It can happen in an instant. One minute, you’re holding hands in the park, feeding each other sushi at sidewalk cafés, and dressing up for nights on the town. The next, you’re sprawled in front of the TV in dingy sweats, boasting about who’s going to kick whose ass.
For as long as I can remember, my relationships have evolved—or perhaps I should say devolved—into the video-game arena. And I’m not alone. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 75 percent of all heads of households play video and computer games; 43 percent of these players are women.
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If you, too, are in the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” camp, take heart. There’s evidence that playing can improve your hand-eye coordination, and a 2003 University of Rochester study found that it boosts visual-attention skills, rendering you more aware of your environment. And consider the relationship boon: You can work cooperatively to save the world from deadly invasion, settle lingering grudges with a karate chop to the head, race each other to the finish line, and even kick it up a notch in the bedroom. All that fighting, speeding, and shooting can act like virtual Viagra.
“When we play fighting games, it’s more ‘who killed who,’ or ‘who beat who,’” explains Gary, a 26-year-old entrepreneur from Chicago. “But in coop mode, we try to work together, like giving hints about what to do and alerting each other if there’s a guy behind them. I like to think it brings my girlfriend and me closer together.”
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Laura, a 29-year-old technology director from New York City who plays with her boyfriend, agrees. “We tend to go for racing games. Of course, he always cheats by trying to run me off the road. But that’s why it’s so cool when I win. Sometimes we place wagers: The last time he lost, I made him wear a tie out to dinner. In the end, it’s more about being playful than being competitive.”
Which isn’t to say the gaming industry is becoming more female-friendly. One look at the scads of titles featuring busty, scantily clad babes confirms that’s not the case.