In today’s digital world, having a long-distance relationship and staying connected is easier than ever. Couples no longer have to wait extended periods without seeing each others’ faces or knowing the thoughts of their significant other. Thanks to the rise of online and digital platforms in the last two decades, we’re always connected to the world in some way. Electronic messages have replaced snail mail as the preferred method of communication, FaceTime and Skype have made phone calls more intimate, and social media allows us to get a glimpse into people’s lives.
Dating has also undergone a visible transformation, with Tinder and OkCupid becoming common avenues for people to find each other and form romantic relationships, replacing personal ads, group dating, blind dates, and hoping to run into your future partner by chance. Even certain video games, particularly those that stress the importance of online communities, have become matchmakers thanks to in-game chat systems. Believe it or not, gaming is emerging as a tool for countless couples around the globe to stay in touch and keep their relationships together in spite of the distance.
Amanda and Rich are just one of those couples. The two have been married for nearly four years. She lives in Maryland and he lives outside of Reading in the UK – that’s 3,400 miles between the two of them. Except for a brief 10-month window when Amanda was in the UK, they have spent the entirety of their five-year relationship as a long-distance couple due to the their respective careers.
The couple, who met online in 2009, says they owe much of their relationship to video games. Both of them are self-proclaimed gamers, with Amanda bragging about playing the original shareware release of Doom. “I’m not quite that OG,” Rich says somewhat sheepishly. “I jumped in during the PS1 era with Crash Bandicoot.”
Now they use games as a way to spend time together and narrow the gap between them. “When we started dating, I bought my brother’s Xbox 360 so we could play Borderlands,” Amanda says. Now they’re playing Overwatch together as much as they can, as well as Diablo III and Evolve. Occasionally, they also play through single-player games together, with one of them watching the other play the game through Skype, like Dead Space 3 and The Last of Us.
We heard dozens of stories of people using gaming in long-distance relationships as a way to bond just like Amanda and Rich do, but do couples that game together stay together? We investigated the different ways couples are using a beloved hobby like gaming to ease the hardship of a long-distance relationship.
Closing The Gap
In spite of their rising occurrence, the subject of long-distance relationships (LDRs) lacks any digestible, trustworthy source of statistics. The last study of note was conducted in 2005, with numbers that are woefully out of date by this point. The Center For The Study of Long Distance Relationships, perhaps one of the most exhaustive resources dedicated to studying couples miles apart, has since closed. The biggest and growing resource on the subject comes from those who have done the grind and offer their advice online, providing everything from tips to cautionary tales. Outside of that, people in long-distance relationships don’t have much information available to them on the subject, which makes the professional resources that are out there invaluable.
Megan Bearce is a licensed marriage and health therapist who began researching long-distance relationships after her husband started commuting for work. She eventually wrote a book on this called Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When A Job Keeps You Apart and continues to counsel long-distance couples. She says the evolution of digital technology has resulted in an increase in long-distance relationships as well as ways to maintain such a relationship. “Technology allows people job opportunities they wouldn’t have had 20 years ago,” she says. “But if you apply that to relationships, there’s also like a million more ways to stay connected. One of the couples I interviewed actually has Skype dinners together. Obviously it’s not the same as like reaching over and grabbing their hand or something, but it works for them; it helps them be together doing something that ‘normal’ couples do.”
As far as video games are concerned, Bearce feels they have a lot of potential, especially as a tool to help long-distance couples manage their relationships. “I feel like games would be a good recommendation for therapists to throw into conversation, like, ‘Is that something we can use to help you guys?’ Games aren’t on a lot of therapists’ radar, and I think that’s mostly because a lot of them are just behind on technology.”
Harris O’Malley, a dating coach in geek culture who’s written for The Guardian, Slate, and Wired under the alias Dr. NerdLove, believes games are strong devices for building a sense of unity. “Long-distance relationships are difficult because there’s a physical component that’s missing that makes it hard for couples to feel connected sometimes. The thing that helps make couples make long-distance work is them knowing that there’s going to be an endpoint where it quits being long-distance and becomes more in-person. When that’s not a factor, then the best thing they can do is work on communication, visit each other whenever possible, and spend quality time with each other in whatever ways they can when not together. And gaming can actually be a valuable way of doing that.”
Harris points to Portal 2 and other games that encourage co-op play as being strong tools that encourage team-building. A number of the couples we spoke to listed co-op games Destiny, Overwatch, and Final Fantasy XIV as their mainstays.
In search of some games to play with your better half? Here are a few fantastic co-op titles that value teamwork and can be played online.
Portal 2 – Portal 2’s co-op mode is unique because it’s not a retreading of the single-player mode with multiplayer shoehorned in, but instead its own mini-campaign requiring players to work together to solve puzzles and progress. Also, the robots you play as are adorable.
Rocket League – Last year’s surprise sports hit Rocket League captured the interest of players everywhere with its goofy take on soccer and its frantic energy. Playing a few matches against each other makes for a good time.
Borderlands 2 – Shoot and loot. Borderlands has always shined as a co-op experience, and that’s best exemplified in the second game, where you travel across a dangerous planet to stop a mad, masked CEO. As far as date nights go, you could do worse than saving the world with your partner at your side.
World of Warcraft – Beyond being a great way to meet possible romantic partners, World of Warcraft presents a classic, engaging world with plenty of activities to keep folks in long-distance relationships busy when they need a game to play.
Gears of War Remastered – For those who like their shooters grim with biceps stacked on top of biceps, Gears of War is the ultimate game. Want an evening where you and your partner feel like stars in an action movie? Make co-op campaign your go-to.
For Rich and Amanda, Borderlands has a special place in their relationship, giving them an experience they both enjoy sharing. In the video chat windows I view them through during our interview, they both start pointing to various deluxe editions of Borderlands in their respective rooms. There’s an unexpected synchronization to their actions. The series clearly means a great deal to them and they talk about it a lot. “It basically acts like a surrogate when we don’t want to use Skype or Facetime,” Rich says. “We would just get on and play a game together and chat about what we had been doing during the day. It was great. It meant we could actually do something while chatting.”
Continue to Page 2 to find out more about how long-distance couples use video games to find stability.