Top 10 Ways Having a Child Changed My Relationship with Video Games
Today is my son’s second birthday (that’s him with me in the picture above). He’s an awesome little guy and I love him to bits. His coming has changed a lot in my life; some changes were expected and others unexpected. One of these unexpected ways has been his impact on my relationship with video games. The first 9 entries on the list are not in any particular order, but they all build towards #1 in a way that makes it the most important.
So, if you have had a young kid or still have one, you might be able to relate to what you are about to read. If you are thinking about having kids, read this as a cautionary tale. If you ARE a young kid, what the hell are you doing here reading this? Seriously, I’m gonna swear here so you shouldn’t be reading this. For fuck’s sake, where are your parents? Playing video games?
1o – Mature Games
I should start by pointing out that I have never been a “I only play hardcore mature games!” kind of guy. I just want to play good games, regardless of what age group it may be aimed at. When choosing what game I play, I have always just played whatever I felt like. Why wouldn’t I? I now have an answer to that question. The answer is actually a second question.
Can I play this game in front of my son? If the answer is no, it doesn’t mean I won’t buy it, but it does mean I won’t play it while he’s running around the room. If I’m in the mood for Fallout 3 and my son is up, well, it looks like I won’t be playing it. I can play Katamari Forever, or Flower, or NSMB Wii. If I really want to play Fallout 3, I will have to wait until he’s asleep.
This isn’t a huge adjustment, but when you’ve been playing video games for over 25 years and you’re used to just playing whatever game you happen to feel like playing, it change things. It wasn’t a change that really surprised me; it’s just something I hadn’t really thought about beforehand. It’s just a fact of life now: I can’t play every game I own when my son is around.
9 – Pausing
As an example, I am going to use Demon’s Souls. You can’t pause in this game, ever. I got this game while my wife was pregnant. She would pass out every night at around 9 or 10 PM, giving me lots of time to play it. I loved it. It’s a great game. I played it all the time, but then my kid was born and everything was ruined.
You see, when you have a newborn, you don’t get to plan ANYTHING. That little monster will wake up 5 minutes after falling asleep just as easily as he can NOT GO TO SLEEP AT ALL! He may also wake up every 15 minutes for 4 hours. Or he could sleep 10 hours straight through. You can have no idea what kind of nap or night’s sleep he’s going to have, and when your wife has spent the last hour breastfeeding the bane of your existence and trying to get him to sleep, it means if he wakes up now or won’t go to sleep, it’s your turn to take care of him/get him to sleep.
When you become a parent and the above paragraph becomes your new reality, you too will discover the disappointment that comes with realizing that you can no longer play a game you truly enjoy if you can’t pause the game. When your kid wakes up screaming and you put down your controller, only to return 30 minutes later to find yourself standing in the Nexus without any of your hard won equipment and souls, so you start to fight your way back to your corpse when your kid wakes up… AGAIN… well, it only takes a couple of such incidents for Demon’s Souls to get popped out of the PS3, put back into its case, placed on the shelf, and forgotten for a very long time.
I can’t really think of many other games where you can’t pause, and before someone points out in the comments that you can’t pause in Demon’s Souls because you always play online, I would like to point out that I rarely play games online, including Demon’s Souls (which you can play offline, as I always do), for reasons that will be explained in the next entry…
8 – Online
This is another aspect of my gaming life that is all but gone. I’ve always hated playing online though. It was fun for Diablo and… Diablo II, and I suppose it was useful to play NHL 11 against one of my brothers while he was living away or with other friends, but other than that, I never had much use for or interest in it.
So while I did enjoy playing a few current-gen games with friends online, it’s something I’ve had to put an end to for the same reason Demon’s Souls got shelved. I just don’t think my friends appreciated having me float around centre ice for 20 minutes while I changed a diaper or burped my son… especially when I played centre.
Outside of the problems it’s caused that are similar to the inability to pause, playing games online also has the added bonus of featuring other people, total strangers, being able to play with you, and talk into their microphones at you while playing. I’m not the type of person who minds some swearing here and there, so that’s not really the issue. My son has already heard me swear. What I don’t want him to hear at his age is people using racial and homophobic slurs. Avoiding that shit is just another reason why I won’t be playing video games online for a while.
7 – Controls and controllers
My kid will ask to play the Wii by making swinging motions with his arm while pointing at it. He usually wants to play Wii Sports for about 10 seconds and then gets bored because none of the buttons seem to do anything… except the small red one in the top left corner of the wiimote. He likes that button a lot. I’ve trained him to hit the A and B buttons simultaneously, so it’s a start, and he loves that noise comes out of the controller, but that’s about it. The controller is too busy for him to really focus on what I’m telling him to do. The problem is even worse with the PS3. All he wants to do is play with the analog sticks, so his gaming on this console has been limited to Katamari Forever, and even then, I don’t think he really noticed that he’s doing anything.
