My Kids Stole My Controller - Chapter 2: Player 2 has Joined the Game
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My Kids Stole My Controller – Chapter 2: Player 2 has Joined the Game

Navigating life as a gaming parent is tough, so our Editor Matt decided to take on the challenge of writing about it in a long-form format. Welcome to the first part of this epic work from Matt, we hope you enjoy it and you can expect new parts every two weeks. It is also worth noting that Matt wrote this with people that may not understand video games in mind, so feel free to share with your friends and family that are a little lost in this era of gaming and tech. You can catch up on the previous chapter here: 

My Kids Stole My Controller – Chapter 2: Player 2 has Joined the Game

We are now going to skip a few years ahead. For those who are curious, those narratively unimportant years went a little like this: Pub, footy, video games, pub, buy a house (which we were much better prepared for this time), pub, get a roommate to help with the mortgage, video games, no more pub because of the mortgage, big news. 

That covers about a 4 year period of my life. Pretty uneventful and irrelevant until that point: big news. Life-altering big news. One day, while slogging away at work, my girlfriend joined me for lunch. A lovely thing that she had a habit of doing on occasion, so I didn’t expect any earth-shattering revelations, just a feed and a chat with the love of my life. As we were sitting down to a dodgy cafeteria chicken roll, she drops the bomb. 

“Guess what, Mr Useless. You are going to be a daddy.”

This is one of those moments that are almost impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t been through it. Time seemed to stop, all the noise in the room faded into irrelevant nothingness. Chemicals flooded my brain in a wave. I didn’t know whether to cheer for joy, cower in fear or something in between. Would I be a good dad? Am I ready for this? Is it possible to cower in joy? 

My life is over. I am so excited. This is perfect. This is terrifying. Jesus H Christ, what have I gotten myself in for?  

As it turned out, I might not have been one hundred per cent ready for it, but I was quick enough to adapt that no one caught on to how often I almost ran in fear. My son was, of course, the cutest (parenting truth, your child is always the cutest and other people have vision problems) and my life, of course, changed drastically. Nonetheless, video games managed to remain a part of my brave new lifestyle. Despite newfound priorities, I wiggled some game time in and, due to the circumstances, it was a much more memorable experience as a result. You see, my Player 2 joined me from his very early days. So early, in fact, that he had barely arrived home from the hospital. 

My Kids Stole My Controller - Chapter 2: Player 2 has Joined the Game
Jade Empire was one of the first games I played through with my son asleep on my chest.

Every now and then, I am going to lurch from narrative to helpful tips in this work. Thus, here lurches my first divergence into self-help.

Lurch.

I am going to clue any potential non-birth-giving partners onto a gaming lifesaver that I learned early on: a lot of those early days are spent helping mum get adjusted. Rightfully so. Stuff like keeping the house in order, assisting with nappy changes, fetching dinner – basically anything to make life easier for a person who has just gone through quite the traumatic experience and came out the other side feeling like a glorified feed bag. As a result, one of the most important things a partner can do in this situation is simply to give some respite, a break away from the cycle of feed, burp, change, sleep, feed again, clean up vomit, dear god what even is that that just happened? Simply taking the newborn, allowing your exhausted better half an extra hour of sleep, is a must. But what to do in that hour, that 60 minutes where your primary responsibility is holding this bundle of joy and poop and your goal is  making sure it doesn’t disturb mum’s well-earned rest? Play video games, of course.

The true talent here is balancing the baby comfortably on your chest while you play. For obvious reasons, console gaming is a must; firstly relaxing into a lounge chair is always more comfortable than even the best computer chairs and secondly, I have never met anyone that can balance a keyboard, mouse and baby all at once. Letting the baby rest on your chest while you, in a reclined position, enjoy a healthy spot of deathmatch is an art that I mastered early on. It even got to the point where bub would fall asleep in this position more often than not, allowing me to grab a few extra minutes of game time. I found myself getting through some significantly large games during this period of my little man’s life, games that require a notable investment of time.  It is, after all, always better to let sleeping babies lie.

*ahem*

I am presenting this in a light-hearted manner, having a bit of fun for fun’s sake,  but I want to be serious for just a second. Those moments I spent with both of my boys (I kept up the tradition for player 3) are some of the most fondly remembered moments of my life. I think it is often hard for fathers and non-birth giving partners to get quality time with their kids. After all, we aren’t equipped with the right gear to keep bub happy and content at dinner time. That said, it is undeniably important for both parents to spend quality one-on-one time with their offspring. For me, this was it. It warms my heart as I write this, thinking of my boys, so small and helpless, laying on my chest, wrapped up, comfortable and protected.

Now, I spent that time playing games, but I could have been reading, watching TV or just relaxing. The result would have been the same. It was the fact that I spent that time with my kids that was important.  I strongly feel a connection was forged in those early weeks and months of their lives, a connection that exists to this day and I honestly don’t know how my relationship with my kids might look without it. 

All this stops, however, when the natural state of the child goes from motionless slug to some sort of crawling demon that is connected to the speed force. It is at this point that gaming truly becomes a secondary consideration. Controllers are objects that exist only to be slobbered on, game discs become rolling toys and the “bing” a console makes when turned on and off becomes a child’s favourite sound. It is honestly amazing how fascinating toddlers find anything related to games. They want to throw them, drool on them, suck on them, even chew on them. Literally anything, so long it’s not what the thing was actually designed for. I even tried tricking the kids by leaving old, broken controllers and games from two generations ago lying around, but they were not to be fooled with such a simple ruse. They had a sixth sense regarding these things and knew where my latest game or favourite controller was at all times, and they had to have that item at any cost. Have you ever seen a copy of a $100 dollar video game become nothing more than a slightly munched frisbee? It isn’t a pretty sight. 

My Kids Stole My Controller - Chapter 2: Player 2 has Joined the Game
The Switch would have been the perfect parenting companion had it be available when my kids were toddlers.

I would love to provide some hints as to how to fit in some serious gaming time during this part of a child’s life, but all I have is wait until they are asleep and expect to get interrupted. A lot. Even though it didn’t exist when my kids were growing up, I feel like the Nintendo Switch would be the perfect console for a parent in this situation. Plenty of short, bite-sized experiences with the best instant pause/resume function of any system. Baby cries? Game goes on standby; baby gets into the cupboard? Leave your console on the sofa for a moment; you hear the toilet flush even though you swear there is no way the little gremlin could possibly reach the button? Drop the Switch and run. 

But I digress. This time period is a tough one if you are intent on getting any serious game time in. My suggestion? Just play what you can, when you can and be thankful for it. If you have any grander plans then they’ll likely just end up in the trash. 

‘How did I handle this period?’ I’m glad you asked! Well, I did the opposite of everything I suggested above. Not only did I continue to try and spend some serious time with videogames, but I also started to write about them. Yes, I started reviewing games at this time in my life. Coincidentally, this was around the time that I started going to sleep around midnight (a habit that continues to this day). This was the beginning of everything games media related in my life, and it has led to me writing a long-form feature where I pretend not to be clueless and hope that I might be able to help people who are slightly more clueless than I am. The classic “do as I say not as I do” parenting line comes to mind here and if nothing else, please trust me when I say this much: just enjoy the time. It is precious, and personal goals are somehow less important with little ones crawling (and drooling and burping and pooping) around.

 

Keep your eyes open for Chapter 3 – Junior Gaming, coming in two weeks time. You can catch Chapter 1 – The Wonder Years here:

Thanks again to Tim Henderson for his timely and sage copy edits.