Welcome back to yet another installment in my Gamer Dad series, or as I like to think of it, “Learn From My Mistakes”. Last time we checked in, my daughter had only just come into my life. She was less than half a year old, and more or less depended on me and her mother for, well, everything. As I write today, she is a thirteen month old tiny little person, and although she still depends on me and her mother for everything, she’s starting to become more and more independent with every passing day. She’s babbling, walking (while holding onto every surface in our house), and starting to show signs of the earliest stages of true cognition. Television shows hold her transfixed, she recognizes her favorite songs, and meal times have become an adventure in figuring out which foods she used to enjoy will now become floor fodder. To make a long story short, she’s a toddler.
As a parent, this is an incredibly welcome change. Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderful when she was an infant, as every move was predictable; but to be able to watch a personality come into its own, and to know that she’s watching you for clues on how to act is a feeling that is hard to put into words.
As a gamer, however, this stage of development is loaded with a whole new set of challenges, and this week’s release of Dead Space 2 has brought some of those challenges to the forefront in a way that I simply wasn’t ready for. How exactly does one balance playing a game that is filled with horrific imagery, and even more horrifying sound design, when there is a person in the home whose mind could be seriously warped by exposure to that kind of game? While I don’t claim to have all the answers to that question, I can at the very least offer up some tips on what I think would help ensure that any possible damage caused by exposure to necromorphs being strategically dismembered be limited.
Pick the Right Time to Play
One of the blessings of my daughter is that, for now, she’s on a fairly regular schedule. Although some days are exceptions, most of the time she’s good for two naps a day, as well as a full night’s sleep. Since it would be unfair (and simply a bad idea) for me to switch off Sesame Street or Dinosaur Train so that I can get a few minutes inside of Isaac Clake’s suit, once she’s down for the night, I can certainly log a few hours before I have to turn in myself. The only downside to this is that it means that my wife, who herself is no fan of the horror genre, also loses out on the living room television. So, like with all things in a family, we come to a compromise, whereby we’ll watch some DVR’ed television shows right after the baby goes to bed, and then my wife will relinquish the television so that I can get an hour or so in.
Don’t Take It Home with You
One thing I can say about the original Dead Space is that the game had the ability to stay on my mind long after I switched off the console. While it wasn’t exactly on the level of seeing Tetris blocks on every flat surface, the brutality of the gameplay and screams of the necromorphs would linger for a little while. Having severed limbs and pulsating masses of flesh on the mind isn’t exactly conducive to singing my daughter a peaceful lullaby. So it’s important for me to remember to take some time after playing to reorient myself to my surroundings. My plan is to keep a steady stream of Words with Friends games going to allow me to decompress after a session.
Headphones, headphones, headphones!
The world of Dead Space has been gloriously realized by the designers at Visceral Games, and one of the highlights of the series is the immersive sound design. When I was playing the first game, it was just my wife and me at home, so the lights would go off, the 5.1 surround sound would go on, and my living room would turn into a reasonable facsimile of the USG Ishimura. This time around, there are three of us, and any attempt to create a perfect gaming atmosphere will be severely hampered by the fact that the youngest member of the household could end up permenantly warped by too much sonic stimulation. Fortunately, I have a fairly decent pair of noise-cancelling headphones, which will guarantee that I will be able to enjoy every nuance of the game’s soundtrack without ending up with massive psychologist bills down the road.
A Change of Scenery
While I don’t feel the need to get to 100% completion on every game I play, Dead Space was one of the few that I just had to see every single second of. While it wasn’t exactly laden with side quests or Easter eggs, there was enough going on to warrant many playthroughs. I have a distinct feeling that the sequel will deliver the same kind of replay value, and the addition of multiplayer makes it even more of a time sink. However, as the father of a toddler, I want to get my daughter interested in gaming as well. This means that, from time to time, I’ll have to take Dead Space 2 out and pop in something that is more friendly to her. The PlayStation Move recently came into our lives, and I have a feeling that the games for that peripheral will be some of the first that she’ll be exposed to. Setting down Isaac’s line cutter in exchange for my Bocce ball in Sports Champions is the kind of trade off that I, my wife, and (more importantly) my daughter can live with.
The one (and possibly only) thing I can say with any certainty about being a father is that the rules are always changing. As she continues to develop and grow, my daughter shows me that anything I learned yesterday will be thrown out the window by tomorrow. It’s fascinating to watch the next generation of gamer emerge in my own home, and learning how to cope with the perils and dangers that are presented by continuing to play M-rated games are just one more thread in the rich tapestry that will ultimately turn my daughter into a (fingers crossed) well-balanced child.