I knew that I had at least a month off from work for paternity leave since the beginning of the year. I envisioned that time spent taking care of the baby sure, but also as a time when I could get back to my gaming roots. I wanted to hit legend in Hearthstone for the first time; I was sure I could, I just never played near enough games. I wanted to level a bunch of alts in World of Warcraft to prepare for Legion. I wanted to start going through the large virtual pile of Steam games I bought but never played.
None of that has happened.
It’s not that the time hasn’t actually been there, it has, sort of. Even taking care of a newborn leaves time to oneself when he is sleeping (like right now, for now). The problem is that when you have a 24-hour job, you can never really put your nose to the grindstone and get anything relevant done, not around the house or in the unpausable gaming world. Even if you do get a two hour chunk of time, you couldn’t expect it to happen, because you only got it because the kid slept twice as long as normal for no reason, and you play as though he will awaken in the next two minutes. When you’re playing, one eye is always on the baby monitor, but don’t stare because he somehow knows and fusses or makes noise when you do, and while I love my son, I dread looking at the monitor and seeing him stir an hour early, not because I don’t enjoy feeding him or changing him or rocking him to sleep, but because I feel somehow cheated out of an hour to myself, and when you only get, on average, about 100-120 minutes between feedings (20 minutes to feed, 30 minutes upright/burping, and who knows how many time you will put him down before he sleeps), those hours are precious. You won’t know how precious until you’re trying to finish a game of League of Legends while holding a baby and a bottle leaning against your cheek so you don’t get an AFK penalty.
I’ve contemplated finding something else to do with my time, but gaming is just a part of me. I’ve been gaming since I was four years old, I’ve never found anything to fill the hole that would leave in my life, in how I define myself and my world.
I know plenty of gamers that have children. None of them warned me about this, about how tough it would be. All they offer now that I am mired in this is the mantra that runs through my head.
“It gets better.”
I suppose it does, and I can already see signs of improvement. He sleeps slightly longer, goes down a little quicker, and I have become a little less paranoid about him waking up. I’ve developed something of a method to my gaming that helps balance my life, and I’d like to share a few tips to all you future gamer dads out there, so you avoid the mistakes I’ve made, and help balance your own life.
1. The Pause Button Is Your Friend
This seems obvious, but paramount to everything. Until you’re comfortable and familiar with the baby’s routine, don’t bother playing anything you can’t walk away from or pause at a moment’s notice. Even if your baby is sleeping during the day, your partner will probably need your help with something because you’re both falling incredibly behind on everything you used to do around the house, and baby ‘stuff’ is literally everywhere. I only play games that I can’t get up from at night when both my wife and son are asleep, and even then only right after a feeding when I’m sure he will stay down.
Be warned, even pausable games often demand relatively long sessions to garner anything beyond superficial enjoyment. Stuff like The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind for example, aren’t really that fun if you can’t become immersed in the world your character is wandering around in. Diablo III is a great example of something you can play without feeling frustrated about stopping. You can log in, get halfway through a Greater Rift, log out because you’re needed, and nothing is lost or gained really. I admit that I will have to switch from playing hardcore to softcore in future seasons, but that’s really the only change.
2. The One-Armed Gamer
There will be times when your kid just wants to sleep while you hold him. He won’t make a peep while you have him, but instantly wakes up when put in his crib. For these not-so-uncommon times, finding a game you can play with one hand is invaluable for passing the time. Hearthstone is by far the best game for these occasions. You only use the mouse to play, and games are short and mostly individually meaningless, so if your situation changes and you DO need to get up, it’s not a big deal.
The other option is to map more buttons to your mouse so you can play something like World of Warcraft. Sure, you aren’t going to be an Arena Master playing like that, but if you need to farm resources, its a simple matter of mapping a mount and your jump to two buttons. Even if you have the most basic mouse, if it has a scroll wheel that’s three ‘buttons’ you can use to get some farming done.
I have to give an honorable mention to Faster Than Light since it requires only one hand to play, is pausable, and it’s only $10 on Steam.
3. Don’t Be That Guy On Purpose
I can’t stress this enough. Just don’t expect to realistically play League of Legends, or Overwatch, or anything that has an automatic system that punishes AFKers. Sure, maybe once in a while when your family is asleep, but the reality is that every time you play, you risk interruption, and worse, you risk both feeling shitty because you lost a game AND the other people in your game having a shitty time because you had to leave. Eventually, those auto-ban systems will catch up to you, and you probably don’t want to get suspended because you had to change a poopy diaper.
4. Expand Your Horizons
While I was still trying to find my footing and develop these methods for gaming survival, I would browse the Steam store since I was unable to do much else. I was feeling crappy about my gaming life, so I bought a few games on a whim, including Windward and Bastion. I actually got to play Windward a little, and found it refreshing and enjoyable, and I felt good about spending so little on a game I enjoyed so much.
Well, I hate to cut this short, but my son is awake, and its been an hour since I wrote a word, so I’m going to leave it here. Hope all you future gamer dads find some value in these tips, or at least walk away with the knowledge that you aren’t alone, and that it does “get better.”