Just over five months ago, my wife and I welcomed our first child into our home. Our daughter was born a few days before last Christmas, and it’s no exaggeration to say that our lives have been completely transformed by this tiny little person. With very few exceptions, nothing in our household is the same now as it was even the day before she was born. For the most part this has meant adjusting to a new sleeping schedule, ensuring that the temperature in the house is constant, and basically doing everything in our power to make sure she survives. Due to the fact that both my wife and I read a ton of parenting books in advance of Wren’s arrival, a lot of these changes were things we were prepared for. However, the one area that seems to be missing from all of the “How To” literature available is a section for gamers. For almost three decades, I could more or less dedicate as many hours as I wanted to my favorite hobby. Now I find myself competing for leisure time with feeding schedules, naps, and the only TV with DVR capabilities in the house. So in the interest of helping other moms and dads who may find themselves faced with a similar situation, I present this helpful guide to gaming as a parent.
Make Smart Choices
When you find yourself in your local game retailer, you will be presented with a wide array of choices. Driving sims, 100+ hour RPGs, survival horror; there’s a lot to pick from out there. However, since you don’t know when exactly you’re going to find the time to play, nor do you know how much time you’ll be able to spend in a given session, it’s a good idea to do some homework before you venture out. If a game is going to require hours upon hours of tutorials before you even get into the full story, you’ll probably want to pass up that one. However, if it’s the kind of game you can pick up and put down easily, it’s probably a better fit for your new household.
So the baby is home, and she just went down for a nap. You have an indeterminate amount of time to now turn on your console, load up whatever game you’re playing, and get some play time in. If you prepare yourself ahead of time, there’s a much better chance that you’ll be able to maximize your experience. For example, I’ve recently been playing a pair of Rockstar’s games: Red Dead Redemption and The Lost and Damned. The beauty of these particular games, in light of my current situation, is that you can play for 10 minutes or you can play for 10 hours. So if I’m in the middle of a gang war, and I hear the familiar sounds of an infant waking up, I can just stop the current mission and pick it up again later.
Say Goodbye to Online, at Least for Now
Picture this: you switch on your 360, and you see that almost your entire friends list is online, playing Left 4 Dead 2. Your instinct will tell you to grab your headset and dive right in. But wait! The baby is sleeping, and when she wakes up, she’s going to need a bottle and a diaper. First of all, that headset is little more than an invitation to wake up your sleeping miracle and be reminded that at this age, they only have one means of communication. Secondly, you don’t want to be the guy who has to bail in the middle of a gnome rescue mission, leaving the survivors one man short. No, for the next few months, your gaming will be a single-player affair.
The only thing I can say for certain about having a newborn at home is that nothing is certain. You may find yourself settling into a comfortable pattern where the baby is sleeping 7-8 hours at a time, she’s eating on a regular schedule, and you are convinced that you’ve got everything on an even keel. But no one told the baby that, and she doesn’t care. The very next day, you could very well find yourself with a child that does nothing but scream for hours at a time, before falling into a deep one hour sleep, and there’s no way to know when the shifts are going to happen. This means that it’s up to you to find alternative ways to get some gaming in. For me, this has meant downloading a host of games onto my iPhone, as well as leaving copies of Games magazine (I love crosswords) in strategic locations throughout the house (read: in the bathroom). This ensures that, even if I can’t get to my next-gentertainment center, I can still get some gaming time.
As I pointed out earlier, there’s no hard and fast rule to parenting that applies to everyone all the time. Babies are, well, they’re people and as such they’re apt to be unpredictable and capricious. Having a baby in the house in no way means that you have to give up video games until her high school graduation, but you do have to prepare to make some choices and sacrifices that you may not have expected. It’s important to remember that you’re literally helping to create the next generation of gamer, and the choices you make, good or bad, will be reflected in your household’s demeanor. With a little preparation, and a lot of patience, gaming can still be a part of your life, just on someone else's schedule.