• The Gamer Wife, Part 3

    by  • August 22, 2012 • Essays • 20 Comments

    The way that people treated me changed when I became a gamer wife. And so did the expectations they had for me.

    Subtle things happened at first. Remember, it was expected that my relationship wouldn’t last for long. No one pushed me to be the good wife until they were certain that this wasn’t just some summer fling. Time passed and slowly more things were expected from me because it was my job. No one ever, quite, insulted me for not doing these things but there were definite suggestions of superiority or proper behaviour. Other gamer wives would look down their nose when I didn’t perform to spec. They were clearly the better wives. Men would be surprised when they found out that I didn’t do these things happily.

    Many of these things are not restricted to gamer wives but are wifely things. Some of these things were expected by my spouse, some were not. Some were causes of rather angry arguments.

    I was expected to be tolerant to my spouse being out late at night gaming. I was expected to attend certain gaming related things without complaint. If I called to remind my spouse that I wanted him home, I was being unreasonable when it was gaming related. I was a gamer myself, didn’t I understand? I had to fill both the role of permissive lover who never imposes as well as be the mother figure that manages and takes care of her husband.

    If my spouse had to manage supplies and phone calls before game, it was perfectly acceptable for me to do those things instead. I had to be an organizer even if I wasn’t an organizer. All of the responsibilities of running a larp were suddenly on my shoulders merely because I was attached to this man. And don’t get me wrong, I was happy to help out when it came to gathering up supplies and carrying things and setting up site. I hated calling people. I refused to keep track of the character sheets. I would pay for site because it was all the same money, right? Sometimes complaints of these things would get me sympathetic nods, but mostly I was expected to understand the inner workings of the larp that I wasn’t running. To this day, I actively refuse to help “run” larps because of all the unwanted and unasked for responsibilities that had been heaped on me back in those days.

    But that isn’t where the gamer wife problem got bad.

    I was expected to organize him. People used to call me specifically to talk to him. And I don’t mean call our home. I mean call my personal cell phone then ask for him. It’s my cell. It’s with me. You could have called the home phone and gotten him. But no, you instead called me with the full expectation that I was wholly responsible for him and keep constant tabs on his location. Then you get annoyed when I tell you call the number where you could expect him to actually answer.

    This became a serious problem. I ended up telling off a number of friends who would do this constantly and, as the inevitable result, they no longer like me very much. I was being a bitch instead of dutifully and patiently explaining every single time.

    This kind of behaviour was replicated in other places too. If I was anywhere, they’d ask after him. Ask after the games he was running or if he’d gotten around to writing up downtime yet. I’d get invited to events specifically so that I’d bring him along with me. My spouse wouldn’t always remember commitments and events and it was, apparently, my job to keep track of all of that. This got to the point where others used me as his personal assistant to manage his calendar. Several friends learned that if they wanted him to attend anything, the safest bet was to get me interested because he’d often follow along. Of course, arriving at something you thought you were wanted at only to be ignored in favor of your spouse hurts.

    So not only did I have to balance my spouse’s schedule, his commitments and his free time but I also had to be permissive to flights of fancy that various friends desired from him. Now, the reverse was also true. If he’s invited, I was expected to show up. Because the community is tight knit, if I don’t show up, it means that I don’t approve of him going out. And that’s bad, right?1 Eventually I stopped showing up to things I wasn’t invited to and my spouse would inform the hosts of this. Confusion at my behaviour abounded.

    Unless, you know, it’s a guy thing. Then I was supposed to be oblivious and uninterested if I dared show up in the first place. I could come along, but I shouldn’t bother him or the other men while they’re talking. And I should expect weird looks. There were invisible guy spaces that I was supposed to respect and implicitly recognize. Crossing over into them meant having to take on the meek girl stereotype or risk being frozen out completely. Risk being mocked and derided until I was chased from the space.

    Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always so black and white. There were plenty of spaces and groups and people who treated me independently of him. This only makes those people who treated me as the gamer wife so much more painful. The other little, niggling detail is that often someone who did one of these things wouldn’t be doing the others. The people who invited me specifically to have my spouse attend weren’t the same people who called my cell. Everyone would ask after details for his games despite me not being an organizer.

    But the biggest thing I was expected to deal with is the topic of the next part. How the gamer wife was supposed to behave around the gaming table proper.

    1. Actually that last one is a weird point. My spouse and I hashed out an agreement that basically go as follows. If one of us wants to go somewhere or do something the other isn’t interested in, that’s fine. Just make sure that the other is okay with them not being around. Sometimes it’s a problem, sometimes it’s not so much. But it’s our problem. Our decision.


    I am a casual tabletop gamer and occasional larper who likes to hold forth on gaming in general and draws like a crazy monkey who was given coffee by accident.