The reason my kid has tried these games is because when I play, he often comes to sit next to me, and after a while, he’ll usually ask to have the controller. I used to let him try, but today’s controllers have way too many buttons for him to be able to do much. It’s pretty sad to see the disappointment on his little face when he sees the game isn’t doing what it was when his dad was playing.
The only current-gen technology I love in regards to controllers is their wireless capabilities. It’s nice that I don’t have to worry about my kid running by, tripping over a wire, and making the PS3 come crashing drown from the shelf.
6 – Length of gaming sessions
Remember when you would sit down in front of your console in the evening, only to notice much later that the sun is coming up again, or when you put in a good 4-hour session on a Sunday afternoon? Yeah, you can forget all about those days when you have a kid. Those days are over, at least for a few years, maybe forever… I just don’t know.
This is why it’s frustrating to play something like Mirror’s Edge. It isn’t too violent or disturbing, especially if I make it a point to not use any guns I happen to pick up, so I can play it when he’s around, but if he suddenly decides that he doesn’t want to be in the rec room and bolts upstairs, or starts screaming “hockey?” and “goal?” at you, it means it’s time to go out side and play ball hockey. Unless I’ve just managed to finish a level, those 15 minutes I put into the game have been mostly useless because I’m not about to leave my PS3 on for several hours doing nothing but making the house warmer.
Worst of all, RPGs are my favorite genre of video games and they are pretty much the worst when it come to this. Fallout 3 was nice in that you could save from anywhere at any time, but it’s violence meant that I wouldn’t play it around him anyway. Still, even if I could play it around him, the next item in the list takes a huge chunk out of every gaming session I get.
5 – System and game load times
As I’ve already mentioned above, you might not have a whole lot of time to put into your favorite game, so when your console takes several minutes to boot up, and then you have to wait several more minutes as the game begins to load, having to watch multiple pointless animated logos for every company that did anything in the game that you cannot skip no matter how hard and repeatedly you pound the start button, and then finally having to wait again as your save file loads, it is entirely possible that your gaming time is up. The whole process annoyed me somewhat before I had a kid, but now that I do, it’s fucking infuriating! I mean, what is up with all this bullshit? It shouldn’t take you over 5 minutes just to be able to start playing. Why do we put up with this shit? Better graphics and more powerful consoles? I don’t care about that stuff, I just want to play a video game. Is that too much to ask?
4 – Voice acting
I’m not here to say voice acting is a bad thing, but while playing 3D Dot Game Heroes recently, something dawned on me: With no voice acting, there’s a lot of reading to do. That might not be a very significant realization for most of you, but you see, my mother tongue is French, so when I played Final Fantasy (the original) and Zelda II when I was 8 years old, I couldn’t read (though I could speak) English yet (we only start learning English in the 5th grade, so 3 years later when I was 11).
Because of this, I had to keep asking my parents what certain words were. “What does s-h-i-e-l-d mean?” “What does s-w-o-r-d mean?” And you know what, after a while, I had to ask them less and less, to the point where within the same year (my mom still tells this story), I asked my parents if a particular town was in a certain direction. They asked how I knew that. I told them that I read it on a sign. They knew what sign it was, and they also knew it was completely in English, so they asked me how it was I was able to read it. My answer: “Video games.”
And it was the truth. I learned English years before I would have in school because of video games. That voice acting has replaced the text-based dialog of old school games means that my son will likely not be able to do what I had done, and that is sad. Some of you might be thinking, “but wouldn’t voice acting in video games mean that he would learn how to speak English sooner?” My answer to that is that I doubt it would do much more than having most of the TV, radio, movies, and music around him be in English already does.
3 – 60$ is a lot of money
Again, before I get too misunderstood, I’m not saying that today’s video games are over-priced. When you’re in a couple, both of you are working, and you don’t have children (in other words, when you’re dinks), dropping 60$ on a game a few times a year is no big deal; however, when you add a mortgage and car payments (neither of which I had before my kid was born) to the fact that kids are damn expensive, your brain starts to think things along these lines:
“You know those 300$ you spent on 5 PS3 and Wii games? Don’t you know how many Atari, NES, and Genesis games you could have bought with that much money? Let me tell you: Since you have a buddy who owns a store that sells most of those games for 5$ a pop, the answer is 60. SIXTY FUCKING GAMES!”
As a result of this recurring interior monologue you will inevitably keep having every time you entertain the thought of buying a new game for a current-gen console, you come to the conclusion that if you seriously still want to play new video games, you might have to settle for “new to you” games. Luckily, the reason you’re alright with this is because “new to you” also means “on the consoles you loved and grew up with.”
