I wish I liked computer games. I want to. I used to like some of them, the ones where you just solved silly puzzles while exploring an island with a weremonkey sitting on your shoulder telling jokes about pirates. (I may be conflating a few different games here).
But I get stressed when I have to do things within a certain time. And I get stressed when I have to talk to strangers, even imaginary and/or virtual ones. And I get stressed when I feel responsible for other people. And I don’t want to kill anyone, even if they’re a gangster, vampire, zombie ghoul, or evil prostitute who’s nicked all my beer and betrayed me to the mafia boss who’s also my mother. (I don’t know if that actually happens, but that’s what I imagine computer games to be like.)
So that’s almost all computer games out. I tried to play the Sims once and had to stop after five minutes, exhausted with the power. Having control of an entire world of tiny two-dimensional people was terrifying. What if they rebelled and rose up against me? What if I left them for too long and they all died from starvation? This is exactly why I didn’t like playing with dolls as a child.
I blame the graphics. They’re too good: my brain cannot understand that this is a game, not reality. A lifetime of being culturally indoctrinated not to shoot anyone in the kneecaps has meant that I can’t even pretend to do it to something that looks vaguely sentient. Which is silly, because I can watch violence on TV or at the cinema. (Well, I can if I squint a bit and think about happy things). I can even write characters that bad things happen to – there are two major deaths in my novel, and they’re both characters I liked. Did I care? No. I laughed like a bouncy serial killer as I sent them to be murdered. And those are people from inside my own head. So there’s no logic to it at all, really.
But logic or not, I find that modern computer games mainly seem designed to give me a nervous breakdown, and I don’t really need them for that – I have children.
Anyway. One of the reasons why I wish I liked computer games is that I have currently lost my partner to one. Well, not lost. I know where he is. He’s in his room, killing people in order to steal their souls and sell them so he can buy soft furnishings for his house. Only it’s not ‘his’ house, because – I recently discovered – in every computer game he plays, his character is a lesbian elf. Even in games where that’s technically not possible. It’s probably very meaningful.
I have in the past been a GTA widow, an Assassin’s Creed widow and a Portal widow, so this is not new. I am used to finding that once the children are in bed, my partner slinks upstairs muttering something about the goblins getting lonely. Sometimes they are space goblins, sometimes they are undead goblins, but they always seem to need a lot of attention. I’ve started to feel quite motherly towards them, although I’m keeping that emotion under control since the attention they mainly seem to need is having machetes aimed at their heads.
There is a Skyrim fraternity too, I notice. We went to a child’s birthday party last weekend and the father greeted my partner with the words: “Wood elf?” “No,” he replied. “Dark elf.” They both nodded wisely. I stared at them and ate apple crumble.
I think I just prefer my leisure time entertainment to be non-interactive, like TV. Maybe I’d like computer games better if they resembled the TV shows I like – has anyone invented one with singing and dancing in it yet? I could go for an X-Box with a pair of tiny tap shoes attached. As long as I didn’t have to use them to stamp anyone to death.