Reader, I Dated a Gamer: Discussions on Love, Sex, and Games

An in depth look at gamer relationships by Cara Ellison.

by on 7th Oct, 2012

Reader, I dated a gamer

Sex is a hybrid rhythm action and roleplaying game from the developers behind Fighting and Talking. You take control of one of two characters (though mods have enabled support for several more) and attempt to induce a paroxysm in your opponent through a mixture of theatre, gymnastics and button-mashing. (Most style guides suggest I mention the game in the first 50 words.)

I thought that sex was a game that everyone (over the age rating) could play. But since Date A Gamer has appeared on the scene, I've grown increasingly annoyed that this geek dating site (and many a male gamer) places an emphasis on a supposed power struggle between the sexes. There is no man geek: helpless, woman geek: powerful. There is only a constant state of people withholding or wanting sex from other people in an eternal dance totally incidental of gender. The reality is that we all want to do it with a certain person at a certain time, it just depends on whether that person returns those feelings of genital longing or whether they'd rather shag someone you regard as less interesting/hot/good at D&D on the bed you always thought you'd get to be on. (It is mostly the latter. Get used to it.)

But sometimes you roll a natural twenty. The first person I ever fell in love with, I was on the edge of seventeen. I was nerdier than anything, a lot thinner and less curvy than I am now, a lot less prone to hangovers but still with deliberately large nerd glasses. I had no writerly voice, I had no idea what oral sex was and I was fascinated by terrible Prima Strategy Guides: the first two probably stem from the last. There was something deeply romantic about the fact that both of our lives revolved around the sharp sounds of Counter Strike gunfire at 10am or the hum of the Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow menu screen idling lazily in the dark, ignored. We built a Frankenstein's monster of a PC together; our monstrous child outlasted our five year relationship by two years. I'm turning 27 on Friday and I still miss him (the guy not the computer), but he taught me that liking games is something that isn't a substitute for life. Games can be your touchstone, but like in multiplayer mode, everything is enhanced by hearing the voice of someone else by your side to strike out with, have other off-the-track adventures with. And often, that voice tells you when you need it that you are a fuckhead.

What's odd about the Date A Gamer site is that it suggests that women, and perhaps even non-geek men, think geek men to be a lesser species, unable to fend for themselves in social situations, or somehow encumbered with virginity. YOU HAVE LOOTED TOO FEW VAGINAS. YOU ARE ENCUMBERED. YOU MUST DROP SOME VIRGINITIES TO MOVE. (Virginity is totally irrelevant to anything, considering sex is a thing that is always new territory with every new partner anyway. I don't expect anyone to be good at sex the first time with a new partner — including myself: everyone knows how different people are from each other, and how much every person's sexual tastes differ. It's like being in a new test chamber of Portal each time. You've got a rough idea that some things go in and out of stuff - but you're not supposed to know what order or even what the hell that button does. Yeah. Chill the hell out. We're all constant newbs in the bedroom.) 

The thing is, everyone pretends like women aren't out there trying to ask you out. We definitely, almost certainly are.

I have never regarded male gamers as being an undateable species. And yet, in these new videos John Walker so rightly raged against  male gamers are portrayed as being helpless idiots who are titillated at the slightest sight of…well… tits. This stereotyping has got to stop, mainstream. You sit there and tell a young boy who likes video games he is doomed to be estranged from women, and he will never talk to women. Women aren't a mysterious thing. We are exactly the same as men but for some other silly biological parts. We have the same libido. We get just as lonely. We worry about social situations. We worry we aren't good looking enough or cool enough; we worry about when to kiss you or whether we should be destroying that nice friendship we always had by daring to suggest we take our clothes off. 

The thing is, everyone pretends like women aren't out there trying to ask you out. We definitely, almost certainly are. The problem is we are just as shy as you and we bottle it just as much. It's a geek standoff. I have actually seen two geeks pine over each other for months before I gulped down two whiskies and in a moment of absolute celibate rage told one that the other thought they were 'pretty cool'. They got together in a glorious trainwreck of a relationship and I didn't see them for months because they were having so much horizontal fun. They could have had it weeks before if they'd just said something. Anything.

