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This Valentine’s Day, game-playing couples should choose to fight

For this Valentine’s Day edition of our weekend thread, I chatted with Derrick Sanskrit, who is apparently Gameological’s official love guru for the week, about his history with playing games as a couple and why competitive games are better suited to romantic relationships than cooperative ones. As usual, let us know what you’ll be playing this weekend down in the comments.

Matt Gerardi: What are you playing this weekend?

Derrick Sanskrit: I will be playing Munchkin. It’s a tabletop card game that is designed to recreate the Dungeons & Dragons campaign experience in the course of, say, half an hour. Rather than writing out character sheets and rolling dice and making decisions and having a story that lasts several days, you and however many friends show up just draw cards, and it’s all random, and you will play an entire campaign in about 25 minutes or so.


I’ve played it with a group of friends a couple of times in the past month, and it’s wonderful and fun and addictive, but I first heard of it on my first date with the girl I’m going out with right now. She knew that I was trying to get back into Dungeons & Dragons and she said, “Have you heard of Munchkin?” And she described it to me and I was like, “That’s amazing.” Later, I was at a friend’s house, and they had it and they said, “Oh, you want to play this.” And I said, “Yes I do.”

Being Valentine’s Day and all, I will be spending time with the lady friend, and we will probably be having a one-on-one campaign of Munchkin.

MG: Do you think one-on-one games work well in romantic situations?

DS: They can. I’m a big fan of “The couple that plays together stays together.” You can really learn a lot about a potential life mate based on the way they play games, and the way they get along with you while you play games. It really sets you up for what sort of arguments you’ll have later on in the relationship. But I’m a firm believer—and this might seem like a counterintuitive opinion—that competitive multiplayer games are better for romance than cooperative multiplayer games. Whenever I play co-op with people, you either have to be absolutely in sync, or you will argue and hate each other, and it’ll be their fault that you screwed up. Even if you screwed up, it’ll be their fault.


But competitive games are sort of designed to have the people in the game cat calling and trying to distract each other by any means necessary. Think of all the things you could do to distract your boyfriend or girlfriend. They are completely on limits when you’re playing a game against them.

MG: In that case, there’s definitely the sort of frustration and animosity that gets built up when you’re competing against someone, no matter who it is. But that frustration definitely lingers longer when it’s a co-op game because you have to completely rely on that person. Your success might be hampered by the other person. Or maybe you’re the person screwing things up! That’s an even worse feeling.


DS: Right, like in the Portal 2 cooperative mode, which you’d think is a great example because it’s non-violent, it’s very funny, it’s very smart, it’s all about problem solving. It seems like a great game for couples. But there are so many points where one of you doesn’t see the wall you have to get to, and the other one is just pointing at it and shouting “Go over here!” And you’re yelling back “There’s nothing over there!” Co-op just leads to problems.

The romantic nature of competitive game is something I learned about a long time ago because a girlfriend I had in high school was a hardcore Tetris Attack champion on Super NES. I went out and I bought a used Super NES—the system was pretty old by then—and a bunch of cartridges, among them Tetris Attack because I knew it was the one we had to play together. She destroyed me for an entire summer. She would just line up so many chains and combos and I would have all the garbage blocks fall on me and there was no escape. I had to train for months to be able to hold my own against her. When I did, it was hot. That was some sexy teenage Super NES action.


MG: Tetris definitely seems to be one of those games. There’s a Japan-only Super NES Tetris game called Tetris Battle Gaiden that my last girlfriend and I got way into. We poured hours and hours into it, hooting and hollering as we beat up on each other. Maybe there’s something about Tetris.


DS: It’s one of those games that is really easy to attach to for everyone. When I was a kid, and we had an NES, it was really for me and my sisters because we were kids, and it was a kid thing. But when we got Dr. Mario, suddenly it was my parents’ machine. The two of them would be on the NES playing competitive Dr. Mario all night long, to the point that we had to remind them that they also had to eat dinner while we were eating dinner, which was not usual.

MG: This year, Valentine’s Day comes during a renaissance of these one-on-one competitive games that we’ve been talking about. Nidhogg, which is sort of the granddaddy of this scene, came out last month, and it’s fantastic.


DS: Oh yeah, and you’ve got Samurai Gunn and Towerfall.

MG: Well, you’ve got Towerfall if you’ve got an Ouya.

DS: Which I do, along with two controllers. I’ll probably be bringing that over to my girlfriend’s place.


MG: There’s also the Sportsfriends games, which should be coming out soon. If you were a Kickstarter backer for that, you already have early versions of them. The two games that have one-on-one modes in that package, BaraBariBall and Super Pole Riders, are great.

DS: And if you’re on a double date, Hokra, another Sportsfriends game, is perfect. You should always play as couples. One couple [as] the green team and one couple [as] the purple team. You’re together in that one. I hate to define what the relationships are in this hypothetical situation, but it can’t be, like, the guys versus the girls. If the girls win in that instance, there’s no cause for celebration within the individual couples. It’s like that old Toby Ziegler line from The West Wing. We do it as a team, so our victories are made more sweet, and our tragedies are softened because we face them together. If your couple wins, it’s awesome because you did it together. If your couple loses, it’s okay because you did it together.


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