Funny To A Point – The Dreaded Question

When it comes time to be lazy in front of the television, my
wife and I make a pretty damn good team. Our taste in movies and TV shows isn’t
perfectly aligned, but there’s enough overlap and open-mindedness between the
two of us to keep us both happy and entertained. For every Bollywood marathon,
there’s an equal and opposite Tarantino marathon – and neither of us blames the
other if and when they eventually fall asleep.

More often than not, even the outliers manage to sucker in
the supposedly uninterested party. My wife gets frustrated by some morally gray
shows like The Americans, but that
doesn’t stop her from glancing at the screen every five seconds when I watch them “by myself.” And as embarrassing as it is to admit, I’ve garnered a certain
appreciation for The Ghost Whisperer
– even if I’m still dying for a Supernatural
crossover episode where Sam and Dean bust in to torch the corpse of
whatever ghost Jennifer Love Hewitt is saying “I have a gift” to.

But the one place where we do diverge is gaming. That’s not
to say my wife doesn’t play games at all – every now and then she’ll get even more
obsessed with a mobile game than I do (and I have a bad
track record)
– but when it comes to console games, she rarely joins in. Even
so, we still spend that time together; I sit on the couch and play games, and
she sits next to me with the tablet and watches videos of…well, I don’t
know what because I’m too busy playing games.

My wife isn’t so easily distracted. More often
than not she’s genuinely curious about the games I’m playing, which inevitably
leads to a question I always have trouble answering: What’s it about?

For her, the question is inherently plot-focused, and I have
no problem whipping up a succinct answer when it’s a TV show or a movie. The Hateful 8 is about a bunch of bad
guys stuck in a cabin together. Star Wars
is about the Jedi (i.e., space wizards) facing off against the evil Empire (“You know, Darth Vader?” *hoo hee hoo hee*?), plus
Han Solo is who is a smuggler but still one of the good guys, even though he totally shot Greedo first. Okay, so
maybe all of the answers aren’t succinct, but I still have no problem
summarizing them.*

However, when it comes to video games, I always have a much
harder time getting over the what’s-it-about hurdle. To figure out what the
hell is going on, I looked back over some of the games I’ve recently played, along
with my pathetic attempts to explain them to my wife:

Dark Souls III
What’s it about?:
“Well, you’re kind of a dead guy who’s trying
to collect souls from monsters.”
I felt pretty good about that explanation, but her follow-up
questions made me realize just how little of Dark Souls’ lore I actually
understand. Why am I taking their souls? Who are the monsters? How does
collecting the monsters’ souls actually help? After a dozen or so I-don’t-knows, her
questions were eventually replaced with concern over how much I jump every time
an enemy lunges out of nowhere to attack me. Stupid monsters.

Fallout 4
What’s it about?: “A nuclear war destroyed the world, so now I’m
exploring the wasteland and collecting stuff. Oh, my son is missing, too.”
I spent the first hour of Fallout 4 fidgeting with sliders
in the character creator, during which my wife continually offered advice for
making my guy less ugly. She was snoring on the couch by the time the game
actually started, so she missed the opening sequence. I gave her the aforementioned
answer the next evening, then ignored my missing son for the next 30 hours and
acted like
a complete lunatic
instead. At least she didn’t wake up during the (sadly)
real scenario I found myself in shown above!

Inside
What’s it about?:
“I don’t know.” Followed by, “I still don’t know,” and, “Seriously, you’ve seen everything I’ve
seen, I have no idea what’s going on.”  
My wife had a hard time believing I would go into a game
completely blind, and instead assumed I was stonewalling her for information (again,
the footnote provides some context). Even after I convinced her that I was just
as clueless as she was, she couldn’t help but continue asking follow-up
questions. Who are the guys chasing the boy? What do they want with him? Are
they aliens or what? My wife was just as mesmerized by Inside as I was, and
gasped every time I fumbled my way into a gruesome death (like a professional!). One of my biggest
gaming regrets of 2016 is finishing the game when she wasn’t home – I really want
to see her Veronica Cartwright-esque reaction to the last 30 minutes.

