Sometimes it’s hard to be a dad who is a gamer. But dad-gamers are everywhere. We grew up with old stick-and-square games, maturing as humans alongside a young artform that many of us lived and breathed for a time. For me, it’s been a period of adjustment (or more like periods of adjustments), and I’ve noticed some changes in my playstyle that may be familiar to some of you.
When my wife and I started having unprotected sex a few years ago, none of our friends had kids, and as such, we weren’t aware of the frenzied, insane nature of modern parenting. We had crazy amounts of free time, and we couldn’t even comprehend not having free time.
After 2 and-a-half years of parenting? Yeah, I totally understand the concept of not having free time. In fact, I have a hard time imagining the sheer volume of time I used to have.
On a typical day, we get our son to bed around 8:00, and after catching up on the various things that I need to catch up on, it’s usually around 9:00 or so before I can kick back and relax. Subtract some time here and there for hanging out with my wife or catching up on an occasional television show, and I’m left with maybe a couple of hours to game every day or two (provided that I limit my sleep to no more than 5 hours).
What’s happened is that my backlog of games is ridiculously long, and I’ve changed consumption patterns to deal with this.
I used to sit down and game in large chunks, devoting upwards of 5 or 6 hours in each session. Most of the time, I’d binge on a game over the course of weeks, using consecutive chunks of game time devoted to that game. Great times were had. Nothing really helps you get into a game better than getting into the game as non-stop as possible (without losing a scholarship or job along the way. Not that that ever happened to me…). GTA was one of those franchises that fit extremely well with that playstyle. Fallout is another prime example. Aimlessly roaming around, finding hidden gems (real and metaphorical, I suppose) became a popular playstyle, because honestly, what was the rush? I had time, so I used that time to breed and train gold Chocobos, finish Vandal Hearts without any deaths, play golf in Dark Cloud 2, learn all the 10-hit combos in Tekken Tag, and sing way too much in Rock Band.
Flash-forward to having a kid.
I never had time to do anything substantial, and especially at the beginning (our son came into the world a month early, and our doctors wanted us to feed him every 3 hours. Since feeding him took an hour-and-a-half, we basically didn’t sleep for more than two hours in a row for 6 weeks.), gaming was not a priority. If I had downtime, I’d sleep.
As he got older and started to actually move from one point to another—instead of just sitting on the floor, drooling on blocks—my wife and I spent a lot of time chasing him around, playing with drool-covered blocks, watching him laugh, and all of those other dream-like first-time parent experiences. They were probably dream-like because of sleep deprivation, but I digress.
Now that he’s old enough to have a schedule that more or less stays consistent, mine has, too, and I was finding myself able to play a game here and there.
Mostly, I played three types of games:
iOS: Seriously. Picking up an iPhone or iPad, I could play some stupid game for like 15 minutes, put it down and that was that. I never felt like I was missing out on the real world, mostly because I was playing some glorified minigame that I bought for $0.99. Of course that initial excitement was fleeting (for the most part. I still turn on Jetpack Joyride every once in a while), and I was left wondering about why there weren’t more options for narrative experiences in the iOS marketspace, nevermind the fact that it’s probably impossible to have genuine narrative immersion with 10 minute, ADHD-type gameplay.
The next games I started playing were all of the Instant Library games on PS+. Maybe I was slow to the party or something, but by the time I jumped on the bandwagon (around last year’s E3), the collection was full of games that I had wanted to play but never really did. It was somewhat easy to jump into a game that felt free, because if I had to jump up real quick to check on a crying kid, I wasn’t leaving that much behind. And the little guy loved to watch LittleBigPlanet 2, so that was always fun.
The Instant Game Collection led me to my next game: the Meta-game that is Steam-bargain-shopping. Bear with me for a second. Because of work, I finally had to sack up and buy a new laptop. I didn’t just get some business class one, either, I went all out, found a sale, and scored one that had dedicated graphics and enough RAM to last me a couple of years. I used to play ten-year-old games on LOW LOW LOW settings, so this little thing was nice. Of course, I didn’t even think about the iTunes of the gaming world, because I had no prior reason to buy games from Steam. All of a sudden, I was met with the gloriousness of Steam Sales.
I was getting game after game, and pretty soon, I had managed to get a substantial backlog of games that I wanted to play. For super-cheap. Of course, I didn’t really play that many of the games that I got, but at those prices, it was always nice just to shop, download, and install. Between that and my ever-expanding Humble Bundle collections, I now have a nice log of games to play, if I ever have the time. I don’t remember how many games I bought before I realized that I was spending gametime shopping and buying games that I would never play. Probably 30 or so…
In my opinion, the key to gaming as a dad has to do with balance. Yeah, I might not be able to compete in PVP anymore (in any genre—I can’t play enough to get skilled in any FPS, and I don’t have the time to gear-grind in an MMO), but I can tag along with a friend in a co-op game or two. As long as it’s at night, and I don’t yell, “Holy shit! Get the fucker!!!!” through my headset. I mean, I can whisper it, but have you ever whispered the F-word over Xbox Live? Sounds creepy as hell…
In my opinion, it’s important to be a gamer as a dad, though, mostly because in a few years, my son will be getting all of the new games, rushing through his homework so he can join his friends online in some pseudo-augmented reality, 3D, photorealistic shooter or something. Who knows what games will look like in a few years. I need to understand the language, the necessary skills, and the types of rewards that games offer, just so I can help him navigate the virtual world (and suggest better quality games if need be).
Just like teaching a child how to ride a bike or drive a car, we need to know how to game so we can help establish good gaming practices for the next generation. I knew how to drive a car, and I knew how to fear and respect guns because of my family of people who could work on their own cars and hunt for their own food (if needed). I learned their language and was able to understand the rights and responsibilities of vehicular travel and weapon-usage (although, to be fair, I do remember sneaking off, drinking beer, and shooting shotguns as a 17-year-old, so hopefully that doesn’t undercut my entire argument here. Just some full disclosure…).
Somehow though, I’ve learned a thing or two about games, and I should pass that knowledge on to my son. And we all need to be mindful about how we play. Respect, competition, curiosity, and a sense of adventure: these are the habits of people who enjoy games, and they seem like pretty good goals for humans… But children are perceptive little buggers, so if us dad-gamers stray, the little ones will notice.
I just don’t want to have a conversation with him in the nearish future about his gaming habits, only to hear him say, “I learned it from watching you!” before yelling an F-bomb and throwing a controller.
I mean, it would be kind of funny though…
TL;DR: Being a dad changes the ability of being a gamer.