Guild Chat: Dealing with the ‘it’s me or the MMO guild!’ ultimatum
Welcome along to another edition of Guild Chat, the column through which the Massively Overpowered readership can band together to help a gamer-in-need with his or her guild-related dilemma. This time, an anonymous reader dubbed ‘R’ has written in with a matter of the heart that threatens his or her MMO enjoyment: While R is very much enjoying the MMO and guild he or she is part of, the demands of the guild are fairly steep and R’s girlfriend is feeling second-best. R is in a predicament where the guild leader doesn’t want to give R any sort of preferential treatment and expects him or her to show up just like everyone else does, but R’s girlfriend is getting more and more upset with how much time the guild demands of her partner. The situation between the couple has become so heated that the girlfriend has given R an ultimatum and wants to see her partner quit the game entirely.
There are more details to R’s tale, so check out the full submission below and my thoughts on the matter before you weigh in with your advice in the comments.
I am really lost because my girlfriend has given me an ultimatum and I don’t think it’s fair. She wants me to quit the MMO I play because she says I’m in way too deep and it’s affecting our relationship, even though I spend time with just her as often as possible and don’t go out much at all or take up other hobbies that take me away from her. I love my MMO and especially my guild because they gave me a chance to develop and are my best day-to-day friends. I talk to them on Discord for a couple hours a day and am very close to my guild leader S and all the regulars. We are even planning on meeting up some time, maybe for the holidays.
I only play for about 4 hours a day, which I don’t think is too much when I work only 20 hours a week and spend the rest of the time at home or with my girlfriend’s friends or doing what she wants to do. I don’t make her play too, and I don’t hog the TV or anything, so I don’t see the problem with having a little time for a hobby that’s just mine with just my own friends. I think she is jealous because I talk to S quite a bit but I’ve never met her, don’t know what she looks like, and she’s married. We have no romantic connection, and I love my girlfriend, but I don’t know if she respects that.
S has said that it wouldn’t be fair to let me do less guild events than everyone else, so I really have to play as much as I do if I want time to do my own thing as well as guild work, otherwise I will lose my spot. My girlfriend thinks S is trapping me and told me to quit before I lose her, but I don’t want to change anything right now. She says I have to, that her life goals mean we need to work on us more so we can build a better home and start a family. Do I really have to quit, though?
I really feel for you, R, and I hope that between my advice and the wealth of experience that you find in the comments section, we can set you on the right path. This is an exceptionally difficult case to weigh in on because the specific relationship dynamics that are happening aren’t something we will fully understand without knowing both of you or understanding the context of your girlfriend’s unhappiness. I’ll be honest and admit that, from your submission, I simply cannot pick apart whether the issue comes from jealousy, a genuine lack of attention being shown to your girlfriend, or perhaps even some external context that I don’t know about that is causing her so much insecurity. I can’t decide if the ultimatum is a controlling power play or is an act of desperation, but either way, it isn’t the most logical way to handle this situation in the first instance, and I want to help you work this out in a more healthy way.
I have to tell you, R, that I am a little bit worried about you because of some of the points you mentioned in your submission. You say that your guildmates are your only circle of friends, and that combines rather negatively in my mind with the ultimatum to form a picture of a person who is perhaps being isolated from loved ones by your girlfriend because of some deep insecurity. This may not be your girlfriend’s intention at all, and please forgive me if I’m far off base and you simply happen to be a private person, but this is an avenue I want you to consider carefully before you dismiss it.
The type of controlling behaviours that isolate partners might give your girlfriend temporary relief from the insecurity she’s feeling, but the root of the problem isn’t being dealt with this way, and all that’s happening is that her security is being traded for your freedom. I am a firm believer that everyone should have a sphere of influence that lies beyond his or her partner: In my relationship, for example, I study, read, cheerlead for my university, and paint my nails, while my husband enjoys playing shooting games, cooking, anything to do with art, and trying new beers and ales with his friends. While we enjoy a great many shared hobbies, including MMOs, we also accept that we each need something that isn’t shared because we are two independent people.
I find myself agreeing with you that some jealousy could be at the core of the problem, but I don’t know your girlfriend and wouldn’t begin to assume to know the causes. This is where you need to examine the issue for yourself and compare it to the information you know about her past and present. Perhaps she has been cheated on in the past, or maybe she has attachment or abandonment issues that are influencing her behaviour. A candid conversation about how boxed in this ultimatum is making you feel, without being accusatory, could open the floodgates for her to share her thoughts on why it is so necessary.
