Original: How to Get Your Guy's Attention... When He's Gaming

Indiaps2ad

This is the original content from the article I gave to Blagica at Gals Guide - she didn't mess with it much, but here it is in its unadulterated form.  A few notes: I don't use the standard definition of RPG and Puzzle game, but as I did more thinking about it, I think I'm absolutely right - GTA is an RPG.  It's just one in New York (or Vegas, or LA, or Miami, as the case may be).

(Also, if you're getting weird search results for any of the links, click "Show All" in the left sidebar of the search page.  In some browsers, you need to click the text; in some browsers, clicking the radio button is fine.)

How to get your guy's attention when he's gaming

There are really three types of games now - no, not fighting and sports and shooters, but rather 1) puzzle games, 2) competitive games, and 3) community games.  The sorts of games that we used to call "adventure" games and now call "platformers" are pretty much dead.  If you're trying to figure out why he's paying attention to the TV or computer no matter what you're wearing, you need to figure out what kind of game he's playing.  Once you understand what kind of game he's playing, you can easily identify the times when he's most likely to shift his attention to more important matters - like you.

Game Type 1) Puzzle games - everyone knows what a puzzle game is.  They're games like Tetris, Solitare, or Bejeweled.  But there are lots of other games that don't look like puzzle games, but actually are just puzzle games in disguise.  These include games like Super Mario Galaxy, Final Fantasy, and Grand Theft Auto.  I even include games like The Sims in the puzzle game category.

These games aren't about button mashing - even though it may look like that's what he's doing - they're about being presented an objective (find the star, win the battle, kill the criminal) and figuring out how to do it within some set of constraints (time, health, cops). 

Puzzle games require attention - and it needs to be undivided for short moments to figure out what the constraints and the best strategy is.  Often times, this can be a trial and error practice, and as the number of failures increase, the more frustrated and curt your boyfriend may be.  Generally, though, these sorts of games are more leisurely, and unless he is visibly frustrated, you may have an opportunity to get his attention.  Just don't try to interrupt while he's trying to implement the plan that he's developed.

There's a special case I want to address, and that's when he's playing a Role Playing Game, or RPG.  RPGs generally have a number of mini battles or tasks, with regular "boss fights" every hour or two.  In RPGs, the constraints for the puzzle can be mitigated by preparation - a process called "leveling up," or making your character stronger.  Leveling up is a hallmark of Role Playing games like Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, or Grand Theft Auto.  These periods are mindless, and represent a great time to get him to save his game and pay attention to you. 

However, be careful - Role Playing Games have very involved story lines, and have what are called "cut scenes", where the game has animation or video to explain the story.  These can be a few minutes to up to 90 minutes long (notoriously in Metal Gear Solid 4).   These cut scenes are like mini-movies and often cannot be paused, so be very careful to interrupt him, even though it doesn't look like he's playing at all.  In most cases, it's impossible to replay these movies, so he may lose some story information that could be critical to advancing in the game.

Game Type 2) Competitive games - these include games like Madden and Rock Band.  In these games, the objectives, constraints, and strategies are crystal clear: beat the other team, get a high score.  These games, while they may involve some strategy, are essentially entirely about button mashing.  There are clearly elements of skill in these games and they often require lightning quick reflexes.

There may be some strategy as to how to hit the button, but it's about hitting the right button at the right time.  Sometimes, it's hitting the button repeatedly (firing your weapon in Halo), at the exact right moment (doing a special move in Street Fighter) or both (a solo in Guitar Hero).

Competitive games require concentration - there is a limited period of time where the action is happening, and no, he cannot pause the game to look up.  These games induce adrenaline spikes - and when the adrenaline is up, he's at the level of focus he needs to be successful.  You have to identify the times in between action - maybe his character is traveling from one battle to another, or it may have to be when he's in some sort of menu screen.

Good games pace the adrenaline spikes well, so there are plenty of times for recovery.  Games that require constant adrenaline tend to wear out the player.  If he's been playing the same game for a month, it has the appropriate balance of adrenaline and recovery times.  That means that there are times that are made for you to interrupt (but nicely!).  You just have to identify when they are - they generally are pretty frequent, but can be there for just a second or two.

Game Type 3) Community Games - these are games that are about having social interactions with other people, either in person, like Mario Party, or online, like Gears of War or World of Warcraft.   These games hinge on the interaction between real people - and it's important to know that there are real people involved, especially when playing online.  Your boyfriend will have developed relationships with these people, so it's important for him to do the things that one has to do when developing and maintaining relationships.

Community games require communication.  Just like you want him to communicate with you and pay attention, he needs to do the same with his friends in his games.  Not just to maintain and build friendships, but many tasks in these games are only possible to do in teams with other real players. 

If your boyfriend likes these sort of games, you should feel especially lucky.  His playing the game is giving him an opportunity to get better at communicating - and this means that there are learning experiences that he can use to be better with you.  I would never suggest that you should let him play World of Warcraft all day and night long, but recognizing that there is value - both in the game and outside of it - in his gaming may make it easier for you get his attention when you want to.

It's just like interrupting a group conversation; you have to recognize the pauses and then interject.  It can be hard, especially if he's communicating via chat or with a headset, where it's difficult to identify the gaps in conversation.  It is, of course, much easier when the group of people he is playing with are all in your living room.  But he will eventually have to bring up a menu screen or take a break - those are your opportunities to ask him to put the mouse or controller down.

One last note - I want to point out that many games combine traits of these three general types.  Rock Band combines competition with community, where a group of people are getting together to play the right notes to complete the song.   Many first person shooters, like Halo or Gears of War, combine competition and community aspects in online play.  This can make it a little more difficult to figure out the right times and strategies. 

I would suggest trying to spend time watching what is going on rather than just thinking "oh, he's gaming again."  A little time investment will make it much easier to figure out the best moments to talk, and you may find yourself drawn to the strategy or story of the game he is playing.  Who knows - one day, you may even surprise him by picking up the controller and playing with him.  Then he'll have the best girlfriend ever, and will brag about you to all his friends.  My little sister is excellent at Mario Kart and can hold her own in Madden.  Needless to say, she's quite a catch.

On the other hand, if nothing works, you can always sell his games and systems on Dawdle and use the proceeds to buy yourself something cute or put the cash in your engagement ring fund.  (Note: not recommended.  At all.  But it would be pretty hysterical.  Unless it happened to me.  Then I'd be pissed.)