New dad diaries: protips for new parents

, | Game diaries

It’s amazing how much you can learn about caring for twins in four months. You can go from a complete novice afraid of breaking his children and hopeless at diaper changes to a complete novice afraid of breaking his children who changes diapers like a champ.

If you’re also a gamer, you can pick up a few tips along the way to help you squeeze in a little more screen time and maximize your enjoyment. Consider these best practices for the baby set, whether you’ve got multiples or a singleton on the way.

After the jump, three tips for choosing the best games for your new circumstances.

1) ADD is the order of the day

There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of infants playing role-playing games: They just don’t have the attention span. Sprawling, complex narratives, vast worlds to explore, and the secret calculus of min-maxing aren’t much of a draw for those who ecstatically celebrate every shiny object that they see.

And if your newborns can’t focus on a certain type of game, then neither can you. “Babies take up a lot of your time” isn’t exactly a revelation, but what they show you in movies and on TV isn’t even close to the reality. You are on your children’s schedule and at the mercy of their whims. As long as they’re awake, their focus is your focus, and you will change it at their command. As you prepare the tenth bottle of the day, you may fondly recall the countless hours you spent in Cyrodiil, or your victories with your Halo clan, or the raids you ran in Azeroth. But in a post-baby world, any game that requires more than a five-minute commitment to be satisfying is a one-way ticket to heartbreak.

That’s why a turn-based game is the new parent’s best friend. Strategy games, collectable card games, and puzzle games all bend to your schedule. If there’s any story at all, it usually doesn’t have a complex plot that you have track. The measured pace and back-and-forth structure make it easy to transition in and out of the game, so it doesn’t matter whether an emergency spit-up incident lasts three seconds or three hours.

2) Pick games that can be played with one hand

Other than food, the thing babies like most is being held, preferably for long periods of time. It appears to stimulate my twins’ telepathic powers, too, because they begin to wail if I even think of putting them down.

So goodbye gamepad and hello mouse pad! In other words, computer games are going to be your best option for a while. While it’s possible to hold a baby and a console controller at the same time, it’s not very comfortable and you’re bound to drop one of them before it’s all over. The same goes for handhelds. You could probably be more successful with the Wii or Kinect or Move, but it’s also more likely that you’d end up wearing your infant’s lunch.

In general, the same types of games that work well with your newly shortened attention span will also work well with one hand: turn-based strategy, collectable card games, and puzzlers. Beware of the one-handed real-time options, such as tower defense games like Plants vs. Zombies, games with timed components like Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, or even strategy games like StarCraft II. Even if you are Joe Agility with a mouse and think hotkeys are for wimps, your heart rate and stress level are sure to rise, which is like a shot of Red Bull to the incredibly sensitive child on your arm. You may find that you’ve won the gaming battle only to lose the bedtime war.

3) Go easy on the hand-eye coordination (unless you’re prepared to lose)

So you’ve finally managed to get the kids in their cribs and can now lavish attention on your neglected consoles and two-handed computer games. Hopefully, you had the foresight to occasionally switch the arm that was holding the baby; otherwise, the overtaxed one will now feel like Jello.

But even if you did, there’s a very good chance that you’re operating on little more than a few hours of sleep and adrenaline. So cut yourself some slack. This is not the moment to prove your gamer cred by beating your kill record, your fastest time, or your high score. If you insist on playing games that tax your reflexes, then go into it with the right frame of mind: “I’m going to suck, and that’s okay.”

You can even play a meta-game with yourself. For example, discover the lowest score you can get without intentionally trying to lose. One night when I was particularly fried, I managed to get 154,000 points on the Wolverine table in Pinball FX 2, which included three automatic 50,000 end-of-ball bonuses. My secret? Hitting the flippers one second after the ball had drained down the center gutter.

Up next: altered states; or you’ll believe a man can cry
Click here to read the previous new dad diary.

Justin Fletcher has written for Computer Games Magazine, MASSIVE Magazine, and tech enthusiast website Envy News. He has also guest blogged at Flash of Steel.