This post is based on a true story. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Gaming with your significant other is great. Sharing hobbies strengthens relationships. You see a side of your partner that maybe you’d never seen before, that maybe you never suspected was there.
It’s also risky. Relationships end, sometimes with quiet, drawn out discourse and other times with the punctuation and finality of a grenade. In a normal situation without any extra social concerns, that’s hard enough to handle. Now place that fractious happenstance in a gaming group, where you and he both made friends and are both an active part. Imagine what it’s like for them, not just having to watch the two of you pick up the pieces but also pulling the shrapnel out from themselves.
Yeah, I’ve gotten caught in that explosion, and it sucks more than this metaphor. Worse, the game may be taken out by it, too. (The breakup, not the metaphor.) But maybe you can take steps to avoid it, if only you had some kind of cautionary tale.
What’s this post about, again?
I was running an Edge of the Empire game over Roll20. I’m not big on gaming with strangers, so I rustled up some interest among my friends. I already knew I wanted The Lady (who is my lady) to join, as she’d been in my beta game and had begun playing with my regular Friday group. The Lady’s brother, George, was a huge Star Wars fan and was eager to play. He brought his fiancee into the group, Adeline, which was fine by me: she’s a hardcore board gamer. She had a bad experience the first time she tried RPGs, and I was determined to show her the light. We also invited their ex-roommate Mandy, just to round out the numbers.
The game started off strong. We were meeting once a week on Mondays for a couple hours at a time. Despite having GMed on and off for a while, I was a rookie behind the screen, so I was giving the players a little too much say in how the game was developing. Granted, that’s probably the preferable mistake to make, given the alternative, but still. Everyone was having fun, though the game was going nowhere fast.
Outside the game, I became aware of a growing tension between the players. Mandy was always a little terse when it came to discussing George and Adeline, and The Lady — who was close with Adeline — was frequently telling me stories about George’s lapses in judgment and poor behavior as a fiance. I didn’t give it much thought, but I worried about how it might affect my game. I resolved that I should improve my craft and let my game become the glue that held them together through a time of crisis.
Let me tell you how that worked out.
It was Sunday on Labor Day weekend. As The Lady, our roommates, and I prepared for a cookout, The Lady’s phone rang. It was George. We figured it was a last-minute invite to their own Labor Day plans, but it turned out to be more sinister: George was planning on breaking up with Adeline.
Let me make clear that this wasn’t a short-term relationship. They had been together for roughly ten years. They were engaged. Maybe they had their problems, but I figured they were a rocksteady couple to have in a game. I could count on them.
I was wrong.
When she got off the phone, The Lady gave me a look, and I quickly took to my e-mail: “Sorry for the last minute notice, but we have Labor Day family stuff. We’ll postpone game to next week.”
As you might imagine, that postponement went on for a while. Indefinitely, in fact. My game was dead.
I’ll spare you all the personal details, but suffice to say no one was pleased with George. He handled the break up poorly, despite being the one who initiated it. His behavior after the fact left much to be desired, as did his choice in words during the process. I was left with one undeniable fact: no one wanted to play with George.
And, despite the lack of personal decorum, I didn’t want to carry on the game without him. His character was already settled into the fabric of the story. I couldn’t carry on like he hadn’t ever been there — he was the pilot — and there was no way to write him out of the story in such a way that didn’t come across as vindictive and ham-handed.
I also didn’t want to open the game up to the negativity inherent in that sort of turn, either. Whether it was negativity towards George or negativity towards his character, it didn’t really matter. There was a lot of hurt floating around, and I would rather the game fade away into the ether than have it become some embittered thing.
Well, there isn’t really one. At least, there are several, but they can be defeated by the application of common sense.
First, a lesser GM might resolve not to play with couples, which would certainly solve the issue. However, that’s doing a great disservice to the other half if both members of the couple like to game. I, for example, get nothing but satisfaction from gaming with The Lady, and the same goes for her gaming with me. (Except for Tesla v. Edison; the less said about that particular evening, the better.) It’s also unfair to ban couples besides the one you’re in, but even if I did that, I would have missed out on Ernesto, Mandy’s boyfriend who joined us for my current game, a follow-up to the one that imploded.
Second, bearing all of the above in mind, a GM might decide to select couples very carefully. I can’t fault that logic, but again, it doesn’t hold up in real life. George and Adeline were a stable couple for ten years before this went down. Even if I had reason back then to think twice about it, there would have been no evidence to suggest they weren’t a good choice for the group.
Conversely, I had never met Ernesto before he showed up at Session Zero, and he’s a fantastic player and I’m glad to have him at my table. Considering that I accepted him into the game effectively “sight unseen,” that’s the kind of outcome you might miss out on by being overly choosy.
I won’t pretend like accepting couples into a game shouldn’t be given some thought. Even I get nervous when I invite The Lady to join me in games, either mine or other people’s. No matter how committed you are to each other, no matter what stage of your relationship you’re in, there’s always a non-zero chance that things can go sideways. It can be outright painful to go through that kind of damage to your game, to see something you’ve worked so hard on struggle under that weight. The simple thought of it might discourage you.
But hell. That’s not a good enough reason not to try.