I am a gamer.
If I want to be specific about it, I am a PC-gamer.
I have spend many hours on my preferred genre of games. Just me, the computer and a beverage that’s fitting to the time of day.
Then there are a lot of games I say I played, because I feel like I played them. I know the story, the tactics, a lot of the tricks and all of the puzzles. But I never actually took the controls of the game. That’s because I played them in the counselor’s chair.
I want to be clear that playing in the counselor’s chair is in no way the same as backseat gaming. A backseat gamer tries to control the game without touching the controls with comments and advice that are unsolicited and unwanted. The counselor’s chair is an extra pair of eyes, an extra brain to figure out puzzles, a second opinion on what upgrade would be best at the moment. I only speak up when the player at the controls seems stuck, unsure, or at risk of missing that breakable item. The secondary, but no less important, task is to be appropriately in awe of awesome moves.
I am an awesome counselor’s chair gamer. I am the Deanna Troy of gaming. I love it, and gamers love having me.
If it sounds like I’m bragging, it’s because I have every reason to brag.
But I’m not bragging. I am reclaiming.
There’s always the good thing in a bad relationship. If it was all bad, all the time, that relationship wouldn’t last to the point where emotional/financial/social dependency can form. There’s at least one thing that makes it feel like enduring the bad is worth it. Especially in the beginning. It can take a really long time to admit to yourself that the good thing doesn’t actually make up for the bad things. Something needs to happen in your way of thinking. For me, that something was downplaying the importance of the good thing.
It’s not that I started playing counselor’s chair with my ex. I’ve been taking up that role since I was about ten, when my little brother and his friends kept requesting I sit with them as they played games on their consoles. But during my previous relationship it did evolve from simply helping someone beat a game, to a primary way to bond, exchange ideas and get to know a person better.
Admittedly this was also the time period in which game-messages went from “Your princess is in another castle” to “What is better: to be born good or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?”
Good stories are always based on interesting ideas. Most ways stories are told aren’t ideal for discussing these ideas though. No two people read at the same speed. I know the way my daughter watches movies would drive some people insane; pausing multiple times to discuss her thoughts on what we just saw. But it’s either that, or waiting to the end and maybe forgetting some of the points you wanted to make.
Games are unique because they have discussion moments build in. Like loading and upgrade screens, or those moments where all you need to do is walk to a different location. A skilled player might even want to chat during repetitive combat.
Good games make me think. And I love hearing other’s thoughts on the matter. It just took me a while — perhaps way too long — to admit that missing a thing I used to do with a person, didn’t mean I missed the person. So I tried to convince myself I didn’t miss the thing at all.
It worked, in a way. I played games by myself. I shared opinions on a whole range of things on my blog. I even joined new fandoms to geek out in. It helped that I was getting to know a new partner and we were still exchanging opinions on the things that are important to us and therefore came to mind easily without prompting. I didn’t need my counselor's chair role.
Only, I did need it. Not taking up that role I love and played for so long left a certain itch. A phantom longing I pretended not to understand. Or tried to write off as just another desire typical of the challenge of being in a long distance relationship.
As my young son got older, he started getting his entertainment mostly via YouTube. That meant I started watching the things he was watching, just to know what sort of messages he was getting every day. His YouTube time was almost evenly split between clips from cartoon, and Lets-play gamers. Some of these gaming channels are age appropriate. Some, I soon discovered, are not. Of the six or so channels he wanted to watch, three of them got a “no” from me. My little boy doesn’t mind my restrictions. That’s the beautiful thing about “age appropriate” — kids like the stuff that’s made specially for them better. Because they understand it better.
Then something interesting happened; I didn’t stop watching the gaming channels I told my boy not to watch. I started to watch their older videos. I learned their upload schedules. I made up excuses in my own head as to why, and I kept downplaying the whole thing even as I was obviously looking forward to each upload. I didn’t watch in secret or anything like that…I just…felt embarrassed about watching these guys. But despite that, I turned into a full fledged fan.
The YouTubers I watch are not that good at playing games. What they are good at is making you feel like you’re watching a friend play through a game and giving their thoughts on the story. Watching these videos helped fill that void left behind by not being able to game in the counselor’s chair. In a way you can compare it to watching porn. It’s not the same as the real thing, but it can sort of stand in when you can’t get the real thing. Only it’s not sexual. It’s worse; it’s intimate. That’s the association I have made with playing the counselor’s chair; something you do with the person you want to be close to. And to have to look for that, not just from video’s of men who wouldn’t know I exist — but are also at least a decade younger than me… That’s a lot of subconscious, social enforced bias-bullshit that has no business dictating how I feel, but it did because I was still in denial about the whole thing.
So that’s were I’m at now. I have a need to connect through playing in the counselor’s chair. I know I will do it “live” again at some point. Until then I’ll continue getting by with videos. Without shame from now on.