    20 Responses to The Gamer Wife, Part 3

    1. avatar
      August 22, 2012 at 16:35

      I’m totally guilty of this
      When both members of a couple is gamers, I know that I’m been doing this at least to some couple. Especially if one of them is a more “dominant gamer” then the other. Someone that been in the hobby longer, where more active, had a higher position in the gaming club ( like a board member or an organizer) or just was more of an extrovert.

      It was a bit chilling to read this, and recognize my own behavior. I think I better stop doing that.

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      • avatar
        August 22, 2012 at 22:33

        I think we all do this from time to time. It’s important to remember that everyone wants to be respected for themselves and not always play second fiddle to their spouse.

        I know that I’ve done it on a few occasions. It’s not easy once you start thinking of a couple as a unit rather than as individuals.

    2. avatar
      August 22, 2012 at 16:51

      Oh my god. I legit cried while reading this. It is so painful and so true to my experience. Thank you for writing this, because there is no way I could have said it as eloquently or as clearly as you have. I don’t personally think I’ve been guilty of it (my husband now takes the reins of contacting people for game), but hopefully someone will let me know if I have.

      I’m going to go recover. Thank you.

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      • avatar
        August 22, 2012 at 22:35

        Someone thinks I was eloquent? Weird.

        I’m sorry that it was painful to read but I’m glad that it has helped.

        • avatar
          August 23, 2012 at 01:47

          You put everything in a way that didn’t come out insulting or like you were seeking pity, and I appreciated it.

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    3. avatar
      August 22, 2012 at 20:20

      God, that sounds dire. The asking after your partner’s game is just weird. I mean, why would you know? And the expecting you to always be there, except when you’re not and then you just aren’t welcome – is just heartbreaking. I think I would be asking my partner to have words with her friends if this happened to me.

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      • avatar
        August 22, 2012 at 22:40

        I have no idea why they assumed I’d know about his games. Wait. Scratch that. It’s because the assumption is that couples ought to share every single aspect of their lives so when one is running game, the other is effectively also running game.

        And I didn’t even get into some of the creepy come-ons I got when I would show up to gaming related events without my SO. I know he faced some of that too. That is to say, the assumption is that if we were out alone, it means we were on the prowl, if ya know what I mean, wink wink.

        That last sentence is clearly a sign that I need to get myself some more tea.

        • avatar
          August 23, 2012 at 13:00

          Although in fairness, all sentences are signs that you need to get more tea. Including this one!

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    4. avatar
      August 22, 2012 at 21:05

      This behavior needs more facepalm.

      Seriously why would a wife be in charge of her husband that sound idiotic to me (do not get me wrong a husband in charge of his wife is just as idiotic sounding to me), a married couple are two people who agreed to spend their lives together (or at least try to) so why on earth would either one be in charge of the other?

      Again such behavior and expectations needs more facepalm.

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      • avatar
        August 22, 2012 at 22:29

        It’s a social short-hand. Why bother trying to get both on board when you can, instead, get one on board and expect them to bring along the other?

        I guess I’m more bothered by the fact that it was implied that I had a moral obligation to keep track of everything. And when I would refuse this, I was being something awful and willfully making life more difficult for everyone.

        If I told someone that I didn’t know where my sibling was, no one would be concerned. But not knowing where and what my spouse is doing is somehow totes different and I should be ashamed at not, I don’t know, something.

    5. avatar
      August 22, 2012 at 22:05

      Okay you are making me super grateful for my gaming community. This just makes me so mad on your behalf. I’m sorry people did these things. They are completely freaking unacceptable ways to treat someone. OH MY GOSH.

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      • avatar
        August 22, 2012 at 22:30

        Well, I’d like to say that it wasn’t that bad. But sometimes it really got that bad.

        Eventually I just became so hostile to that behaviour that people stopped asking me entirely or, in a few cases, talking to me.

    6. avatar
      August 23, 2012 at 12:57

      I’ve had people do things like this to me – I’ll turn up to parties or what have you and the first question I’ll be asked is “where’s [partner]?”. Oddly enough, I tend to get this from female friends more than males – mostly my male friends invite me and my partner, and don’t expect us to be one person in two bodies.

      Though I have turned up to a gaming night which was generally all male (a friend of ours was sick and the DM asked my partner if I’d be interested in joining for the night) and felt, very distinctly, that I was intruding on a /boys night/. Nothing anyone said, but still.

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    7. avatar
      August 23, 2012 at 13:49

      I’m fascinated by the Invisible Guy Spaces. That sounds like a thing. I’d love to know more.

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      • avatar
        August 23, 2012 at 16:12


        You know that feeling when you walk into a sports bar, but know nothing about sports? Or go to an anime club but have never seen any anime? Or show up at the chess club after having just spent an hour at the gym? Or walked into the bra section of a department store or the feminine products (oh how that name irks me) section in a grocery store?

