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tug-of-war

Kratos in my bedroom!

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The other woman in Kshitija Parekh's life is actually a angry bald bloke. He's tall, muscular, sports a goatee that could do with a rubberband and looks like a wrestler who did not make it. He wears a red loincloth, hates his father and his eyes perpetually drip with the kind of venom that would do a Gulshan Grover proud. So when this guy - Kratos for all you non-gaming ignoramuses - entered her living room, bare chested and breathing heavily, the media professional dismissed him as part of her husband's eccentric friend's circle. Later though when their nocturnal meetings grew so much so that the husband even started aiding the bald man in his murder attempts and sexual conquests, she began to look more and more like Kratos herself - angry, heaving and aching for revenge. After all, a mere pixelated character from the Playstation game God of War had managed to invade her precious lone time with her husband.

Most women initially find their partners' boyish obsession with the joystick endearing but once they realise the seductive power gaming wields over their spouse, tolerance goes out of the bedroom window. After all, how can the real world with all its dreary responsibilities compete with a virtual world full of speeding cars, melon-breasted women, orgasmic weapons, hidden identities and other sources of heavy breathing.

Not only do the wives have to make peace with attending weddings alone and missing their favourite TV serials but also learn not to flinch at the periodic abuses hurled at the computer screen and nod vacantly as the husband goes on about things like non-existent weaponry and cheat codes.

"My questions are always answered five minutes later, " says 24-year-old Dhwani Parmar, an interior designer from Mumbai, whose husband Jeetu spends at least three hours on weekends playing Counterstrike and Call Of Duty either at home or at the nearby gameplex. A typical conversation in the Parmar household goes thus: "How was your day?" A pause follows and, after successfully gunning down a batch of virtual terrorists, Jeetu registers his wife's presence. "Sorry, what was it you were saying?"
Research has borne out the effects of too much gaming on a marriage. A study published in the Journal of Leisure Research recently found that 75 per cent of gamers' spouses wished they would put more effort into their marriage, and when one person spent a lot more time gaming than the other, it usually led to dissatisfaction and arguing.

Yashika Punjabee, wife of senior game developer Angelo Lobo, often wished she "were a character in his game", given the amount of attention lavished on them, especially on precious weekends. Lobo - who has been accused of being functionally deaf, having an affair with his XBox 360 and being married to his tablets and smart phones (" of which he has three, " Punjabee politely points out) - has often heard his wife mockingly plead: "Where is the love, Lobo, where is the love?"

Her inability to cure his gaming and smartphone addiction has led to many a tiff. "It becomes really bad when I give up my phone to her, only to pick up her iPhone and start playing a different game, " says Lobo. Once in fact, Lobo recalls, when she asked him to come to bed, he told her he would join her in "literally, five minutes". This was around 11 pm on a Saturday. "The next thing I knew, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was 8 am on Sunday and my wife had the most amazed look on her face, " recalls the game developer, who had to make it up to his wife by taking her out for dinner.

When she isn't home, however, he has spent many guilt-free, sleepless Saturday nights with his favourite RPGs (role-playing games) such as Deus Ex, where the user is constantly asked to make choices such as "Do you get the robotic leg upgrade that lets you move silently past enemies?" or "Do you choose the upgrade that lets you run at super speed?" These would determine the reactions of the people the player would meet later in the game.

Since gamers get too attached to the character, efforts to get their wives interested in gaming may not always end well. While Punjabee likes simple Android games such as The Office Jerk, which expect her to throw staplers and pies at colleagues (" No, I don't imagine my husband as the target" ), she can't understand these role-playing games. "They are too fantastical for me and I don't have the patience, " says the freelance graphic designer who tried to team up with her husband for a shot at the XBOX 360 game Gears of War. Her basic inability to master moves that their five-year-old neighbour could pull off with ease brought out the worst in Lobo. As his character drowned slowly in a pool of his own blood while his wife was busy murdering the floor, he screamed with reproach and anguish: "Why won't you shoot him? Why won't you? I am dying now and it's all your fault. "

In the perpetual trance of such testosterone-inducing games, these men end up in a slow, unintentional yet happy alienation from the outside world. Ankit Nimla, a 24-year-old who is a regular at a gameplex in Matunga, once cancelled a date with his girlfriend as he had to play a round of the LAN game Call of Duty. Of course, she didn't speak to him for a week after being stood up. But that doesn't mean the game is over. "Playing helps me relieve my frustration after a hard day's work, and I can't take it if the gameplex is closed even for a day, " says the marketing professional who believes that a true gaming addict can avoid even the call of nature.

Another symptom, and a slightly more severe one at that, is answering questions without looking up. Last weekend, Dinesh Gopalakrishnan failed to look away from his Ipad, when his wife emerged from the trial room at a shopping mall and waited for his opinion on her new buy. "It's nice, " he said, while continuing to play Draw Something, the app that requires you to send picture clues of the word supplied to your friends who will then guess the word. He was, of course, reprimanded adequately for it.

Usually, the tug-of-war between games and wives ends in a safe compromise, which means men have to abide by time limits set for gaming by wives among other punishments. Gopalakrishnan is not allowed to sit in front of the laptop after returning home from work or "I will be divorced immediately, " he says. Naturally, for this delivery head of a casual gaming company, all those Friday nights spent playing Counter Strike and Tekken on the workfloor with colleagues who openly swore at each other, are now memories of a distant bachelorhood. Today, he plays board games with his wife and daughter on Sundays. "I juggle between carrom and Scrabble, " says Gopalakrishnan who has no patience for the word game. But it probably makes him feel less guilty as he clandestinely dismisses pending Draw Something requests on his Ipad every night.

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