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Video games are cheaper than couples therapy

When your relationship is on the rocks, just remember: Nothing brings a couple together like an evening spent gunning down post-apocalyptic psychos and bloodthirsty alien beasts.
Image: Borderlands
When your relationship is on the rocks, just remember: Nothing brings a couple together like an evening spent gunning down post-apocalyptic psychopaths and bloodthirsty alien beasts. 2K Games

“Wait … you’re not going to make me play this game split-screen are you?” my husband groaned. “I hate playing split-screen.”

This was not the reaction I had been hoping for.

To explain: I had just told Richie — the so-called love of my life — that a copy of “Borderlands” was going to arrive in the mail the very next day. And since “Borderlands” is a game that he had been looking forward to playing with an enthusiasm bordering on obsession, and since I — his extremely thoughtful game-journalist-of-a-wife — had just made sure that “Borderlands” was going to be spinning in our Xbox 360 on the very day of launch, the reaction I had expected was one that included a lot of “thank-yous” and “you’re-the-best-wife-evers” and “here-let-me-rub-your-feet-while-I-take-out-the-recycling-and-cook-dinner-for-you-all-at-the-same-times.”

Complaining. That was definitely not what I had expected.

Let me back up and say, in the months leading up to the “Borderlands” launch, the game had been a frequent topic of conversation around our hacienda.

“It’s a first-person shooter AND a role-playing game,” my husband would coo.

“It has this massive open world to explore,” he’d point out.

And this he would say with drool practically oozing from the side of his mouth: “It’s got 87 bazillion guns — that’s what the advertisement says — '87 bazillion guns.' It’s going to be awesome.”

But he wasn’t the only one in the house looking forward to “Borderlands.” I’d been paying attention (you know, because I get paid to do so) and had noticed that the game was set in some sort of post-apocalyptic world. And ever since I saw the “The Road Warrior” as a kid, I’ve had this thing for the post-apocalypse.

Image: Borderlands

If there’s a movie or a game or a book about life after the world goes off its rocker, I’m all over it. There’s just something about that rough-and-tumble future that sounds so ... appealing. After all, you don’t have to go to work or to school or to the DMV because The Man is no longer around to keep you down. Plus, you get to wear lots of leather, and you never have to wash your hair.

And unlike the boring life you led pre apocalypse, life après apocalypse is one thrilling adventure after another. Yes, fiction makes the apocalypse look like fun, fun, fun! (Well, except for “The Road,” a Cormac McCarthy novel-turned-movie that doesn’t make the apocalypse look like any fun whatsoever.)

The other thing that I was looking forward to about “Borderlands” is that it’s a game that’s best played with other people. It features four distinct characters (Lilith, Mordecai, Roland and Brick), and you can easily jump in as one of the four and gun your way through the story with your friends ... or, say, with your spouse, who, ideally, is also your friend.

On marriage and extracting toenails
But here I should explain: The husband and I haven't been getting along so great lately. It's no big thing, just the typical stuff of marriage. We’ve been hitched for seven years now and life is a lot more hectic than it was during the freewheelin’ heyday of our early relationship. That is, our jobs keep us busier than ever, and more important, we have an adorable little rugrat to tend to.

If you don’t have an ankle-biter of your own, allow me to explain: They take up a lot of your free time — time you used to spend with your spouse and with your friends and on things like drinking tequila, playing video games and washing your hair (sometimes in that order).

These days, an evening at our house is a tequila-free blur of getting dinner ready and getting a 2-year-old fed, bathed and wrestled into bed. And since both Richie and I often have work to catch up on in the evenings, if we high-five each other in the hallway as we pass, we figure that counts as quality time.

The really unfortunate thing is, though we both love playing video games, we rarely play together. Not only is it a problem of hectic lives and conflicting schedules, we also have different tastes in games. That is, if a game doesn’t involve lots of guns and doesn’t play from the first-person perspective, my husband doesn’t want to play it. Seriously. End of story.

Image: Borderlands

Meanwhile, although I like a good first-person shooter now and again, it’s not my first choice. Give me a third-person action or role-playing game or maybe a really clever platformer, an innovative indie game or even a seek-and-find casual game and I’m more intrigued.