All the men I have dated have been nerdy in their own right. They may not all have been into games, but they certainly had one thing going for them: that they were usually pretty smart. [Not all of them though — some of them didn't call me the next day. — Ha!] Chicks dig Egon Spengler's large cranium. This is not a traditionally-lauded Hot Thing. Well. It is hot. If you are crazy smart and like interesting things such as games, there's a pretty large chance that some girl has the hots for you. You just have to leave the house and find her. That is literally the only thing you have to do. Talk and smile and be around people you like. Put that cranium on display, for Samus sake. And say something. Anything.

Of course it’s entirely possible for games to not be part of a healthy relationship - and that isn’t necessarily a reason to date someone — which is part of why Date A Gamer is misleading. It preys upon the idea that mutual obsessions are necessarily the basis of something real.

Maybe all these thoughts are unusual? Maybe my lady-geek point of view is nuts? I called up the only man who could tell me how it really is for the guys: the one and only Dr Nerdlove.

Dr Nerdlove was born on a podcast called League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen, in an episode based on Scott Pilgrim, where listeners could submit their dating problems and the podcasters could give their advice. At the time author and artist Harris O'Malley was the only single one and spent a lot of time in bars hooking up with ladies. On Valentine's Day there were too many questions for him to answer. He found his calling: dating advice for guy nerds. The website Dr Nerdlove was born.


Cara: You've got a bit of a reputation for being a stud, so you're definitely good poster boy for nerds [fluffles hair].

Dr Nerdlove: There is not a mistake that any nerd out there has made that I haven't made a thousand times before - my dating life up to a certain point was just absolutely pathetic. I've tried my hardest to be just the nicest of the Nice Guys - I call it the "platonic backdoor friendship gambit". And the one time it ever worked for me I really should have realised that something was wrong because I ended up in the worst, most toxic relationship I've ever had. But yeah, it was a lot of cases of really liking girls but having no idea how to get together with them and basing all my ideas on how romance worked and how i was supposed to get together with women mostly from pop culture - a long diet of romantic comedies and odd ideas picked up about chivalry and whatnot from fantasy novels and somehow I'm supposed to make this work in the real world. What ultimately happened was I had my 'Batman moment'. I'd been coming off a couple of really bad breakups, one that really messed with my head, and I went to my brother's wedding. One of my oldest and dearest friends - he's a natural with women - he attracts women the way that mice are attracted to cheese.  …He looks like the lovechild of Rob Lowe and Hugh Grant.

Cara: Hot.

Dr Nerdlove: Yeah, I love him dearly and it was getting to the point I was going to throw acid in his face. But he and I ended up going head to head over the same girl, who was a guest at the wedding - and I lost badly. It was kind of humiliating. I ended up back in my room, crying, planning to use my tears as lube for jerking off. And it was really kind of what I call my 'Batman moment'. Like 'this will never happen again.' I started…looking around and studying… looking at people who are good with women, and trying to backwards engineer it… why does this work? What is it about this that gets people's attention? And a lot of things like… it's not that women like assholes, it's women like these traits that are associated with assholes: it's like here's what confidence looks like, and other little tricks like your body influencing your mind - like if you smile, your body will eventually make yourself feel happy, if you adopt confident body language you will eventually start feeling confident. Just a lot of studying like that. Going out and making a lot of mistakes.

Cara: Sometimes I think that geek men regard me as a mysterious creature to be studied though. It's weird. Like I am different from them. I don't feel different.

Dr Nerdlove: It's like this weird sense of Othering. They're intimidated by [women], so they avoid them, but at the same time they want to get with them, and there's these conflicting natures, and then you get the ones that get really resentful of the fact that they are not getting the women they supposedly deserve. A lot of it's just built up in the head and not realising that people are people.

Cara: Sometimes even when I am dating a lovely geek dude they are fucking terrified of doing something wrong, as if I'll run away… They can just talk to me about it.

Dr Nerdlove: They're really afraid. It's like 'I've got this thing, and it's going great, and if I do something wrong, they're gonna leave.' Always feeling like you're having to walk on eggshells because you had to work so hard to get there in the first place.

