The Drifter is a psychogeographer of videogames. The FDA recently declared his column unfit for human consumption, but he’s like yeah whatever, didn’t want any stupid humans consuming it anyway.

From the hideous Los Angeles tower block they call home, my editors at Existential Gamer frequently berate me for the narcissistic, melancholic, and spiteful tone of my fortnightly column. It lacks, I am told, sufficient focus on the subject of quote unquote ‘videogames’; worse, it offers little if anything about so-called quote unquote ‘real life’, that dismal arbiter of what is and is not of interest to their fan base. Why can’t I be more optimistic and positive about the industry and its figureheads? Why can’t I explore the space where philosophy and videogames meet the day-to-day wonder of being alive, as I once promised to? Why can’t I, in short, be more like Alfie Bown and Justin Mahboubian-Jones?

Know this, loyal reader: I’m sending over some local delinquents to demonstrate to the editors just what I think of their suggested alterations to my authorial voice. Unfortunately my meager expense account doesn’t stretch to even one self-respecting LA gangbanger, let alone the dozen or so I need to raid their condo and string them up like meat in a butcher’s shop window. Do check out my ongoing Kickstarter campaign for fucking them up: there are some really fantastic rewards for generous pledges, and the stretch goals include a beat down of the creators of Kentucky Route Zero, intended to encourage them to please finish Acts 4 and 5 of their delightful magical realist adventure before I am so old I can no longer sit in front of a computer for more than twenty minutes without needing to get up and pee.

Until I hit my funding targets, though, and in lieu of another mechanism for causing actual bodily harm from the wrong side of the Atlantic, I’ve little choice but to acquiesce to my editors’ demands. So this week’s column is all about quote unquote ‘videogames’. It’s all about quote unquote ‘the wonder of being alive’. My girlfriend – whom I shall hereafter refer to as L’Étranger, not because she once killed an Arab on a beach, but because she thinks WASD are just like any other letters of the alphabet and therefore barely deserves a place in my life, let alone on my blog – kindly suggested we examine the subject of romance through the lens of videogames. Together. So here it is: a Gamer’s Field Guide to Love. For men only, because I am one, and empathy has never been my strongest suit. What do games tell us about maintaining successful and rewarding romantic relationships, and vice versa? I hope these ideas are as helpful in your journey through human sexuality as they have been in mine. Don’t forget to share on your social media feeds to give me the small gratification of knowing someone out there loves me, or at least Likes me. If I don’t see the numbers on that little Facebook ticker on the bottom of the page climb steadily on the day after publication I start to bite the skin from my fingertips; before I know it I’m chewing on my own girlishly long ‘80s metal hair and having my stomach pumped because yet again I’ve forgotten that I’m not a cat that can just vomit this stuff up like it’s no big deal. So share this around, um-kay? Your Friends are going to love it, I promise.

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A Gamer’s Field Guide to Love

Level One: Dating

As a beta male seeking out nookie in the smartphone era, your chances of encountering a suitable partner In The Real – at, say, a high energy particle physics lab, or the local discothèque – are about as likely as lead spontaneously combusting and turning into gold: absolutely zero. Frankly, you’re not exactly Doctor Manhattan and even if you were, idle tomfoolery would be the least of your problems, compared to rebuilding your own intrinsic field, and not getting arrested for walking around NYC naked.

So online dating it is. Grindr, Tindr, Cuddlr, Nibblr: it all amounts to the same thing. If you, a videogamer, want to make sense of this, remember those grand old Infinity Engine character creation screens of yore. You can choose how to present yourself to the world. Want to be ripped and wear blue woad and lack even the most basic conversational ability because you put all your points into Dexterity? With online dating, you can do that. Say you’re two inches taller and a feminist if you think that’s what the ladies are into. I’m a vegetarian now, except I still consume animal products when L’Étranger isn’t looking, or when I’m angry with her and want to tighten the screws. Once at a restaurant she tried to steal my chips (that’s ‘fries’ to you, Americans), so I covered them in gravy. Pro tip: when dating a vegetarian, cover in gravy sauce anything and everything you own that she’s not allowed to touch, with the exception of electronics.