2 – Complicated/Convoluted gameplay
This is somewhat related to the number 7 on this list (Controls/controllers). Gameplay can be muddled by the use of too many buttons and motion controls, but it can also be complicated in and of itself. Having no way of knowing beforehand what is junk and what is useful in Fallout 3 (and having a weight limit) is an example of this, as is having to learn lengthy lists of multiple button combos in games like God of War.
Even worse than those examples is when games like NHL 11 and NHL make you have to push the analog stick up for a wrist-shot, and down then up for a slap-shot. To make matters worse, when you change sides, the controls get inverted. It’s terrible. Why can’t I have a specific button for shooting instead of this bullshit? And don’t even get me started on motion controls.
Often, none of these control configurations make the game more fun, more challenging in a meaningful or rewarding way, and isn’t necessary at all. Frequently, it makes an aspect of the game become a chore. With a kid, all these things would do is run the risk of him dropping the controller, sighing, and saying the game is too complicated.
1 – Retro Games are Your Friend
In case you hadn’t noticed, all the other entries were pretty much building up to this one. This is something I hadn’t thought of when introducing my son to gaming. I always intended to show him old-school games, partially because I want him to appreciate the history of video games, but also because I want to share with him the games that I loved and grew up with. What I didn’t realize is how useful and important these old games would become to me.
Violence – I can only think of two games for the Genesis and none for the Atari 2600 or NES that could possibly be considered too violent to play in front of my kid. There might be a few on the N64, but I don’t own them so it doesn’t matter.
Pausing – Uhm, is there an old school game you can’t pause?
Online – NEXT!
Controls and controllers – The NES controller, with its D-pad, A and B buttons, START and SELECT is super simple, as is the Genesis. The Atari with its joystick or paddle controller is even simpler and is perfect for my kid to start gaming with. I mean, think back to Asteroids, or Super Mario Bros., or Sonic the Hedgehog. Do you remember how easy it was to figure out how to play those games? The Genesis controller has three buttons and they all do the same thing for Sonic!
Length of gaming sessions – Obviously not the case for every game (especially some RPGs), but isn’t 15 minutes long enough to play Mega Man and beat a level, maybe 2? Or how about blast processing your way through a zone in a Sonic game? How about getting a couple of sessions in Tony Hawk Pro Skater? I’d take 15 minutes with any of these games, wouldn’t you? And if, while playing, my son wakes up suddenly, I can just hit the power button and go see him right away without having 15 minutes (or whatever amount of time I’ve been playing) of unsaved progress. In 15 minutes, I can get about 7 sessions of THPS, so maybe I lose a minute or so in the 8th session. It’s not really a big deal.
System and game load times – Honestly, I’d rather have Super Mario Bros. 3 or Comix Zone graphics and be able to play a few seconds after hitting power on the NES or Genesis than have to wait close to 10 minutes before I can start playing something in HD on the PS3.
Voice acting – Like I mentioned earlier, I learned how to read English because of games like Zelda II and Final Fantasy. There’s a good chance my son will too because if he doesn’t love Zelda II, then he isn’t really my son. It’s the only 100% accurate paternity test in the world.
$60 is a lot of money – I repeat: $300 for 5 new current-gen games (not including taxes) or 60 retro games at $5 per game? Is there really any debate? Seriously, just today, I could have bought Eternal Champions, Cyborg Justice, Ecco the Dolphin, Sonic 1, 2, and 3, Mortal Kombat, Batman Forever, and Cool Spot for the Genesis and Golden Axe for the Master System for $5 each. This is what I found after clicking on the most recent ad I found on Kijiji for “Older generation” video games.
Complicated/convoluted gameplay – How complicated can a game be when all you have is a joystick and one, maybe two buttons? Or how about a d-pad and two buttons? Wanna try three buttons and a d-pad?
As you can see, retro games win on every count. Sure, you could come up with a game or two that are too violent (Mortal Kombat for the Genesis), that wouldn’t be a good choice for a short gaming session (Final Fantasy), or that cost a tonne of money (some classic, hard to find classics), but the point is that the majority of them do meet all of the necessary criteria much more consistently that current-gen games do.
All of this has ushered in what I’m calling my third wave of retro gaming. The first wave was when I originally played them. The 2nd wave was poverty induced. I was a university student living off of student loans, so I couldn’t afford the new consoles and games. And now here I am, playing the games I’ve always loved, introducing my son to both the games and the characters (even the one he was named after), and enjoying every minute of it. It’s good to be back, and with a 2nd son coming in late October, it doesn’t look like I will be going away again for a long time. You know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Bring it on and game on!