Video games have defined my life. One of my youngest memories is me sitting in my parents’ tiny apartment when I was but a wee lad watching my dad play Super Mario Bros. A couple years later, I took up playing games for myself and continued to do so for the next decade and a half. I received new Nintendo consoles pretty much every Christmas they came out and games were almost exclusively what I spent my money on in my early teens, only being joined by gas and insurance when I got my first car.
The introduction of the car expenses were just the start though. In another five years, I would get married which would further impact my gaming budget, both in terms of money and time. Flash forward to today and I have three children between six and two...my time’s at a premium these days..so, my gaming has had some significant changes in recent years.
Where once I was free to play pretty much whenever I wanted, these days gaming is much more a hobby of convenience than it is something I do regularly. While it does still typically fill every free moment I have, those free moments are few, far between, and are generally not “safe” in terms of there being little to no risk of being interrupted. With three kids, even when I steal away to play a bit on my Nintendo Switch or even cell phone, I have to play games that are quickly and easily put on hold and resumed because you never know when somebody is going to want something or worst case gets hurt...which is a lot with my clumsy/rowdy boys.
It feels a lot of times that gaming and gaming journalism is coming from a perspective of singles or at the very least someone in a relationship without kids. That’s not entirely the case of course as Stephen Totilo’s recent introduction into fatherhood has brought with it a bit of parenthood perspective into the regular Kotaku feed on occasion. Mostly though, it is a lot of looking at gaming as a hobby that can take upwards of 10 hours a week even for casual players and can reach upwards of 4-5 hours a day in certain circles and game styles. Moving beyond the amount of time needed to play games, there’s also the notion of when you get time to play games. While I can usually scrounge up 10 hours of playtime on a good week, those ten hours are extremely broken up and are usually for no longer than 2-3 hours at a time. That’s fine for single player content or drop-in multiplayer, but the sporadic and relatively small time frames make any sort of organized online multiplayer experience all but impossible.
The biggest reason for that on a personal level is that I am a big proponent of a healthy sleep schedule. The problem is that my desire for a healthy sleep schedule directly conflicts with the mentality of my children in that they rarely want to sleep beyond 7:00 AM. This means that for me to ensure a good 8 hours of sleep, even on the weekends, I need to be in bed by 11:00 PM. Most of my friends or anyone else I know personally who would game is just getting started by 10 or 11 o’clock...and that is not even considering the fact that I am Nintendo/PC, where most of my friends are PS4, so there isn’t much of a chance for crossplay anyhow in most cases.
So, how I play games has changed. The biggest game changer (no pun intended) was the introduction of the Nintendo Switch. My boys are still relatively young, so they are easily entertained with whatever colorful stuff is on the television or they are in their room playing with the bazillion toys that they’ve got over the years. I cannot leave them alone by any means, especially the youngest given his...adventurous...spirit, but they are generally independent enough and safe enough that all three of them can handle themselves just fine so long as we are nearby to help them when they need it or to kiss something when it hurts. I am not however okay with playing games on my TV when they are awake though for two reasons. They are slightly related, mostly due to the fact that our entertainment system is downstairs while the rest of the house is upstairs. So, the first reason I do not like to play when they are awake is that I cannot hear them very well downstairs. You hear the bumps and thumps as they run around, but you cannot really tell what they are doing or if they are getting into something they should not be. The other big reason is that I want to play with them while they are awake and are in the mood to do so. Do not get me wrong, sometimes they are dead set on what they are watching or playing with and they would rather not have me around, and in those times is when I pull out my Switch and play a round or two of Mario Tennis Aces, play a stage of Mega Man, or collect a couple of Power Moons in Super Mario Odyssey. This results in the majority of my gaming becoming light, relatively casual games with little to no multiplayer interaction.
The other aspect of gaming as a parent is not just how it affects your own ability to do so, but also how can you incorporate your kids into it as well. I do not mean that you make your kids play game as some sort of self-centered means of getting more play time, but if they know you game, chances are they are going to want to join in with you in some fashion.
My eldest has been gaming for a couple years now and he’s much improved over those initial days of me making Super Mario Maker training levels showing him the basics of moving, jumping, running, and ultimately combining all those together at once. The day he finally beat that training level he was ecstatic. These days, the middle boy is beginning to want to be a part of things, but at three, he still is not quite ready to take part for real, but he’s on the couch with his XBox 360 controller “playing along” with the two of us like he was.
Honestly though, one of the hardest parts of playing games as someone with kids is playing with them during those early years. Do not get me wrong, I love the bonding aspect of playing with my son and we have recently begun a co-op playthrough of Super Mario 64 Online and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure, but for the fun games we play together, there are also the games he loves but I kind of have to play begrudgingly. The two biggest offenders these days are Minecraft and Splatoon. I loved both games initially and really enjoy Splatoon 2 still even if I do not play all that often, but I played Minecraft until I burned out years ago, so dropping back into that game again in 2018 is not really enjoyable for me any more.