Reach a consensual agreement and stick to it
I’m also going to put it out there that perhaps you chronically underestimate just how long you spend gaming, or maybe some of your behaviours give her some cause for concern. We’re all human and sometimes we can undervalue just how our actions can come across to other people, which can be rather hurtful. Maybe your conversations with S sound flirtatious without context, or perhaps you fob off a bit of housework to stay online for a while longer. Bear these small bad habits in mind while you piece together why your girlfriend feels the need for such a drastic ultimatum.
Have an offline day where you spend as long as it takes discussing the specifics with her: Making her justify her reasoning while avoiding any dismissive behaviour will help you better understand her perspective so you can formulate a more specific action plan that has more chance of success. If she tells you she feels ignored when she engages you in conversation while you’re playing, for example, you could suggest going headset-free and playing sound through speakers instead so you don’t get lost in that bubble.
If you have been underestimating the time spent online, perhaps set a schedule that makes you both comfortable and stick to it in order to achieve a good balance again. Your guild leader S will have to accept that you need to focus on your immediate relationships and you’ll need to insist on some flexibility, even if it means temporarily hanging up your spot. No good leader should control you to the point where your relationship has to suffer, so don’t feel guilty about making small changes to your schedule.
It could be the case that your girlfriend is feeling isolated because she is lacking in the hobby or friends department too, so she’s heavily relying on you for the large bulk of her emotional and social needs. Ensure that your agreement facilitates some positive time for your girlfriend as well: Perhaps you could assign some of your household budget to a hobby she always wanted to try, or contact her friends and arrange a nice get-together for them. If she is also free to express herself outside of your relationship, she will no doubt feel more at ease about your doing the same.
I’ve already mentioned perhaps ditching the headset in favour of speakers, and I want to further suggest that you use this as an opportunity for your girlfriend to start getting to know your friends. I’m not saying she has to join your voice chat or start playing with you, but the odd interjection through your microphone or both of you laughing together over the guild’s antics could be good for both of you. If she gets to know who you’re talking to and hears even a snapshot of your general chit-chat, she’ll soon realise she has nothing to worry about. My husband started playing World of Warcraft because of the funny conversations and general silliness he accidentally got involved in through my guildmates shouting to him when they could hear him in the background, so connections can be made in this way.
I think it’s particularly important to introduce S to your girlfriend. It’ll be helpful from two perspectives: Firstly, it’ll allow your girlfriend to realise that your guild leader is not a romantic threat, and secondly, it means that S can’t ignore the fact that you have another focus in your life outside of the game. Your girlfriend may not be open to this if her issues do stem from your connection to S, but talking up your girlfriend to S in an introduction should warm her to the idea. Perhaps she just needs to hear you mention to S that you’re going offline to spend time with her to realise that you do prioritise your relationship and aren’t afraid to make that known.
The last thing you can do to maximise make your girlfriend feel more comfortable with your gaming is make the most of the time you spend together as a unit. Don’t feel tempted to log out of the game but sit on voice chat with your friends, for example, and pencil in together time that doesn’t revolve around the home and balancing domestic responsibilities. It can be very difficult to contextualise the difference between chatting with online friends and chatting with loved ones you live with: It could present a harsh comparison in your girlfriend’s head if you gripe about work stress and talk about bills with her and roar with laughter with your guild, so do remember that she is an equally engaging character as well as a key part your support network. She may not see this as you finding her easier to talk to about the difficult stuff and might misunderstand your behaviour as having far more fun with anyone but her.
Every couple has signature activities that they enjoy to do together, so take a minute to think of yours and use it to reignite the fun factor if it has been lacking. It could be as simple as visiting the park or as elaborate as a vacation; the activity itself doesn’t matter as much as doing it together without interference. You can also do very small things to assure her that you’re thinking about her even when you’re not together: Make her favourite meal or drink in gaming breaks, or bring her flowers home from work, “just-because.” Little acts of kindness keep the love going, after all, and if you combine a renewed focus on your girlfriend with more efficient, compacted gaming time, I’m sure you won’t have to quit the game you love for the woman you love.
Over to you!
I just wanted to leave a final warning for R: If your girlfriend’s behaviour escalates at all or the ultimatum is not removed from the table after a candid, adult conversation about the matter, it could be best to get professional advice. Controlling behaviour patterns can indicate or forewarn that a relationship is abusive, and I don’t want you to downplay that because it’s easier to quit the MMO than deal with the behaviour itself.
What do you think? Would you tackle the issue in a similar manner, or is an ultimatum being thrown at you a dealbreaker? Have you ever noticed that your gaming has been a problem in a relationship, and if so how did you correct it? Let R know your thoughts in the comments below.