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Currently, My Partner and I Are Playing a Video Game in Which You and Your Spouse Are Separating.

My partner and I spent the better part of half an hour battling a vacuum before giving up and calling it a day. Because it flat-out refused to do its job on a Sunday morning, the vacuum generated a great deal of anxiety for the household. We weren’t disagreeing over who should clean what; rather, the vacuum represented an antagonist we had to vanquish. In It Takes Two, we were attempting to beat the game’s first boss.

Developed by Hazelight Studios in Sweden, distributed by industry giant Electronic Arts, written by Josef Fares and Soni Jorgensen, and directed by Fares, It Takes Two is a marital-themed computer game. The game was released in March 2021 for Xbox, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.

It’s easy to see how “a video game about marriage” could be the punchline of a lot of jokes. (What or who is the game’s ultimate evil guy? I mean, my wife, right? It Takes Two successfully sidesteps these plot devices, which is to its credit. Instead, it is a cooperative game where the two players must work together to triumph over fanciful foes and the gulf of feeling between them.

The actors play the characters of May and Cody, a couple whose marriage is on the verge of collapse. May and Cody undergo some sort of transformation after breaking the news of their upcoming divorce to their daughter, Rose, and end up as two of Rose’s dolls. May and Cody’s marriage is put to the test when they find themselves trapped in a Toy Story-inspired version of their home, which ranges from cute to terrifying. Fares likens the game to a romantic comedy, so you can probably anticipate how it ends.

The cooperative gameplay seen in It Takes Two is unusual in commercial video games, where the second player typically controls a copy of the main character or a minor NPC. While romance is a common theme in games like visual novels and dating simulators (a genre of game that simulates the process of wooing multiple characters), as well as popular board games like Fog of Love, the type of games that most people think of when they hear the term “video game” are typically high-budget action titles like shooters.

After borrowing a friend’s PlayStation 5, we set out to investigate whether it was, in fact, possible to make an engaging game about relationships.

You’ll need another player, either a live one or one you connect with online, to enjoy It Takes Two to its fullest potential. It meant a lot to me that my partner, a person with a healthy relationship with entertainment media who generally avoids video games (with the notable exception of Untitled Goose Game), agreed to play with me. We borrowed a PS5 from a friend and set out to see if it was realistic to create a compelling RPG about interpersonal interactions.

Having read It Takes Two, I can say with absolute certainty that the answer is “yes,” but perhaps not in this case.

It Takes Two, on the one hand, accurately portrays and enthusiastically promotes teamwork. May and Cody have different abilities in each stage, and they must work together to complete each stage. For instance: In the first level, May is armed with a hammer and Cody with nails, but in the second level, Cody is armed with a rifle that shoots sap and May is armed with a rocket launcher.

The rocket launcher may be employed in ingenious ways to set fire to the sap, while May can use her hammer to swing over Cody’s nails. For the most part, you’ll be tasked with solving a series of puzzles that require you to make strategic use of both characters’ powers, as well as some well-timed jumping. Some of the stages in It Takes Two are reminiscent of shooters, while others are more like role-playing games.

My fiancée had never played a game like this before, so I had to teach her the fundamentals of gaming, such as double jumping and dashing. Through trial and error, she (and we) came to enjoy the game’s problem-solving challenges. The game’s desired level of interaction, and communication, is effectively sparked by these obstacles. The New York City apartment rental market has been my girlfriend and I’s merciless, unrelenting opponent for the better half of the summer. Finding an affordable place to live during a historically awful time for it might take months, so having a common goal that necessitates teamwork but has no consequences is refreshing.

However, It Takes Two provides its share of frustrating moments. My fiancée, who reasonably thought video games were supposed to be “pleasant,” was surprised to learn that I hadn’t realized that the typical video game boss fight is an experience that is made to be stressful and agitated. It’s time to face the vacuum cleaner, a huge, terrifying creature with a loud voice and a penchant for lobbing bombs at its victims.

My fiancée became increasingly upset with my stumbling attempts to explain the strategy we needed to employ after several failed attempts at conquering it. We had to pause the fight, put on mute, and mentally rehearse each move before continuing.

The real war, however, was yet to come.

I enjoy playing games with others, but I also enjoy being victorious. So, when I’m playing a game with someone who isn’t as skilled as I am, I often “quarterback,” or direct the other player’s actions, so that we might achieve victory as rapidly as possible. My partner and I play It Takes Two at a leisurely pace, while my roommate, who must play video games for her profession, can blow through a lot of levels in a single sitting.

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Since it’s easy to jump ahead in the game and visit previously finished chapters, I wanted to help my girlfriend and me avoid the boss fights by playing through the game outside of our normal routine. Nonetheless, I must confess that the increased speed with which I was able to complete the game and my willingness to tackle the game’s sillier and more complex boss battles were both delightful.

My ex-girlfriend and I just picked up the game again, but I quickly became bored because I already knew the answers to most of the problems. I pretended to be clueless for a while, “guessing” at solutions I secretly knew would work. But my self-centered playmaking slowed down the game and made it less enjoyable for everyone involved. Whereas the protagonists of It Takes Two believe that the key to solving relationship problems is to pantomime expressing one’s emotions, I discovered that the most satisfying gaming resulted from learning when to speak and when to remain silent.

Being able to know when to keep one’s mouth shut is a trait I admire in others and wish It Takes Two possessed. For the most part, the gameplay is enjoyable, but the story is, to put it charitably, wacky, corny, or even actually kind of nuts. The story’s premise is that you’ll root for May and Cody as they learn to work together again and (spoiler alert!) end up reconciling. The couple comes out in the game as highly self-centered villains who should end their marriage and at the very least reevaluate their parenting styles.

