Coupling: Mo & Brand
How many times have you watched a movie or/and television show to see that one person in the relationship is viewed as either ‘nerdy’ or ‘geeky’ and the other ‘normal’? Oh, that lonely geek wishing for love and understanding from the so-called normal person.
In these interviews we are more on the side of celebrating the couples who share the beloved hobby of tabletop role-play. Some got the other into the hobby, others met through it, some still play, others don’t, some role-play together and some rarely do so but share a mutual love of games.
Why touch on this? Because sharing something you love with someone you love is how we can share time with one another. It’s a conversation piece, a way of bonding and possibly further understanding one another.
Seth and I often role-play together. There are a lot of ways in which both are different, but this is a hobby that we both share and love for the same or different reasons. I tend to be curious about how other couples view the hobby.
In this series we interviewed different couples and how they manage to separate their love for each other and the love for the game.
Because love is never having to say you’re sorry or explaining to your beloved in front of the party how to be a better GM.
FIRST, OUR INTERVIEWEES:
We both are university educated with arts and cultural studies backgrounds and have both worked as creative professionals writers, designing and publishers. We have no kids or pets and like to travel a lot.
How long have you been playing games individually?
Both 30+ years, me less consistently than Brand. We both played D&D as kids. He never stopped, I lost my group at about 10 or 12 and didn’t come back until my university years, when I did live theatre larps.
How long have you been playing games together?
Since before we were a couple! We met on an online game – a Changeling MUSH. His character flirted with my character, I turned him down hard, and we ended up having a three hour, great story scene full of debate intrigue and adventure. It changed the way we both approached the game, and from then on, we played with each other every chance we got. We were friends for about two years, went through some very hard individual personal times during which we grew closer by talking and listening and helping each other through them. Then I flew to Cali to meet him. We were long distance for almost 4 years, and then he moved to Canada. We got married two years later and just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last year.
What are your favorite systems?
Freeform, hacked-for-two player versions of Powered by the Apocalypse games (Monsterhearts, Urban Shadows, currently Worlds in Peril) and homebrew custom-built-for-our-needs systems we co-design. We have a fondness for many settings, and not always so much their systems: Unknown Armies, Seventh Sea, Exalted, Tribe 8 to name a few.
Do any of you GM/DM?
We both do, but Brand much, much more than me. He is the best GM I’ve ever known, and though I’m biased, I’m far from the only person to say that about him. For tabletop games I only really GM for him, but I do also facilitate larps and freeform scenarios where I can play more of a dramaturgy role than a classically GM role. Most of our custom-built or custom hacked systems these days are co-GM or GM-less.
How is the dynamic GM/DM vs player?
Super in-tune. When we play one on one (the vast majority of our play together), 90% of the time we have excellent chemistry and are always on the same page for optimizing the story and dev of the character, our games are very intense and story focused – we both studied English Lit and Cultural Studies in university and so we like to explore themes and put characters to the test. The rest of the time we stop and go and figure it out on the way. We have our own language when it comes to gaming because we have done so much of it for so long, and are both quite analytical. We talk about sessions, and then games after they are done. If anything didn’t go optimally, we figure out why and we talk about the why – and learn from it until next time.
How do you make it clear that you are not playing favorites when players know or find out you’re a couple?
I don’t think this has ever come up. We used to play a lot with others (most of our group had kids and stopped gaming or moved away which is why we moved to one-on-one gaming most of the time) and when we did I think it was – obvious that there was no favouritism? If anything, Brand would focus less on me than on others during play and I was good with that. We didn’t have a lot of secrets and lies or whammies in our games that could breed discontent.
We tended to do less group play than cycle play – as in the group’s characters only spent about 20-30% of their time with each other and the rest following threads that would wind back into the story - and so everybody got clear time in the spotlight. In general it’s important to note that, we’re both extremely invested in articulated social contracts.