The problem with Splatoon specifically though is that I only have one Wii U and one Switch, so we do not have an option to play Splatoon as it was really intended together...instead we are stuck with the competitive 1-on-1 balloon popping game instead. The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, the game itself is just not that fun as the tone is completely different from the main game’s territory control and indirect contribution gameplay. It makes for a game that allows even lower skilled players to make at least some contribution to the match even if they cannot manage to rack up dozens of splats. This leads directly to the second problem with the Battle Dojo for us...my son just is not that good at shooters yet. I mean, the motion controls help somewhat in Splatoon, but as far as operating a twin sticks shooter, he just does not have the practice and intuitive movements yet. Combine this with his lack of following the objective (i.e. shoot the balloons), and that means I tend to have to give him a significant head start only for me to usually end up the winner anyhow. I could always throw the entire match on purpose of course, but that’s just patronizing at that point. As far as my son is concerned, even if I only actually participate in the last 30 seconds of a match, if he wins knowing I was trying my hardest for those 30 seconds, regardless of if I actually ever had a chance to win, there’s a significant difference in his reaction compared to if I just lazily throw the match.
In addition to games you can play with your kids, you also have to consider the games you can play around your kids. My eldest started by watching me play of course and now his younger brother is doing the same with both of us. The fact that he would watch me would impact what I played and how I played it and even still does today. For example, Fortnite being the cultural phenomenon that it is, my son was interested in it and wanted to watch me play it. Now, I am not generally a big proponent of shooters at his age, but Fortnite falls somewhere between Splatoon and Call of Duty; it is pretty serious as a game, but the presentation is generally light, fun, and particularly non-gory. As for the guns and violence itself, we have had that discussion in regarding to physical fighting and have given him an age appropriate gun safety discussion, so I am comfortable with the level violence and the way it is portrayed. I was not however comfortable with playing it in my usual manner...with a mic and voice chat. I opted out of voice chat for those sessions for obvious reasons, but that is just one small way having the kids around and awake affects how I play.
You also have to consider not just the content and if it is appropriate, but can you play something that would appeal to them more than something else. Say for instance you get a Switch and buy Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey with it and start playing through them at the same time. Which of those two games could you fire up and play and the kids genuinely enjoy watching you play and therefore be something you could enjoy together longer before they get bored and walk away? In most cases, I would suspect the kids would want to watch the colorful and cartoony Super Mario Odyssey, but that is also something dependent on your kids specifically. Regardless, you factor that in and maybe you decide to hold off on Breath of the Wild until the kids are asleep. You may also want to hold of just because it is a more narrative focused game and you really want to be able to hear the cutscenes or not be otherwise distracted.
The purpose of Guardian Gaming is to present gaming related things from the perspective of a father of three. That is of course only one of many possible dynamics of a family, but I hope that the perspectives and insight I can give into things can help others with more complicated schedules like mine make informed decisions. I am not a professional reviewer nor writer, but it is something I am passionate about, so I would like to help others in similar situations make the best use of the time and money.
Guardian Gaming is not a fixed process or even a single story time. Guardian Gaming is a banner under which all of my gaming related articles will fall under. Sometimes they may be reviews, other times it may be the rare preview, perhaps a player’s diary series when I play the rare online multiplayer experience, and sometimes it may just be life stories that involve family life and gaming.
If you have questions or suggestions for articles, feel free to reach out and I am sure that we can open a dialogue and maybe even get user contribution. I would love to do the occasional guardian group style discussion article.
So, I am a father of three, but why am I using the title of guardian? My life experience has taught me that sometimes the kids in your life may not be your own. While me and my wife were already parents of two, we actually adopted our third. It was a long process and we started as their foster parents, but in that time, we met so many families who would take in children, sometimes strangers and sometimes family. The thing that they all shared though is that they cared for those children as if they were their own.
So, I know that there are people out there in the world who may be legal guardians of children who are not their own. Perhaps they are in the process of becoming legal parents, maybe they are watching the kids as a temporary situation, or for whatever reason they are not able to become “parents” to these children. Using the word “guardian” for me is a just small token of appreciation to those who may not wear the official title of “parent” but are still making a difference in the lives of the children to whom they have opened their homes.
RadzPrower is a Georgia native with an interest in video games, science fiction, and comic books. He is a software engineer, but enjoys writing in his spare time. He has three kids ages six, three, and two, the eldest of which has started playing game alongside him. For a more in-depth bio, read here.