Uncharted 4
What’s it about?: “It’s basically Indiana Jones the game.”
Uncharted 4 was by far the easiest game to explain, in no
small part because I had recently made her watch the Indiana Jones trilogy. However, Uncharted’s cinematic nature and
strong script also made it an easy one to convey – she watched through the
opening hours and saw the introduction of Drake’s brother, Sam, so keeping her
up to speed just entailed sharing any plot points she missed. She wasn’t in any
danger of mistaking Uncharted 4 for a movie like that classy old Sony ad, but the
series’ characters and bombastic set-piece moments are about as universally
appealing as video games get.

Rise of the Tomb
Raider
What’s it about?: “Lara Croft is on an island looking for
something.”
I thought explaining Rise of the Tomb Raider would be easy, as
my wife already had a vague idea of who Lara Croft is (albeit from the dumb
Jolie movies). Then I realized that despite being four or five hours into the
game, I had no idea what the hell the actual plot was. She’s on an island looking
for some relic that proves her dad wasn’t crazy? And her mom is working with
the bad guy? I still don’t know what I’m doing in the game, other than shooting
a lot of dudes in the head with arrows.

Goat Simulator
What’s it about?:
 What
the hell is wrong with you?:
She didn’t actually ask me that – but her eyes did. And I
had no good answer.

Overwatch
What’s it about?:
“There’s no story, you just shoot all the
other players.”
My wife has as low of a bar for storytelling in competitive
multiplayer games as most developers do and
her brothers are playing it, so Overwatch got a pass. Thank god – I don’t even
want to attempt making sense of the nonsense lore Blizzard has been dishing out in its
video shorts and comics for the game.

Doom
What’s it about?: “Someone opened a portal to hell on Mars, so
I’ve got to kill the demons and close it. And then kill whoever opened it. And maybe
go to hell and kill everything there, too.”
I started playing Doom right after a week of nonstop
Overwatch, so my wife’s first question was, “Is this still the cartoony one?” Then
I ripped the heart out of a mancubus and shoved it down its throat, to which
she replied, “This is not the cartoony one.”

Ark: Survival Evolved
What’s it about?:
“I just woke up on an island full of
dinosaurs. I don’t think there’s a story.”
After watching me punch trees while in my underwear for five
minutes, she asked a follow-up question: Is it fun? Nope, not really.

Dangerous Golf
What’s it about?:
 “It’s
like golf, but indoors, and you try to break as much stuff as possible.”
I staved off any follow-up questions with the good ol’ shrug-I’m-a-guy
routine.

No Man’s Sky
What’s it about?:
“I’m some kind of cosmonaut traveling to
different planets and exploring them. There’s also something at the middle of
the universe, but I hear it’s a total bummer.”
Now that I think about it, “What’s it about?” is a whole lot
like the “What do you actually do?” question that has been plaguing No Man’s
Sky since its announcement. However, my wife didn’t dive down the rabbit hole
of conspiracies
and hysteria
surrounding No Man’s Sky, so to her the game still seems
pretty cool.

So, what do my sorry video game synopses say about me? First
of all, I probably need to pay more attention when characters stop shooting each
other and start blabbing out the story bits. But more importantly, gameplay is
still king in my living-room realm; a game doesn’t need a strong plot – or any plot
at all – to keep me entertained for hours on end, and that’s pretty cool. My explanations might not
always satisfy my wife’s favorite question, but if I’m happy, she’s happy – and I don’t have to worry about fighting her for the controller!

*In the interest of the complete and unadulterated truth, my wife might take issue with this point: Thanks to my obsessive fear of spoilers, my first answer to plot inquiries is usually “You’ll see.” However, I’ve slowly learned that it’s better to just spoil a bit of the story than have her mad at me during the whole damn movie.

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