If you do manage to get a date, don’t forget to bring a wingman or wing-woman. It’s madness to venture out into the Darcwood without a couple of party members who’ve got your back. But remember: once the date starts, you can’t pause to issue orders without taking the entire group out to the bathroom. You can only pull that move once, twice at most without looking weird. So make sure these guys know how to navigate complex social etiquette all on their own. If possible, choose complementary character classes: as my grandmother wisely told me, “Three Python brogrammers do not a happy ending make.”

L’Étranger writes:

Just to qualify this, on our first date he was definitely fatter in person. He explained that his profile picture was a generic illustration chosen from a selection of around a dozen, and not representative of his actual in-game appearance. I know, I know: that should have set alarm bells ringing. But they only really began when we were talking about our political beliefs and he said he presented as ‘lawful evil’. Just a hint, guys: don’t give away your moral alignment in the first ten minutes; that’s even worse than meeting a Cambridge graduate who just can’t keep from blabbing about their alma mater in case they get a mouth ulcer. In fact: just don’t present a moral alignment ever. Let us figure it out on our own. Be mysterious. Chicks dig that shit, trust me.

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Level Two: Sex

Sex is best handled like a multiplayer party game. You’ve got your controller – your man bits. She’s got hers – her lady bits. Now we’re going to go head-to-head for a few rounds and see who wins. If you’ve played the jelly baby wrestling sim, Gang Beasts, you’ll already be a master of the fine art of foreplay. Pick her up in your feeble arms and throw her out the arena – in this case, your bed. She’s going to try and crawl back in and do the same to you. Are you going to let that happen? Well are you, punk?! Find some flamboyant costumes for the occasion: personally I like to dress as a rooster, with my love interest as Colonel Sanders.

As for the actual intercourse: I find that Rocket League is a good tutor, because my god, who knew physics was so complicated? Sure, football (‘soccer’ to you, Americans) plus rocket-powered toy cars is super-fun, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that you’re so, so bad at this compared to everyone else. Even after, agonisingly, you finally get the ball in the goal.

L’Étranger writes:

I don’t like cars or football, and although I enjoy jelly babies, I’m not interested in violence. A better metaphor for the early stages of any sexual relationship is Tetris: it’s all about fitting pieces together awkwardly, it’s highly addictive, and it’s not so much about winning as avoiding losing for as long as possible. A much better analogy for making love, if you’re a man at least.

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Level Three: Meeting Her Parents

So: it’s your first time visiting the god-forsaken former manufacturing community from which your beloved spawned. The locals have hamburger puree piped straight to their stomachs and suck in tobacco through the little valves the surgeons cut in their trachea. Most days a helicopter can be seen puttering over the town on its way to air lifting another resident from their living room because they’re too far gone to fit through their own front door. By comparison your beloved is Naomi Campbell, minus the ‘tude. Is it any wonder she abandoned ship to live in the big city with her internationally acclaimed videogames blogger boyfriend? All you need to do now is convince mum and dad that you’re a worthy match for their little girl. But you don’t want to accidentally question their values or insult their absurd, outmoded religious beliefs. The wise gamer takes a lesson from Gordon Freeman’s book: he knows you can be the centre of attention, even the savior of the whole universe, without saying anything at all. Just let the parentals speak at you until they’ve convinced themselves you’re the messiah and before you know it, they’ll have handed you a weapons stash and keys to that suit of power armour they just happen to have standing in the driveway. What are you waiting for? Take it for a spin. This sad little sandbox town is half demolished already.