You’ve been warned about spoilers in case you prefer to experience the game on your own. May and Cody determine early on that they must make their daughter weep if she is to regain her humanity. The group settles on the strategy of “destroying something she loves.” A memorable scene has them “murdering” Rose’s favorite toy, a lovely elephant named Cutie, by tearing it apart and dragging it, kicking and screaming, to throw off a cliff. (This isn’t hyperbole; you’ll be expected to take an active role in the game’s bloodshed. Watch it now!)

Alright, I understand it. The plot of the rom-com It Takes Two centers on a pair of ungrateful, self-centered people who learn to appreciate one another once more. The game’s premise is intriguing, especially considering how it borrows from established game conventions. There are numerous examples of movies serving as inspiration for video games; for example, Saving Private Ryan has been a big effect on gaming over the past two decades. Films like His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story, and even The Parent Trap, which deal with troubled marriages that eventually heal, could have served as inspiration for It Takes Two.

Divorce Video Game

It Takes Two seems to either take for granted or neglect the fact that the audience needs to like or at least be interested in the characters to care about what happens to them in the relationship. Video games frequently include unlikable main characters since the player can only truly connect with the protagonist because he or she is the one controlling the action.

The game’s interesting thematic ambitions, however, draw attention to how little of an effort was made with the characters in It Takes Two. And it didn’t help that the game’s third most significant character is an anthropomorphic relationship advice book with a strangely racist accent, who I eventually found so irritating that I groaned out loud whenever he showed onscreen.

Director/co-writer Fares defends the Cutie scene as an example of “dark humor,” and the game has successfully elicited a response from players. While It Takes Two enjoys itself with a hammer, it fails to achieve the kind of dark humor that the elephant sequence aims for. You need to either care about May and Cody or (2) find the elephant murder hilarious for this to work. I fit neither category.

Divorce in the game is “something that happens when you can’t figure out whose turn it is to get groceries,” as one of my friends put it.
While the game’s mechanics can be challenging and interesting, the story is severely lacking: An in-game character explained that divorce occurs when the couple can’t agree on who will go grocery shopping next. The game tells a fairly standard tale of a child wrongly blaming themselves for their parent’s divorce, but it also implies that yes, in fact, May and Cody’s relationship problems are Rose’s fault for being born. The game also suggests that what Cody and May “really” need to do to reclaim their relationship is to get back in touch with their hobbies from before they had their pesky, annoying daughter.

Perhaps it is not strange that my girlfriend thought It Takes Two should be about some guys locked in a bizarre castle or forced to undertake an elaborate escape room or something, even if she enjoyed the time we spent playing the game. The joyous news is that marriage and romantic partnerships of any sex do not monopolize the cooperative act. Even if the two of you are playing It Takes Two together, the conversations you have don’t feel like they’re about dating, marriage, or (neglectful) parenthood.

Although there isn’t a lot of meat on the bones of the subject of marriage and relationships in It Takes Two, it doesn’t mean it can’t be presented in a fun and engaging way through the medium of gaming. A similar technique is seen in the 2017 board game hit Fog of Love, which draws inspiration from romantic comedies.

It’s a common requirement of Fog of Love that you try to predict what your partner will do in a specific predicament.
A big part of what makes Fog of Love entertaining is that it doesn’t settle for merely emulating cooperative play. Fog of Love, in contrast to the marriage in It, Takes Two, doesn’t envision a specific “perfect” couple dynamic. To be “authentic” to their characters, players are often tasked with acting in ways that run against to what is best for their relationships.

This could be anything from working too much to being overly careless to the point of recklessness. Players receive scenario cards (such as “a nice date,” “a stressful vacation,” or “a dark secret”) and act out the events to earn points for their relationship satisfaction or character traits at the end of the round. The players’ characters may end up getting divorced if they were unable to save the relationship. To each their own, I suppose. May and Cody need to be informed.

It’s not quite fair to pit the intricate plot of Fog of Love against the simple narrative of It Takes Two. The latter, however, demonstrates that subtleties of being in a relationship can be captured through the usage of game rules and mechanics, with enough room left over for some dark comedy to keep things interesting.

You’ll have to deal with compromise, shared ideas, and sticking to your own goals as you try to predict what your partner will do in a variety of scenarios (where to go for breakfast, whether to take an unplanned trip, how to handle a complicated family dynamic, etc.) in Fog of Love. It does a fairly good job of simulating real-world conflicts while giving players plenty of opportunities to make things as ludicrous as they choose.

Fog of Love’s designer, Jacob Jaskov, made the game with relationships in mind. Jakov stated during an interview that he designed the game with his wife in mind. You may find that there are more parts to Fog of Love than you bargained for, much like a genuine relationship. So, that can get a little cumbersome: When my partner and I got down to play the tutorial game, I shuffled the cards without thinking and completely derailed the storyline. (I think we missed the mark by going to Ikea as a group for a date that was supposed to be more laid-back.)

This mistake was not caused by an external factor like the vacuum cleaner. However, the answer was the same: we paused the game to discuss our options and come up with a plan. We had to jump through hoops and deal with a potentially difficult circumstance that could have led to greater disagreement. This time, we were able to talk about our goals, the game’s rules, and how we could make the most of our time together. Surprisingly, the fix remained the same; we just kept playing.

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