Cara: And even when they want to not date you, they have a huge amount of trouble telling you so. Sometimes they just avoid you. Pure and simple. No talking. Just running away.

Dr Nerdlove: Nerds are notoriously conflict averse. A lot of us come from backgrounds where we were bullied and we see: conflict is bad, we want to avoid that.

Cara: I read your site a lot and I'm always struck by all these nerd men who think they are somehow undesirable and the bottom of the pile when in fact I know a ton of nerd women who would give their WASD arm to date someone caring and interesting like them. There are all these women out there who are looking for exactly them. They go out of their way to impress women who hate video games when there are ones who love them right there.

Dr Nerdlove: A lot of it is absorbing their own mythology that the geek is the dateless virgin who is no good with women… when in reality lots of women are looking for nerdy intellectual guys. I mean, Joseph Gordon Levitt is the new sex symbol at the moment.

Cara: I always think male nerds have an unnecessary anxiety about their virginity too.

Dr Nerdlove: That's a cultural thing. It's that weird sexual double standard we have: it's so prevalent that there's even a TV trope - you know - A Man Is Not A Virgin, and it's just this anxiety that guys feel, 'Oh I'm supposed to have lost my virginity by X year and if I haven't that means something's wrong - I've missed my window.'

Cara: Men think that this is the thing that they are going to be judged by but I'm not sure I would ever care about it.

Dr Nerdlove: Everyone fetishises virginity, whether it's something to be desired or something to be abhorred. Really when it comes right down to it - I mean there are physical differences - what with women and the hymen and all - but what it all comes down to… is a set of experiences you haven't had yet.

Cara: That's what's really annoying about all this marketing for the Date A Gamer, Shag A Gamer stuff - 

Dr Nerdlove: - Yeah I just read their press release - and holy crap is it insulting.

Cara: It is very insulting, and I think the stereotype is really damaging. Obviously it's just a front for a shitty dating website though.

Dr Nerdlove: PCGamesN did a great expose of where it all came from [Steeeeeeeve!]. It's a completely out of the box, prebuilt dating network, with a centralised pool of people, and that's also how Date A Gamer or Date A Ginger (which is part of the site [Cara: Whaaaaaaat?!]) makes their money. 

Cara: I hate how predatory it is. And it seemed from what Steve said about Shag A Gamer that it's really hard to leave the subscription.

Dr Nerdlove: Yeah it's like trying to get out of AOL back in the day.

Cara: So, I haven't had that many negative experiences dating gamers, but maybe we should discuss some traits that might actually be undesirable in a single gamer?

Dr Nerdlove: The only undateable aspects of being a gamer is when that's your life - when that's all you do.

Cara: Oh lord yes.

Dr Nerdlove: You get home after school, after work, and you spend all your time in front of World of Warcraft, Modern Warfare, Mass Effect, whatever your gaming flavour is, and you just sit there and piss the day away. 

[There's also] the view that gaming is an exclusively male hobby and somehow that makes vagina disappear, when - I don't remember the exact numbers - but WoW alone has a staggering, insane number of subscribers and they are not all dudes. I know people who have met their wives off of WoW.

The other problem with gaming culture - and it's a problem with nerd culture in general - is that it's become unabashedly male, and in a lot of ways kind of misogynistic. Not intentionally so, not out of maliciousness, but more out of ignorance than anything else. Just through the way women are portrayed: women are told constantly that your involvement in this is as a consumable object - you're the player's girlfriend or at the end of the game - the prize at the bottom of the box. And if you're not that then you're the sexy eye candy…

And the whole Miranda Pakodzi thing with Cross Assault - she was one of the better players on the team but she was constantly being harassed by her coach and just nobody was doing anything about it. And her coach came out and said 'Calling women sluts and whores and threatening to rape them - that's all part of gaming culture - you can't take that away from us!' - because whenever you bring up the idea that maybe gamer culture is a little sexist, a little misogynist - maybe you should tone down calling people whore and threatening to rape them... They all freak out about it. …Can't we do this without calling people 'fag' every five seconds or racial slurs?

