What Chicken Invaders taught me about relationships

Forget trying to figure out your relationship via magazine quizzes, self-help books, or relationship breakdown analysis with the girls. Link up with your partner for a game of Chicken Invaders, sit back and just watch everything unfold.

By Karen Chin


GAMES HAVE always been used to influence social dynamics. For example, ice-breaking games are commonly used on a fresh group of people who do not know each other to warm them up to each other, team-building games for a group of burnt-out colleagues (paintball, anyone?) and even families have been using games to bond for centuries.


On keen observation, one can easily spot the leaders, the followers, the brain, the brawn, the team player, the individualist, the introvert, the extrovert and many more, and how they interact with each other – both positively and negatively.


I have to admit, I didn’t expect to gather that much insight about myself and my relationship when I agreed to play Chicken Invaders with my boyfriend.


(Just a quick brief on what Chicken Invaders is – it is a multiplayer PC game requiring the players to shoot at chickens and other enemy objects flying through space while collecting food and coins. It is a comic version of the classic Space Invaders.)




“Wow, he’s holding all the big guns and doing all the work!”

“Wow, he’s holding all the big guns and doing all the work!”


CHICKEN INVADERS: My boyfriend takes up the lead role – the relentless over-achieving killing machine that is always the first to go. I stay in the background out of his way, happily shooting chickens at my own pace (in other words, being an awesome wingman). As long as chickens are dying, I am content.


REALITY: There are some people who are just natural leaders, and others who are happy followers.


I would like to coin a new term today (you heard it here first, unless it already exists – in which case, I haven’t heard of it before) which is the Player One Syndrome: They have to start first, they have to be the first player, they want to be ahead and they want to achieve everything.


Another term I’m coining is the Player Two Syndrome, which I think I have more of. Ever since I was a kid playing Nintendo, I would naturally head over to Player Two’s console – I prefer to follow and I don’t care for paving the way.


Player One and Player Two, ironically make a perfect team.


“You stay behind me! You stay here! You stay there! Wait, not yet! Where are you going?” My boyfriend says this to me in Chicken Invaders, and he says it to me when we are crossing roads.




‘Overheated’ emotions are very common in games and in relationships.

‘Overheated’ emotions are very common in games and in relationships.


CHICKEN INVADERS: We both get irrationally upset when we lose a life. (We might take it a tad too seriously.) The interesting thing is to observe how we deal with it.


For me, I get really angry but get over it fast. I don’t mind starting off from scratch again in the middle of a game. For him, he gets really angry and wants to end the current game and restart the entire game because that particular game is already flawed.


Sometimes we even play the blame game – “You move around the screen too much, it confuses me and that’s why I got hit!” Can we realise it is just a game and brush it off? Do we take it too seriously whereby a game turns into a real fight? It tells a lot. However, sometimes we offer some sympathy to the other while trying to muffle a laugh.


REALITY: People who don’t care aren’t invested enough to respond emotionally, and that is why anger in small doses are sometimes seen as a good sign. What is important is the aftermath – I believe in recovering, having multiple chances and catching-up; while he is a little bit of a perfectionist and does not have much room for mistakes.


The way we react to losing a life in the game can translate into how we deal with something upsetting in a relationship. How cool are we? How dramatic do we become? How long do we stay upset or how fast do we recover? Can we just let it go? While in games, blaming each other for your misfortunes can be taken lightly and brushed off, the blame-game in reality is actually a common ailment in building resentful relationships.




The chapter says it all!

The chapter says it all!


CHICKEN INVADERS: The ‘me-first’ attitude was pretty prevalent when we first started playing Chicken Invaders in the early sessions. We would both rush for power-ups without regard for each other and piss each other off. We would usually end up fighting about who was being a jerk. Eventually, we learned to be nicer to each other. We would check with each other before grabbing a power-up.


I probably killed the joy of competitive gaming for him.


REALITY: We are both competitive people by nature (and sad to say, we are also self-absorbed, self-righteous and stubborn) and we find that sometimes we end up competing against each other. Slowly, we have learnt to function as a team, giving-and-taking, choosing our battles wisely – we try to use this competitiveness in us as a team, against the world and not against each other.




Embrace our individuality!

Embrace our individuality!


CHICKEN INVADERS: I like collecting the food that drops after the chickens are killed. He likes shooting at random things, including the metal pieces, which to me is pointless. We both have different strategies and even different preference of weapons. Sometimes I think his choices are a bad idea, and vice versa. I’ve learnt that it doesn’t pay to comment on that.


REALITY: Everybody has different priorities and preferences in life. Couples aren’t expected to morph into Siamese twins just because they are in a relationship. Actually it is much better for the individuals in the couple to do different things. Just let them do what they want, as how you would want them to let you do what you want. Zip your mouth and watch your other-half’s individuality shine through – as long as he or she isn’t an arsonist or anything else harmful.




CHICKEN INVADERS: Harmony happens when tasks are delegated fairly and squarely according to interests, needs and abilities. He collects the keys. I collect food. He covers the left while I cover the right. He attacks the big chickens, I attack the small chickens. That way, both excel in the roles specially tailored for us and the whole mission is successful.


REALITY: We both have our strengths. My boyfriend can literally talk to anyone and has pretty awesome persuasion skills. I am the introvert and the better listener. He cooks and I don’t. I do laundry, he doesn’t. When the distribution of tasks suited to us happens, harmony is achieved!




Working together against the ‘big boss’!

Working together against the ‘big boss’!


CHICKEN INVADERS: At the end of the day (game, actually), it all boils down to beating the ‘big boss’. (Just a side-note: I find calling the last and biggest enemy in games the ‘big boss’ just very hilarious).


Anyway, that is when we work together and push each other not to ‘die’, words of encouragement are yelled, teamwork and cooperation are shown, and the sweet taste of victory when we overcome the big obstacle and the game is over. After that, we start again from the beginning, a little bit wiser and a better team every single time than before.


REALITY: Every relationship is tough. To those who disagree, I would say you are lying. It lies in ourselves to work together, to encourage each other and to cooperate when we face huge obstacles in our life. For a couple to be able to overcome the ‘big boss’ of problems, that shows true endurance and commitment. When the next issue comes along, it is hoped that we will be wiser and would have already learnt more about each other from before.


In conclusion:


Based on the fact that many things that happen in a two-player game can be sourced back to the basic dynamics between two people, a couple’s true characters do reveal themselves when it comes to something like a game where one would feel safe to let loose. It would be awesome if people can use this insight to work on their relationship dynamics – to gain an understanding of each other as individuals and together as a couple.


The principles behind the techniques two players use to win a game would be gold if people learned to translate it into real life.


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