My 20 month old sometimes watches StarCraft with me. This actually started shortly after he was born: I used to watch Husky’s commentaries or MLG matches while I carried him around for naps or to help him fall back asleep when he awoke in the middle of the night. Right now, he likes the Protoss (I might encourage this somewhat) and, due to what I think is a pretty cute miscommunication, calls them “bobots.” I am a gamer, and I’m happy to have moments like this, enjoying my hobby and spending time with my son.
Becoming a parent is one of the best thing that can happen to a person, perhaps tied with getting married or meeting a major life goal. But all of these things can really eat into the time a person has for their hobbies. In today’s world, the gamer isn’t just a young, unattached male as the stereotypes would have us believe. Gamers are everywhere, in all walks of life, and many of us are parents. And to those of you contemplating this journey, perhaps with trepidation that you’ll have to forever hang up your gaming mouse or controller in favor of checkbooks and diapers, we have a small contingent of gamer parents here to fill you in on the ups and downs of the life of a gamer parent.
This is for those of you out there who might be expecting, or who've interacted with gamer parents and wondered how or why they do what they do. Parents, especially the large section of the population who themselves have children who are parents (like my father, who is just as big a nerd as I am and a longtime gamer himself) will probably empathize with this article, but since they likely are living it, it might not be very new to them.
If you have any thoughts, or want to share your own experiences as, or with, gamer parents, please do so in the comments below! Now, without further ado...
EnderSC2 "You have no idea how much a baby changes your life until you have one. My wife and I were surprised at how little we knew even though we spent a lot of time preparing for baby (parenting classes, etc.). I knew in the beginning, at least until baby got into a good sleep pattern, that my game time was going to be severely limited."
I hope this is going to be pretty obvious, but becoming a parent is a huge transition. Those of you who might be worried about losing out on gaming time: well, ultimately, you’re right. And, of course, you’re wrong in part, as well.
I know that, for myself, I didn’t think that being a parent would have a huge impact on my ability to commit time to my hobby. Boy, was I wrong. During the first couple weeks after my son was born, I did little else but care for my wife and son and play games (from what little I remember through the haze of intense sleep deprivation, most of what my son did in his first weeks of life was eat, poop and cry). Of course, soon enough I had to go back to work as well, but for months it seems I was getting virtually no sleep. It seriously impacted my ability to concentrate during StarCraft matches, and sapped my energy for pretty much everything.
But you know what? I wouldn’t trade those times for anything. Having this tiny person, watching him grow and learn to move, learn to do such seemingly simple things like sit up and focus his eyes…. It was awe inspiring like nothing else I’ve ever done. I think fellow gamer dad Ender SC2 puts it very well when he offers this advice:
EnderSC2 "Be patient and enjoy every minute of it. There are a lot of less glamorous aspects of being a new parent (getting peed/pooped on, spit up, crying at all hours of the night) but those are all forgotten when that little bundle of joy falls asleep in your arms, when they start smiling, and when they first say “mama” or “dada.” It will take some time before you can dedicate time to gaming and you know what, that is ok. Being a parent is the most important thing you will do in your lifetime."
The face of your internal gaming landscape changes when you and your spouse bring a little one into the world, but not a single person I interviewed regretted this change. I guess, when you become a parent, your priorities change. It’s almost impossible that they don’t, since we’re genetically wired to want to care for our children. And it’s extremely rewarding, better than any tomagatchi or god game. Watching, and participating, in the development and maturation of your child is at times frustrating, at times interesting, but mostly it’s awe inspiring and incredibly rewarding.
Fitting In Your Hobby
Just because your already busy life now includes a tiny helpless person who doesn’t sleep well or consistently and cries a lot, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to fit in your hobbies or game with your friends. It just takes some preparation and support from your loved ones.
Discorax "I'm the parent on night duty. When the kids wake up, I get them and put them back to sleep… The kids wake up at 6am no matter what, so if I stay up too late playing, I pay for it the next day. Sometimes it's worth it if there are a bunch of people on or we're having a really fun games, but I always pay for it. There is no more sleeping in for gamer dads."
EnderSC2 "When our kids were younger, it was a challenge. Until you get them into a routine I think it is difficult to set time aside for gaming."
