The Ultimate Couple? Video Game Boyfriends & Reader Girlfriends

The hobbies are surprisingly compatible.

Each night after I’ve climbed into bed, I keep a sharp ear out for some of my most cherished sounds. Be it the crash of swords or jaunty theme music, the swooshes, chimes, and clangs of my husband’s video games create the soundtrack of my evenings, and I welcome them with relish. Because with every beep and thud, I know I have more time. Time to stream one more episode, time to do one more session with my Hannibal Lector-esque red light mask, or, more often than not, time to read one more chapter of a book.

And we’re not the only ones who’ve settled into this effortless nighttime entente. Once maligned as dorky, braindead couch zombies, gamer boyfriends are at the peak of an image rehabilitation, thanks in part to the reader girlfriends who’ve reclaimed the narrative. Over the past year or so, a flood of people have taken to TikTok to share the tiny joys of their reader girlfriend and gamer boyfriend relationships, and for very good reason.

The crux of their celebratory zeal is that while their partner slips into their electronic universe for hours, they get uninterrupted time to snuggle up with their literary pastimes, creating these separate worlds they can both enjoy together. But what makes them such a complementary pairing, and what can everyone else learn from their cozy bliss?

“I think there's something sort of magical about being able to experience your story of choice and still be able to do that in the space with somebody that you love.”

For starters, these couples likely aren’t drawn to each other by accident. “I think that because the hobbies are so similar at their core, it's a way for us to relate to each other without doing the exact same thing,” says Joci, 25, who is also in a gaming-reading relationship and lives in Los Angeles.

Beyond both mediums sharing complex plots, rich narrative worlds, and engaging characters, there are practical considerations that may explain why these two hobbies just seem to click. For one, both activities can expand or contract to fit any allotted amount of time — unlike a sporting event, for example, which starts and stops at specific times. They can both be done in small spaces from the comfort of your own home, too.

However, this ease and convenience isn’t always present from the get-go. With Joci, there was a bit of a learning curve to mastering this dynamic with her husband. “Initially, it was a little bit of a problem between us because if I would interrupt a game, he would get a little snippy. And that would upset me, because I didn't understand why he was snapping at me,” she explains. But after they discussed it, she realized he just didn’t have the ability to focus on more than one stimulus at a time, which was frustrating for him but not a personal attack toward her. Now, it doesn’t faze her as much.

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Josephine, 28, from East Grand Forks, Minnesota, also had her early qualms. When they were younger, her husband could play video games from dawn till dusk if given the chance. “I was worried what type of a dad he'd be because I didn't want somebody who would be sitting on their games all day,” she says. Thankfully, after welcoming their daughter, that hasn’t turned out to be the case. He’s adjusted his game-playing hours to their new responsibilities beautifully.

The key to mastering this dynamic and truly reaping the benefits of the solo time is communication, according to Israa Nasir. A psychotherapist and author, she explains that in any healthy relationship, you need time with your partner, time with your social networks, and of course, alone time. “What alone time does is helps us understand how to self-soothe, how to entertain ourselves, and how to engage ourselves on our own,” Nasir says, adding that it can reduce stress, help you clarify your thoughts, and even help mitigate resentment toward your partner.

It’s a crucial skill to become comfortable with. “If we don't know how to spend time on our own, we tend to become dependent on others to fulfill certain emotional needs,” she says. The trick is that both parties need to agree on the parameters of the alone time, she says, which makes sense. If one party feels abandoned and ignored in service of that alone time, they’re unlikely to find it restorative.

“[My husband] told me that he loves listening to me talk about my books because of how excited I am and how into it I get.”

For those who can communicate and agree, the gamers and readers have proven the rewards are many. Joci has found that enjoying these activities right before bed helps them recharge, with the end result of more peaceful bedtimes together. Josephine has found it’s helped with their overall communication, too. After they’ve wrapped up their hobbies, they’ll often meet up in their kitchen and her husband will tell her about his day. She says the time apart makes her more open to listening, and him more willing to share.

Alone time doesn’t always have to be enjoyed in separate quarters. Maranda, 30, from Seattle, Washington, has lived with her boyfriend for about two years. She notes how both hobbies allow you to be in each other’s physical orbit, too. “I think there's something sort of magical about being able to experience your story of choice and still be able to do that in the space with somebody that you love,” she says.

However, if you need quiet to focus on your pastime, this avenue may not be for you, especially because video games can come with unexpected sound effects. “I can't even count the times he started yelling, and I've been so involved in my own world that I've been scared sh*tless,” Josephine says with a laugh.

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But if any two activities — building ships in a bottle and crocheting, for example — can yield this relaxing respite, why has the reader-gamer relationship resonated with so many people that it’s been elevated to meme status? It turns out, there may be something just a little extra special about sharing a compatible, similar hobby with your partner. “It allows you to add a layer of depth and intimacy because you enter your partner's world of joy, which is purely their own,” Nasir says.

And while many expressed how fun it is to share in that world by learning more about the games their partners play, the reverse is true as well. “[My husband] told me that he loves listening to me talk about my books because of how excited I am and how into it I get. I think he just loves listening to me explain things that I'm passionate about,” Joci says.

In all likelihood, this particular combination of avocations has been around for decades, but there may be one last reason it’s getting louder recognition now. “I think it took off in part because the conversation around reading and gaming had this sort of air of negativity for a long time … they were considered the nerdy hobbies — the ‘not as cool’ hobbies,” Maranda says. But in a post-pandemic world where we’ve mastered the art of staying at home, where BookTok has amassed a wildly engaged fan base, and where Twitch streamers make a living off playing video games, the tides may be turning on what’s popular and relatable.

It seems happy, fulfilling relationships may be the true revenge of the nerds.