Cara: Indulgence in those habits are off-putting  to women, yeah. Sometimes I feel like I've been so absorbed into this culture that it is taking you to point out to me how bad it is to normalize this behaviour. [Though I guess I did once play Heroes of Newerth and get annoyed.] As for traits that might be desirable in gamers, these days the geek inherits the earth… You make a heck of a lot more money doing something nerdy than you would doing something else, so these days it's the geeks and not the jocks that hold all the power, and power and ambition is as attractive in a man as it is in a woman.

Dr Nerdlove: Now you've got the glory days where the jocks are working at a used car lot and all the nerds are going on to invent Facebook. We create the summer blockbusters.

Cara: Do you get a lot of guys who ask for advice on how to meet nerdy women?

Dr Nerdlove: Yeah, all the time. I get a lot of questions about how to talk to women and still be a nerd. It's just that you don't roll out being a nerd like it's a problem. Just be able to have a normal conversation about topics beyond your narrow scope of interests. For the longest time the only thing I wanted to talk about was anime and comic books and video games - “Wait, why are you walking away?” At the time that's all I cared about. I wasn't really going out having an interesting life.

Cara: You focus on advice for men, but do you get a lot of emails from women?


Dr Nerdlove [slightly smugly]: I do. The site focuses mainly on men because there are more resources out there for women. Women are socialised to talk about their dating lives - there's entire industries out there dedicated to helping women get better - books, magazines (bad ones like Cosmo), TV shows, whereas with guys you're taught that if you're not good with women, then you're a loser and there's nothing you can do about it. But worse if you admit that you're not good with women, then you're an even bigger loser. And this really seems to be the only area where guys are told that this is a binary thing - you're good with women or not good with women. You don't really see men saying at basketball, “Oh man you're not good a basketball, why are you practicing?”

Cara: There's a binary thing that goes on with women as well where we're told by cultural discourse that we are either attractive looking, or not attractive looking and the latter means no deal. We're often treated like inert objects that men examine rather than talk to as an equal, so we're never really encouraged to approach a man - which I guess must add to the pain of being a shy nerd guy.

Dr Nerdlove: It's all entice them to come to you, rather than go and ask them.

Cara: Exactly.

Dr Nerdlove: Women are taught to put others' concerns and feelings over their own. Don't get too confrontational about something or too assertive about something or you might hurt a guy's feelings. …But as women are writing in more, I tailor more information specifically to them and a couple of times, information that applies regardless of gender. …Women ask me a lot of the same questions guys do, like… what do I do on this date or why doesn't this dude call me back.  The one thing I get really often is 'Why do guys find me intimidating and what can I do about that?'

Cara: Oh. Hey. I've never said that before.

Dr Nerdlove: It's one of the cases where you say, 'well, why are they finding you intimidating?' 'Because I'm smart and assertive.' Well you have two choices: you can either pretend to be less assertive and less intelligent, or you could keep looking for guys who are able to handle smart and intelligent women. That can be a hard answer, because it's a lot of, 'Yeah it's gonna suck. HANG IN THERE.'  [Aw man.] I think it's starting to change, I think men are really starting to appreciate the equality of the sexes more, and I think pop culture is starting to lead the way there - Buffy, Katniss. Women can be the heroes, women can save their own ass.

Cara: I still find that rare in video games. We have Lara who is really for men, and Jade from Beyond Good and Evil at a pinch. I did like Bayonetta though.

Do you ever get an email from some guy and an email from some girl and you just wanna hook them up?

Dr Nerdlove: I am actually really tempted by that, but I just see LAWSUIT [when it goes wrong].

Cara: What’s your most frequent question?

Dr Nerdlove: “I like this girl, how do I get her to go out with me?”

Cara: Hmm. I guess just ask. Do you have any questions for me...?

Dr Nerdlove [thinks, then comes up with the most comic book nerd question of all]: Um.... What’s Kieron Gillen like?

Cara: He is very popular with teenage boys. 

Thank you for your time. At ease, Doc.

Header image credit: Bodies of Art Tumblr

Cara works in games production and is a regular contributor to You can find her on Twitter at @Carachan1

Stories from around the web