We don’t really play with anyone (that’s not at a con or a one shot or something) where we don’t have conversations about how we will work with each other, what we all need, etc. This is about who we are as people, not just about playing as a couple though – as it it’s likely one of the reasons that we became a couple, not something that came out of us playing as a couple, if you see what I mean.
What are your feelings when someone expresses romantic interest in your significant other’s character in game? If this is okay- how do you let your players know this?
Romance (and sex) is an important feature in most of our games. However, most of the time in groups, Brand was the GM, and as such carried any and all NPC love interest roles. That’s a different dynamic than PC to PC which only really happens much in a larp or freeform scenario. Neither of us have ever gotten jealous or strange when it has happened. There was only once in the very early days of our relationship when we were new and still long distance and he had a romance in character with a player who I knew had feelings for him out of character who had also demonstrated some troubling signs about not being emotionally stable about me being with him. When that happened, we talked about it, he gracefully exited the in game romance and everything was OK.
We both have very strong IC and RL differentiation, and our trust in each other is high. I think everyone who knows us knows that our relationship to each other is the most important thing in our lives, and we will prioritize the health of it over anything – including any game. When we have played in unusual situation (e.g. I went solo to a full bleedy Nordic weekend larp that could have included romance and/or sex by way of Ars Armandi) we had conversations about situations that might come up, and discussed what would be comfortable with before going so both are clear where the trust is – that also includes an always commitment to unpack the experience afterwards with 100% honesty.
Also, I just think we have very well developed senses of negative capability. Of course when you play deep emotional games, and you play them hard you might develop feelings in character for someone, but that doesn’t mean that once the game is done that those feelings linger or mean anything against your relationship. And if anything felt dishonest or bleeds or was concerning, you talk about it right away and adjust as needed. This is not exclusive to game, it’s an extension of how we are together
What games do you enjoy playing together the most?
Long, epic, deeply character focused stories of the nuances and difficulties of relationships between people. Our games have lots of character development, and lots of subtle detail. Their plots cover a lot of ground and explore very strong themes. And some of them are just fun, or sexy, and some of them are all of the above.
How often do you discuss games with each other?
Daily. We talk about games we’d like to play, we design together, we talk about games we’ve played, and we have a quirky ARG game that we’re always playing in little micro-episodes every day.
Are you able to separate personal feelings when gaming?
Oh yeah. Nothing that happens as a course of the fiction is real life. There might be crossover, but it’s always the happy parts that cross over. If one of his characters makes me swoon, I might find him sexier in that moment. But if one of his characters is a duplicitous backstabbing bastard? I just love him more, because man he’s good to play with!
What do you feel like you’ve learned the most about your significant other by role-playing together?
That he’s both more of a perfectionist, and more yearning for beauty than the world would necessarily guess.
What games do you recommend couples playing if they wanted to start gaming together?
Oh that’s hard! Micro freeform games that are built for 2 players. Things that let you learn each other without giant investment or hacking the game. This is a big questions though, because people’s sockets and system relationships are too varied for there to be a one true way of playing together. I think I’d say: don’t play first, talk first.
Do you have any advice for couples who want to game together?
The same for relationship strengthening in general: Talk, talk talk! Talk about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. Talk about what went right and what went wrong and how you could do it better. If you’re going to play with other people, set expectations about what’s comfortable and what’s not. If anything felt hard, or bad or wrong, talk about it. Don’t get afraid to be vulnerable with each other. And do as much listening as you do talking.
What has been your most memorable role-play moment so far?
Oh, I just... can’t. I couldn’t even give you a top ten! There are ones memorable because of the fiction, because of what being in the character did for me. There are ones memorable for their difficulty and cathartic pain. There are ones memorable because I learned something about other people, moments that were transformative and I learned something about the world itself. Memorable funny, memorable silly, memorable sexy, memorable heart pitter pattery, memorable heartrending and sad. I would have to spend days writing them out.