Edit – this feature was supposed to be purely for our Supporter Program, but I messed up and it temporarily went public. In hindsight I don’t want to seem like a terrible tease, so it’s open to all again.
No Raised By Screens this week as I’ve been up since 4am looking after a rampaging toddler, and frankly I’m just not up to it. Instead, a relevant lament of sorts. Apologies in advance.
I’ve been a father for just over 18 months now, to a daughter who by sheer coincidence just happens to be the most amazing little girl in all of human existence. It’s amazing, it’s exhausting, it takes over everything. So much is gained, but so much is lost.
Including games. For a good couple of decades, games have been where I’ve retreated to be myself. No obligations to anyone else, no need to put on a show – just me, the screen and my imagination. I’d go to games almost every day.
I can’t do that any more. Well, I can – games are my job. It’s a good job. But my job is also writing, and that means I don’t play games for work in anything like the way I play games for myself – deadlines and note-taking and fact-checking (sometimes) and worrying-worrying-worrying that I’ve got it as right as my head full of subjectivity could possibly allow.
Clearly, I am extremely privileged that a large part of my job involves playing games – there are far worse ways to spend a weekday. But it’s an entirely different affair to a no-strings retreat into something my brain has identified as exactly what it wants to do for hours at a time.
I can’t do that any more. My duties (that being childcare and work) begin at 6am if I’m lucky, and end at 7.30pm if I’m lucky. By the time I’ve made and eaten dinner it’s 8.30pm. Then there’s washing up and clearing up a thousand soft toys to be done. The clock says 9 now. If I’m not in bed by 10pm the next day’s going to be awful. Not that I heeded this wisdom during the week Civ: Beyond Earth was released. I’m still paying for that.
Oh, I squeeze in things here and there. A spot of Binding of Isaac or a fiddle with a little iPad game, perhaps. In a way, the selectiveness this requires is a boon – I’m less likely to invest mental energies in a stinker, and I don’t have the perennial problem of leaving something unfinished.
But, y’know, it’s Holiday Season. Games a’comin’. Dragon Age, Far Cry, Elite – games which require a huge time investment, games which can’t be played in 15 minute chunks while the kid’s distracted by a yoghurt or Iggle Piggle. Am I just not going to play those? I don’t think I’ve ever missed a Bioware game (though some I wish I had) before. I know my chums are going to form gangs in Elite: Dangerous that I won’t be a part of. I won’t get to tell the rest of RPS that they’re completely wrong about a Far Cry game.
I’m going to have to come to terms with missing out, in the same way I’m gradually coming to terms with rarely going to the pub or cinema, or occasionally getting someone else’s poo on my hands. It feels like a huge loss, though of course I’ve been blessed with something wonderful to replace it. If you’re a parent, how have you dealt with this change?
Maybe there’ll be peace at the end of it. Maybe I’ll shift closer to treating the games I play for work in the way I treated games I played for myself. Maybe I’ll make damned sure that what I do play for myself is exactly what I need, and exactly what deserves my attention, rather than squandering my precious time on a forgettable shooter or needlessly long roleplaying game.
Maybe the grandparents will take her for a week next Summer and I’ll get to play Dragon Age.