time, I played to lose. It got obvious. It steamed her worse than the first time.

We've never played Scrabble since then. Too dangerous.

Coldstream wrote:

Step 4: Revel in the sheer improbability that in a universe of such mind-shattering emptiness, you have someone to love, and who loves you in return.

That was beautiful man.

LarryC wrote:

The second time, I played to lose. It got obvious. It steamed her worse than the first time.

Ouch. Bad move, partner. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that the only thing worse than beating a woman soundly at something is letting her win at something. Some people are gracious losers and some people are sore losers, but nobody likes being patronized.

Me and my girlfriend play a lot of Worms. The problem with this game is that it's turn based, so she has plenty of time to glare at me as I size up a shot on three of her guys crowded together on a ledge.

God help me if I actually go through with the shot.

We usually play three games before she gets tired: I win one, then the computer wins one because we go buck nutty and wipe each other out, then she wins one because I 'accidentally' jetpack my last worm into the sea. It's a good system.

My wife used to refuse to play Soul Calibur with me. My Astaroth is pretty much a newb-crusher and I had no ability to tone it down. Then she beat me, solidly, with Kilik. I wasn't trying to give her the match. I was trying to crush her mercilessly like I always do. After her victory, if she's feeling froggy, she'll play with me and win a few.

Madden is our sport though. Although one time she did rage quit when, in the 1st half of play, I had gotten 3 intercepts and ran 2 back for TDs. She took some time to calm down though and we played again later that week where she trounced me.

Scrabble is a game played best with shots of tequila. Everytime you score a word more than 15pts = a shot for you. Evens up the game pretty quickly.

For me (us), the key to happy spousal gaming is for both of us to acknowledge the difference in skill levels, and go into it with this in mind.

In the instance of NSMB Wii, the wife is aware that I'm better at precise jumping, but her knowledge of the game is greater. So she'll recognise when a certain part is beyond her abilities and bubble past it, but she'll be directing me towards the hidden coins that she struggled to get on her own.

We used to play a whole lot of Boggle, which I'd invariably thrash her at. We levelled the playing field somewhat by instituting new rules, like only allowing words of 5 letters or more, removing the aspect of the game that allowed me to beat her so easily (I'm good at spotting a squillion 3 letter words).

On the flip side of the coin, she'll trash me at Tetris, so we instituted a 'no hold queue' rule (which is right and proper anyway - hold queue is cheating ), as I never learnt to use it anyway, so it removed an advantage for her.

Having said all of that, it still means that we tend to avoid competetive videogames as a foregone conclusion ain't all that much fun.

Benticore wrote:

Scrabble is a game played best with shots of tequila. Everytime you score a word more than 15pts = a shot for you. Evens up the game pretty quickly.

I'm stealing this idea. Although I think I might substitute another form of alcohol - tequila is the devil.

Ravenlock wrote:

Man, there's a whole lot of... well, not hate, but aversion to NSMB Wii goin' on here that I just don't understand. My not-really-a-gamer wife and I played all the way through NSMB Wii (we're working on finishing up the "secret" World 9 now) and never really had any serious trouble. Yeah, we died a lot, but it was fun the whole time, Worlds 6-8 included.

Humble use of the bubble mechanic by both players in appropriate circumstances is really key. Sometimes you're just not in a situation to do the thing that needs done, and you need to float along and let the other player handle things for a minute. I can see how it would get frustrating if it was always one player in that situation, but we didn't find it to be that way.

It really is a great game though, and has gotten more playtime out of us together than pretty much anything else.

This whole post sounds like I could have written it, even down to the "working on world 9" part.

I can sort of vaguely see where the game could cause strife, but not really. Obviously everyone has a slightly different relationship with their spouse/significant other, and it's hard not to assume that everyone else has the same relationship you do.