PAX Prime 2011: Panels Pt. 1- Relationships

A column article by: Amelia Ramstead

PAX Prime 2011 may be over, but Amelia's still got lots to share. For the next little while, she'll be going through the panels she visited, one by one.

During my time at PAX, I sat in on a couple different panels discussing family life and gaming. One discussed how gaming can improve your relationship with your significant other, one talked about the challenges and opportunities presented to parents who were also gamers and the other talked about raising children who were gamers.

Infinite Respawn: How Gaming can Keep and Save your Relationship

This panel featured the couple who runs the site The Married Gamers, Chris and Kelly Brown, as well as Elizabeth Parmeter, editor of Gaming Angels, Christa Charter, a.k.a. Trixie 360;Dan Amrich, blogger and Activision employee; and Zach Snell, educator and gamer.

Chris began the conversation by telling the story of how gaming literally saved their marriage. Things had gotten really challenging, and he and Kelly had had The Talk about whether to separate or try to make it work. With gaming being all they had to lean on, they had the idea to start a gaming website and podcast. By being forced to communicate with each other to run the show, they were able to fall in love again and find their way back.

Elizabeth then told the story of meeting her husband through gaming. When they first met, she couldn’t stand him, but through the common ground of gaming they became friends and then later romantically involved. Christa talked about how she met her husband, who followed her on her show about gaming and on Twitter. Dan scored instant nerd cred by getting married the same day as the original Playstation came out. Zach was the only one on the panel whose partner was not a gamer. But he talked about how gaming helped him develop his puzzle solving and social skills, which allowed him to strengthen his relationship in other ways.


When Trixie Charter Met Her Husband, She Knew She Wanted to be His Ms. Pac-Man

Many of the questions raised were ones that resounded with me, as they were issues that I’ve dealt with within my own family and relationships. One of these questions was asked of Christa, who has children in a wide age range, 2 to 20. Christa’s oldest son is a hard core gamer, both pen and paper gaming and other games such as League of Legends. Her teenage daughter is very into The Sims. The 2-year-old plays a number of iPad games, such as Monkey Preschool Lunchbox. However, the games that really bring the family together are the Rock Band series.

Since they first came out, our family has loved the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games, and they have become a staple of our family gatherings. Watching my father rock out to a bit of Metallica has provided endless entertainment, and even my mother got into Rock Band: Beatles–- I can’t think of a single other game that has ever brought generations together like that one.


We Don't Know This Family, But We'd Love to Hang Out With Them

Another conversation topic that really rang true was the discussion that ensued about managing the mundane tasks of the household, when games are involved. The dynamic of learning to respect each other’s game time and “waiting for the save spot” was discussed, as well as the importance of having enough trust with each other to know that the work will get done, eventually. I felt like one of the most important points made, however, was the necessity of having “game free” date nights with each other. That face time is so important to a relationship.

I had to laugh when Christa talked about “the flickering screen,” and her husband’s need to have the television on from morning to night. I related strongly to this story – it’s often a point of contention in our home. My husband likes the noise of the TV and I don’t watch much, and sometimes I’d just rather have it off!

Zach talked about the challenge of being the first boyfriend ever introduced to his partner’s family, and how gaming became a way to bond with his partner’s niece and nephews. This strongly reminded me of my brother and the relationship he has with my kids, which is often based around gaming. My son, especially, really admires him, and playing a game of Super Mario Brothers with Uncle Alan is always a major treat.

Dan Amrich Takes his WoW Playing a Little Too Seriously

When Dan talked about how several people in his family play World of Warcraft and the conversations they often have about it at family gatherings, I found myself nodding my head. WoW is a big deal in my family; my husband and I play, our son plays, my brother plays and my father plays, and for some family occasions, my poor sister really winds up being the odd man out. Although this wasn’t really brought up in the panel discussion, I think in a family situation it’s really important to remember who else is there. While WoW might be one of my favorite topics, my sister couldn’t care less and it’s unfair to leave her out. Luckily, she has no problem joining in on a game of Rock Band, and can kick all our butts on a guitar solo.

The audience got the chance to ask questions of the panel, and most of those questions revolved around couples with different gaming styles or tastes in games. The primary answer for most of these questions involved mutual respect, having an understanding of where the person is coming from, and the willingness to move out of your comfort zone a bit.

One interesting question was asked by someone who didn’t consider herself a gamer at all, but really wanted to be included in this world that her husband and son were so immersed in. Considering that she was actually at PAX, I’d say she was probably off to a great start. The panel had some interesting suggestions for her, such as trying out some different board games, to get a feel for what kind of genre she might be most likely to enjoy. Would she prefer strategy, puzzle, or fantasy games? Another suggestion given was to try games that could involve her in a hands-off, but decision making kind of way, such as Fable, where she could join in on morality decisions, or Portal 2, where she can help solve the puzzles. Christa made the suggestion to make it a challenge between her gaming family members – a competition to figure out and find a game that she would like.

Don't Blame Us if Including Your Partner Leads to a Fashion Faux Pas Like This One

The team ended by fielding a question that has often been the bane of families that play together. What happens when you get frustrated with the other person? Having been in this situation multiple times, I felt that their answer of remembering that this is something we do for fun and stopping when it isn’t anymore was right on the money.

You can listen to the panel discussion in its entirety here. I will be back tomorrow with Part 2, which looks at parenting and gaming.

Amelia Ramstead has been playing games since her family first received an Atari 2600, lo these many years ago. She continues to play, primarily on PC these days. An avid World of Warcraft player, Amelia writes about WoW topics for her blog and as a guest poster on WoW Insider. Especially interested in how gamer culture reflects in family dynamics, Amelia herself has two kids, one of whom has two WoW characters and can barely keep his nose out of his DS. Amelia is excited to join the staff of Comics Bulletin and is looking forward to the chance to converse with others on one of her favorite topics! Find Amelia on Steam as ameeramstead.

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