"No thugs in our house." She couldn't have been clearer. I'm just two weeks away from shacking up with my girlfriend of two years, and I find my video gaming days are numbered.
We see eye to eye on almost everything - except, that is, my need for a gaming console like an Xbox or PlayStation 2.
Now, don't get me wrong. My girlfriend is really cool. Recently, she went to a friend's lingerie party and agreed to take pictures just for my sake. But something about this issue has touched a nerve.
It doesn't help that we'd just been to see some friends who have Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Twenty bloodstained minutes after we left their house and we still weren't speaking. Or at least she wasn't. I'd been spitting the details of my five-alarm, 9-1-1, cop-killing rampage, only slowing down once I realized our conversation had become a little one-sided.
Things haven't been quite the same since.
I think that night was an anomaly. It had just been too long since I really cut loose - and nothing gives more of a sensual, head-exploding, power-trippin' rush than Grand Theft Auto. There's nothing like the ability to just jack a car and go. While you're at it, why not drive on the sidewalk? But that's the side of gaming that you can't necessarily share with your girl.
Truth is, a lot of gaming taps into an ugly side of dudes, the hunting, killing, calling your buddy a bitch while you frag him with a rocket launcher side. Sure, there are still traditional girl-friendly games. You know, puzzle-solvers like Tetris, or the virtual doll-houses of The Sims. These wouldn't be enough to win her over. She gave up gaming with the Atari and never looked back.
And it isn't just the violence, or the thought of me manipulating women with Barbie-perfect figures, their breast bounce increasingly realistic with each new release. Her real problem, she says, is that gaming for guys is like a black hole that sucks up everything, especially their time.
I know I sometimes find myself playing the same level until I complete it, reliving the same five-minutes sequence in an endless loop. Then, before I know it, the sun has come up.
She's really jealous of the time I'd spend zombified on the couch instead of with her. In her mind, if the console is there it will always beckon, ready to suck me back in. And what if she's right?
I ring up her friend Heather, someone for whom gaming and cohabitation have never been a conflict. She and her rockabilly husband, Ralph, have shared many stoned-out hours playing the PS2.
"Well, you know her ex was into games, right?" I had heard. He was last seen disappearing into the couch in a haze of web-shooters and gunfire, buried under a pile of cigarette foils and chip bags.
"There was this one night in particular.... Apparently, she'd been getting all dolled up with her girlfriends, drinking cocktails, ready for a night on the town. But when they went to pick up the boys, they found six slumped chumps, eyes glued to the tube, thumbs on their joysticks.
"What really hurt was that they didn't look up at us once - and they were playing Lara Croft!"
Aha - I knew the babes had something to do with it. But I'm not going to quit this level till I'm done. I've learned a few things from games: if you can't beat a big boss head on, resort to stealth.
First, I call in an expert. Kuz is a programmer, and the first of my crew to actually move in with his girlfriend. He's also survived the most lethal relationship-killer known to geek-kind: Everquest. The online fantasy game also known as Ever-crack has left legions of widows across all continents. Yet he now enjoys cool nights of Nintendo with his girl.
"So let me get this straight. She really got burned because this dude played Tomb Raider all the time and didn't pay attention to her. Essentially, that means you're being punished for what some other dude did."
I hadn't thought about it like that, but I like where this is going. Kuz gives me the game plan.
"Well, you gotta realize you're not going to be playing Mario Kart right off, but here's what you do."
The next time gaming comes up in conversation with my girl, I steer it away from carjacking. "I know what happened the last time you had a console in the house. But I gotta ask you, are your ex and I the exact same kind of guy? Cuz if we are, then okay, no games. But if you think we're different, and that's why you're with me, then maybe we can work some things out together."
I can see the guilt setting in. It's working.
After this, it isn't long before we start working out a compromise. I still don't own an Xbox, but I've got visitation rights for my brother's whenever I need it. And a tiny plug-and-play Pacman now resides beside my TV, waiting for the day when its larger cousins join it.