L’Étranger writes:

I’m going to come straight out and say that this is not good advice. The night after he met my parents I accused him of making no effort at all. He suggested the alternative – a Mass Effect style conversation wheel – would have been even worse, because while he might have played the Paragon for the first couple of rounds of repartee, at some point he would have punched my father in the nose. And since he never remembers to avoid tucking his thumb underneath his fingers when he makes a fist, he’d have spent the rest of Christmas with the drunks in A&E (that’s ‘ER’ to you, Americans). So it goes.

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Level Four: Living Together

If you want to learn to live with someone you love, you could do worse than study Garrett, the gravel-throated star of the Thief franchise. He’ll teach you to tread softly – so very, very softly – around the apartment after she’s fallen asleep, extinguishing lights as you go, careful not to disturb so much as a dust mote. Daintily, delicately, gather up a little leather sack of her most valuable jewelry and hand it over to your fence, Heartless Perry. She never wore it anyway. Sure, some innocent cleaner from Eastern Europe is going to get it in the neck, but who cares? That SSD Drive isn’t going to pay for itself.

Don’t forget to spend quality time with your beloved. Instead of selfishly hogging the TV, play games that you can enjoy together. Story games like Life is Strange and 80 Days are even more rewarding than Netflix, because you have to talk to each other to make progress, and talking to each other is a key contributor to any successful romantic partnership. I was blubbering by the end of The Walking Dead Season Two. Not L’Étranger, though; her heart is as calloused as a guitarist’s fingers. Interestingly, that simile works in reverse too, because playing guitar is her job. That rules out jamming on Rock Band together: there’s no way in hell I’m putting myself in a situation where she is better than me at anything, even if that thing is as insignificant as bashing a plastic rhythm guitar to the pop classics of the early ‘90s. Are you even old enough to remember the early ‘90s? Back then it was still plausible that, no matter how fat I was, I could still one day become an astronaut. These days it only feels like I’m lost in space. Maybe that’s why I enjoy Kerbal Space Program so much: it’s a metaphor for my life to date. You do everything you’re told, and the rocket still implodes on lift-off.

Despite living with my girlfriend, I still get in a few hours of solid solo play on Kerbal – or whatever this week’s AAA blockbuster is – when she’s out at her Wednesday night life drawing class. I used to encourage this hobby, since it gives me time to relive my heady days as a bachelor, eating cheesy Wotsits and masturbating into a sock. There’s just one problem: it’s not really a life drawing class. It’s a strip club. Until very recently I didn’t even know that was a thing for women, but I found out from a trusted source that they hire some buff chump to shed his clothes in a different living room each week. Maybe one time, when you’re away on business, it’ll be yours. That little fact doesn’t have much to do with videogames, but word of warning: behaviour like this can become a source of tension in your relationship. You’ll fight about this and similar issues over and over, and – like in Dark Souls – every damn time you’ll be crushed and defeated. Some nights your girlfriend will be indistinguishable from a giant poisonous toad that wants you dead. Stick with it though: the epiphany will come and you’ll learn to shield yourself more effectively from the blows and you can finally master the art of living together peacefully. And by ‘shield yourself’, I mean ‘communicate better’. And by ‘communicate better’, I mean ‘manipulate’. Don’t let anyone persuade you this is a moral issue. Lothran is a dangerous place, and so is the minefield of modern day relationships. You’ll need every weapon you can get your hands on, and that includes Emotional Blackmail with critical damage bonus for backstabs and ripostes.

L’Étranger writes:

Firstly that stripper was one time for a Hen Party, it’s not a regular occurrence. And at least I’m not afraid of all physical contact with other humans, unlike Someone I Know.

Secondly, don’t steal your girlfriend’s jewelry: if I have to tell you this, it’s already too late. And as for the frog… In fact, you know what? Fuck this. I’m sick of the abuse, the filthy kitchen, and of being second place to those Japanese volleyball girls on the goddamn PlayStation, or whatever that black box is. Xbox. Fuck it. I don’t care.

Goodbye forever.

Hannah