What this means is, when I recently asked Richie to spend an evening playing “Wii Sports Resort” with me, based on his reaction you’d have thought I’d just asked him to pluck out his own toenails and then gouge his eyes out with them.

Needless to say, our marriage hasn’t exactly been operating at peak performance for one basic reason: We don’t spend enough time with each other. And so, of course, I thought “Borderlands” offered a solution. The husband likes first-person shooters. I like the apocalypse. “Borderlands” was something we could do together for a change. Plus, as everyone knows, there’s nothing like gunning down post-apocalyptic psychopaths and bloodthirsty alien creatures to bring a couple together.

But when I surprised Richie with the news that “Borderlands” was going to be delivered in a matter of hours and then told him that I was looking forward to playing it with him, the look on his face went from kid-on-Christmas-morning excitement to you-just-backed-your-SUV-over-my-kitten disappointment.

After all, playing “Borderlands” with me meant he’d have to share the TV screen with me. And anyone who’s ever played a game on a split-screen (especially a first-person shooter) knows that it is a less-than-ideal experience. Your screen space is cramped. You’re constantly distracted by what your pal is doing right next to you. It can get so visually hectic that if you haven’t fallen into a seizure by the end of the game, then you’re probably blind ... or on a lot of muscle relaxants.

So, I understood his reluctance. I really did. But good god, man! The wife you never get to see wants to spend the evening shootin’ things dead with you. Split-screen or no split-screen, show a little enthusiasm.

At this point it was clear: Divorce was the only option.

Marriage counselor, smarriage counselor
But then, like the reasonable couple we are, we talked our way through it. Or rather, for the good of our marriage, we talked ourselves into forking out the cash to buy a second copy of “Borderlands” ... and a second Xbox 360 ... so we could play the game together, but on different screens.

For the good of our marriage, people.

The way we figured it, the total layout would be $260 — $200 for an Xbox Arcade and $60 for the game — all of which is about the price of two hours with a marriage counselor. But instead of two measly hours spent hashing out seven years worth of frustrations, resentments and petty annoyances, we could spend some 40-plus hours playing “Borderlands” with each other … and maybe play some other games together as well.

And so, at long last, we had two Xboxes in our possession and two copies of “Borderlands.” We got the systems linked together and we got the kid fed, bathed and into bed. And there we were, finally, playing a video game ... together.

And you know what? It’s been good. Really really good.

Image: Borderlands

I’m playing as Lilith the Siren and he’s playing as Mordecai the Hunter. And yes, we have distinctly different ways of playing this game: I’m pokey as hell, just as happy taking my time, looking around at what the fantasy world in front of me has to offer and uncovering as much hidden loot as I can find (there’s lots and lots of loot in this game) while he runs around gunning down anything that twitches with hardly a glance a sideways.

But it works. I point out cash, weapon and ammo stashes I discover while searching the terrain, and we share what we find, making sure we each have everything we need — something we wouldn’t be so quick to do if we weren’t playing with someone we were married to. And when a winged iguana, armored spider or a hyena with rows of teeth growing out of the top of its head is about to leap on me from behind, Richie guns it down just in the nick of time.

And let’s say we should have a minor disagreement while we’re playing — say if someone (we won’t name names) happens to be annoying someone else because someone might happen to be driving the tank we’re riding in like a drunken grandma on Sunday morning. Well then, we can pop right into duel mode and settle our marital discord with a good-old-fashioned spouse-on-spouse shootout.

But that hasn’t happened much. Mostly, rather than bickering about who gets to empty the dirty diaper bin, we now spend our evenings discussing how to take down homicidal humanoids with names like Nine Toes and Bonehead and Sledge. Rather than debate who it was who was supposed to have returned the “Winnie the Pooh” movie that's now two weeks overdue, we chat about whether a submachine gun, a sniper rifle or maybe a rocket launcher is the best weapon for completing the mission we’ve just accepted from some nefarious-looking character.

And when we’re all done running and gunning for one night, we make a date for the following evening to do it all again.

Sigh. Ain’t marriage grand?

For more unsolicited marriage advice from Winda Benedetti, check out her tweets here on Twitter.