I know that I’ve had my fair share of nights when my son seemed determined to totally prevent me from getting any gaming in. In fact, there was a period where it seemed like every time I sat down to play a match in SC2, my son would sense it and wake up. I could probably figure out exactly when it was, as well, by taking a look back through my match history for a very long losing streak, where I had to repeatedly quit games due to my parental responsibilities. Like Discorax, I’m the night watch for my son: if he wakes up, it’s me that sooths him back down to sleep (most of the time! My wife has certainly had many a long and sleepless night with our son as well). This can be a time consuming process, depending on how good a sleeper your child(ren) is(are). I’ve had nights where it took my son 2 hours to fully fall back asleep from waking.
EnderSC2 "There have been times when I was playing a 1v1 SC2 match and a kid started crying so I had to pause and check on them. Most of the time opponents are understanding which is awesome. To be honest I wish the majority of people who played games were parents, being a parent forces you to grow up and I think we can all agree that the maturity level of “most” gamers is severely lacking."
Interacting with non-parent gamers and your spouse
Discorax "In a way gaming has become one of my social outlets. Going out and spending time with people doing activities energizes me. It's hard to go out to with friends, so gaming gives me a chance to spend time with them with the kids safely asleep in the other room."
I’ve found that mileage can vary greatly here. Both holy_spork and Discorax (and many other gamer parents I know) find time to focus on their “core” games with their friends… in fact, most people I interviewed for this article either participated in or managed some eSport event while being a parent. Much of what this comes down to is prioritization and the support and assistance of your significant other.
EnderSC2 "My wife is awesome. She understands that I need game time just as much as she needs Pinterest / Downton Abbey time. We spend time together at night watching shows or doing other activities together but we both understand that we need time for our own hobbies which is awesome."
I know my wife has been very tolerant of my hobby, from having Husky videos or replays in the background while I do chores, to weekends of MLG, to sitting in front of the computer with my son watching “bobots” (though to be fair he usually gets bored after about 5-10 minutes, especially watching pros play – they jump their screens around too much for him to appreciate all the geometric Protoss structures and units). I’ve actually had to be very careful to not let myself get so focused on watching or playing games that I let my relationship with my wife fall by the wayside. I’ve (regrettably) let this happen a handful of times since my son was born, and have had to have some serious heart-to-hearts about my priorities. It’s the nature of most gamers, I think, to get single-mindedly focused on enjoying and mastering our hobbies, but it can be very hard on a family to have a parent drawn away into their own little world.
Discorax “My non-gamer friends don't really get involved with my gaming life much. My wife is a non-gamer, which can be unfortunate at times as she just doesn't understand the gamer life. She does understand that if she doesn't give me an opportunity to play, I'll be unhappy so she lets me get my fix (again mostly after she's asleep as long as it doesn't interfere with our family time).”
With some concessions, it’s often possible to enjoy adequate time with your game of choice, though factors mentioned above: spousal support, children’s sleep schedules, work deadlines, etc can greatly alter your available time. MOBA/ARTS games in particular can be tricky to play as the parent of a newborn or young child due to the time commitment. Pre-planning gaming times with spousal support can greatly alleviate these sorts of issues. Sometimes, for instance, if I’m playing during one of my son’s naps, and he wakes up before I’m done, my wife will often volunteer to play with him till I’m free again. Having a support system in place becomes vital when time and social commitments are involved. Scheduling can quickly become a life saver.
Holy_Spork "There was a slight challenge with keeping in touch with my non-parent gamer friends. The cut back in my gaming time meant that I had to be more focused in terms of what games I try to play with them. Basically, the only game that I play right now with my old gamer friends is League of Legends, and I am generally alright in keeping up with my old friends. They however, play Diablo 3, Path of Exile, Minecraft, and WoW together. The biggest change for me was that I needed to focus on the most important game to me and work on staying competitive with them on that game."
Obviously, the point of being a “gamer parent” is not just to keep playing games once you have kids. Anyone do that. Crazy moms who neglect their children to play FarmVille do that. The important thing is to be able to enjoy your hobby responsibly, while still making time for the really important things in life; children, friends, and spouse/significant other. With a little bit of planning, a little bit of support and a willingness to change your priorities, you should be able to battle to your satisfaction. Just remember – being a parent is a wonderful journey, and there’s no reason to go crazy. Moderation, prioritization and self control are vital skills that help gamer parents. See you on the battlefield, with your baby monitor in tow!