Reader, I Dated a Gamer: Discussions on Love, Sex, and Games

An in depth look at gamer relationships by Cara Ellison.

Reader, I dated a gamer

Sex is a hybrid rhythm action and roleplaying game from the developers behind Fighting and Talking. You take control of one of two characters (though mods have enabled support for several more) and attempt to induce a paroxysm in your opponent through a mixture of theatre, gymnastics and button-mashing. (Most style guides suggest I mention the game in the first 50 words.)

I thought that sex was a game that everyone (over the age rating) could play. But since Date A Gamer has appeared on the scene, I've grown increasingly annoyed that this geek dating site (and many a male gamer) places an emphasis on a supposed power struggle between the sexes. There is no man geek: helpless, woman geek: powerful. There is only a constant state of people withholding or wanting sex from other people in an eternal dance totally incidental of gender. The reality is that we all want to do it with a certain person at a certain time, it just depends on whether that person returns those feelings of genital longing or whether they'd rather shag someone you regard as less interesting/hot/good at D&D on the bed you always thought you'd get to be on. (It is mostly the latter. Get used to it.)

But sometimes you roll a natural twenty. The first person I ever fell in love with, I was on the edge of seventeen. I was nerdier than anything, a lot thinner and less curvy than I am now, a lot less prone to hangovers but still with deliberately large nerd glasses. I had no writerly voice, I had no idea what oral sex was and I was fascinated by terrible Prima Strategy Guides: the first two probably stem from the last. There was something deeply romantic about the fact that both of our lives revolved around the sharp sounds of Counter Strike gunfire at 10am or the hum of the Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow menu screen idling lazily in the dark, ignored. We built a Frankenstein's monster of a PC together; our monstrous child outlasted our five year relationship by two years. I'm turning 27 on Friday and I still miss him (the guy not the computer), but he taught me that liking games is something that isn't a substitute for life. Games can be your touchstone, but like in multiplayer mode, everything is enhanced by hearing the voice of someone else by your side to strike out with, have other off-the-track adventures with. And often, that voice tells you when you need it that you are a fuckhead.

What's odd about the Date A Gamer site is that it suggests that women, and perhaps even non-geek men, think geek men to be a lesser species, unable to fend for themselves in social situations, or somehow encumbered with virginity. YOU HAVE LOOTED TOO FEW VAGINAS. YOU ARE ENCUMBERED. YOU MUST DROP SOME VIRGINITIES TO MOVE. (Virginity is totally irrelevant to anything, considering sex is a thing that is always new territory with every new partner anyway. I don't expect anyone to be good at sex the first time with a new partner — including myself: everyone knows how different people are from each other, and how much every person's sexual tastes differ. It's like being in a new test chamber of Portal each time. You've got a rough idea that some things go in and out of stuff – but you're not supposed to know what order or even what the hell that button does. Yeah. Chill the hell out. We're all constant newbs in the bedroom.) 

The thing is, everyone pretends like women aren't out there trying to ask you out. We definitely, almost certainly are.

I have never regarded male gamers as being an undateable species. And yet, in these new videos John Walker so rightly raged against  male gamers are portrayed as being helpless idiots who are titillated at the slightest sight of…well… tits. This stereotyping has got to stop, mainstream. You sit there and tell a young boy who likes video games he is doomed to be estranged from women, and he will never talk to women. Women aren't a mysterious thing. We are exactly the same as men but for some other silly biological parts. We have the same libido. We get just as lonely. We worry about social situations. We worry we aren't good looking enough or cool enough; we worry about when to kiss you or whether we should be destroying that nice friendship we always had by daring to suggest we take our clothes off. 

The thing is, everyone pretends like women aren't out there trying to ask you out. We definitely, almost certainly are. The problem is we are just as shy as you and we bottle it just as much. It's a geek standoff. I have actually seen two geeks pine over each other for months before I gulped down two whiskies and in a moment of absolute celibate rage told one that the other thought they were 'pretty cool'. They got together in a glorious trainwreck of a relationship and I didn't see them for months because they were having so much horizontal fun. They could have had it weeks before if they'd just said something. Anything.

All the men I have dated have been nerdy in their own right. They may not all have been into games, but they certainly had one thing going for them: that they were usually pretty smart. [Not all of them though — some of them didn't call me the next day. — Ha!] Chicks dig Egon Spengler's large cranium. This is not a traditionally-lauded Hot Thing. Well. It is hot. If you are crazy smart and like interesting things such as games, there's a pretty large chance that some girl has the hots for you. You just have to leave the house and find her. That is literally the only thing you have to do. Talk and smile and be around people you like. Put that cranium on display, for Samus sake. And say something. Anything.

Of course it’s entirely possible for games to not be part of a healthy relationship – and that isn’t necessarily a reason to date someone — which is part of why Date A Gamer is misleading. It preys upon the idea that mutual obsessions are necessarily the basis of something real.

Maybe all these thoughts are unusual? Maybe my lady-geek point of view is nuts? I called up the only man who could tell me how it really is for the guys: the one and only Dr Nerdlove.

Dr Nerdlove was born on a podcast called League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen, in an episode based on Scott Pilgrim, where listeners could submit their dating problems and the podcasters could give their advice. At the time author and artist Harris O'Malley was the only single one and spent a lot of time in bars hooking up with ladies. On Valentine's Day there were too many questions for him to answer. He found his calling: dating advice for guy nerds. The website Dr Nerdlove was born.


Cara: You've got a bit of a reputation for being a stud, so you're definitely good poster boy for nerds [fluffles hair].

Dr Nerdlove: There is not a mistake that any nerd out there has made that I haven't made a thousand times before – my dating life up to a certain point was just absolutely pathetic. I've tried my hardest to be just the nicest of the Nice Guys – I call it the "platonic backdoor friendship gambit". And the one time it ever worked for me I really should have realised that something was wrong because I ended up in the worst, most toxic relationship I've ever had. But yeah, it was a lot of cases of really liking girls but having no idea how to get together with them and basing all my ideas on how romance worked and how i was supposed to get together with women mostly from pop culture – a long diet of romantic comedies and odd ideas picked up about chivalry and whatnot from fantasy novels and somehow I'm supposed to make this work in the real world. What ultimately happened was I had my 'Batman moment'. I'd been coming off a couple of really bad breakups, one that really messed with my head, and I went to my brother's wedding. One of my oldest and dearest friends – he's a natural with women – he attracts women the way that mice are attracted to cheese.  …He looks like the lovechild of Rob Lowe and Hugh Grant.

Cara: Hot.

Dr Nerdlove: Yeah, I love him dearly and it was getting to the point I was going to throw acid in his face. But he and I ended up going head to head over the same girl, who was a guest at the wedding – and I lost badly. It was kind of humiliating. I ended up back in my room, crying, planning to use my tears as lube for jerking off. And it was really kind of what I call my 'Batman moment'. Like 'this will never happen again.' I started…looking around and studying… looking at people who are good with women, and trying to backwards engineer it… why does this work? What is it about this that gets people's attention? And a lot of things like… it's not that women like assholes, it's women like these traits that are associated with assholes: it's like here's what confidence looks like, and other little tricks like your body influencing your mind – like if you smile, your body will eventually make yourself feel happy, if you adopt confident body language you will eventually start feeling confident. Just a lot of studying like that. Going out and making a lot of mistakes.