The emperor naturally views the relationship as imperial. But the gamer views it as transactional.
The emperor expects unconditional loyalty. The gamer takes his money, professes fealty, and then just does pretty much as he pleases.
It's a strange relationship that often resembles a dysfunctional marriage -- one that has survived on co-dependency, mutual convenience, and inertia.
It has lasted for more than 17 years, but whether it will survive into its second decade is anybody's guess.
If there is one thing that last month's Zapad 2017 military exercises clearly illustrated, it was that the so-called strategic partnership between Vladimir Putin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka is coming under increased strain.
Because, during Zapad, Lukashenka pretty much rained on Putin's parade.
The Kremlin leader wanted to use the Zapad exercises as a psy-op to intimidate the Baltic states, Poland, and Ukraine.
But the Belarusian strongman isn't interested in a conflict with the West and he went to surprising lengths to reassure his neighbors.
And by most accounts, the Kremlin wasn't pleased.
Neither Putin nor Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Belarus during Zapad.
Russian military commanders pointedly did not stay for a ceremonial dinner after the exercises.
And Lukashenka backed out of plans to make a joint appearance with Putin at a Russian military facility.
The Zapad exercises were supposed to illustrate strategic unity between Russia and Belarus amid Moscow's escalating conflict with the West.
But what they instead demonstrated is that you can't buy an empire.
So the Zapad party didn't go so well. And now comes the hangover.