        That feeling where you may be very interested in being somewhere but just don’t fit in? Don’t have the right jargon or the right clothes? That awkward pause where you aren’t being uninvited because no one is going to be that rude, but it’s clear that the people there don’t think you belong. And everyone on the in group think it’s perfectly acceptable to make you uncomfortable because isn’t it funny to see the guy standing around, not knowing where to look, while his SO buys a new bra?

        That. Just instead of it being a space clearly laid out like a store as a space for men, you tend to find men gathered there. You walk into a space without realizing that women don’t normally come around here. I’ve seen it in gaming circles, especially when they are all guys. I see it in video game communities constantly (implicit assumption that you are male). Sometimes they crop up like an AoE when a bunch of men start talking about “men” things, whatever that means.

        That thing.

        • avatar
          August 24, 2012 at 03:18

          Yes! Exactly this. Some of them are totally open about it (which is almost worse, I think), but that feeling is just so horrible. Thank you for a good description.

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    8. avatar
      August 23, 2012 at 14:30

      I’m getting married to a mutual gamer on September 1st…and I get this already. ‘Hey, invite Trev to the game’ or ‘Hey we should all hang out.’ At the same time they do it to him too(it depends on what we are playing…I have a higher ranking then him in some things).

      But I encourage him to go and do things on his own. Thankfully most of our friends know my horrid commute and horrid job and understand when he says ‘Rei was just to tired and needed some down time’ then when I pop up on PSN it is really that I wanted to sit on my couch under a pile of blankets and beat digital beings to death until I fall asleep under said blankets and feel relaxed. Same way when I say ‘Trev has a deadline’ and he appears on whatever it is because he needs a break and is willing to hang out from a distance.

      I just hope that doesn’t change 0_0

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    9. avatar
      August 23, 2012 at 16:19

      So: yes. I’ve felt a number of these things in the past. Especially in the scheduling zone. My husband was one of the prime GM’s in our gaming circles for a long time. He’s often kind of lax when it comes to scheduling or calling people back. The groups (at least they were groups in common, not groups he was playing with and I wasn’t) started to gravitate to me to settle the details for things like when we were playing, where his head was at in relation to game, and of course all the domestic things like working out who would host and what we would eat, etc.

      But I find this fascinating: Both my husband and I are not only gamers, we’re also interested in game design and theory. At one point in the past, we were both very involved in some design forums, and each had our own blog that discussed gaming, theory and design. We talked about this article last night and he mentioned that when I won Game Chef, he experienced a tangible bump to his status in the design community, as if my success added to his social artha and provided him with enhanced coolness and credibility.

      Meanwhile, I certainly found that my own accomplishment garnered me an elevated level of attention, but that attention was frequently not positive. The majority (but not all) of the attention I received seemed to be people coming out of the woodwork to challenge my ideas, or to ask me to justify them. Sometimes it seemed almost comical, sometimes it was overwhelming. It was nice to have the sense that people were reading me, but I often felt like that some people felt a need to keep me in check. I felt like I had transgressed some invisible boundary.

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    10. avatar
      August 23, 2012 at 19:35

      I’m really moved by your posts. I’d like to say I’m looking forward to the next one, but that’s not quite right…

      Anyway I don’t have your experience (since I’m male) but I totally recognise the scenario. In fact I’ve seen it in other “crossover” hobbies, like re-enactment and martial arts. They’re overwhelmingly dominated by lone men so couples stick out a mile – and inevitably the man is “X” and the woman is “X’s girlfriend”. They all get a bit clannish – once you “marry” into the group they become family and thus overly familiar.

      It breeds other sorts of boorish behaviour too – like the men who say they’ve scored a “weekend pass” from their wives to “play with swords” and get drunk and tell offensive jokes (which do NOT suddenly get funny when out of a woman’s earshot). Another example of “guy space”, and I don’t care for it.

      Apart from the casual sexism I’m just amazed at the rudeness. I guess I have a romantic ideal that gamers are the geeks who got picked last for sports, and are smart and diverse and tolerant of others. Who knew, some of them can be jerks. I could say something glib like you need better friends, but I know it’s not that simple – they’re “family”, not just friends.

      It’s exhausting being confrontational with people all the time, when you know you’re right but you know they all think you’re the villain. Congrats on turning that into some great writing.

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    11. avatar
      August 27, 2012 at 17:26

      I think I agree with Smiorgan but might go further in my conclusions.

      It has been my experience that many gamers *are* geeks who got picked last for sports. I know my friends and I were. I also think gamers really need to give up the notion that we are any smarter or more diverse or tolerant than the general population. It was a hard thing for me to learn, but I eventually had to own up to the fact that at least around where I live playing a game with polyhedral dice wasn’t a good predictor for how you think about people of different races or genders.
      Knowing “your kind” is smarter or more open-minded or whatever is more often than not just plain cognitive bias. As much as I didn’t want to admit it when I was younger, I’ve come to the conclusion that my geeky friends were more affected by their economic and family backgrounds than they were by rolling up a Ranger.

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