New dad diaries: time in a bottleneck

, | Game diaries

One of the main themes that has run through this series is that time is precious. Therefore, it’s fitting that the most precious thing in my life — my family — takes up almost all of my time. But as the earlier entries have shown, there are still fleeting moments when I can play a game or two.

But for how much longer? Much to my dismay, I’ve discovered three adversaries that are conspiring to take all of my remaining time and consign me to a game-free life.

After the jump, the villains revealed.

1) Sleep

In the classic battle of games versus sleep, there has never been a clear winner. How many of us have lived the “one more turn” cliche and paid for our 2:45 a.m. adventures in a 2:45 p.m. staff meeting? But then how many of us have turned in early the next night, resisting the allure of our computers or consoles?

For most new parents, though, the winner is obvious. Sleep wipes the floor with games. Sleep is Volkmire’s Inferno. Sleep is the Meat Circus. The boss in the Demon’s Souls tutorial? That’s sleep.

Despite sleep’s immense power, there are times when I try to fight back. I normally get up at 5:45 a.m. to feed the twins and get ready for work. Lately, though, my son’s body clock has started going off at 4:00. He’s not hungry, but if he’s not quickly soothed, he’ll wake up his sister. And the only thing worse than one baby awake in the middle of the night is two.

It took around half an hour to return him to his crib the other morning, which meant that I was up 60 minutes ahead of schedule. Every fiber of my being screamed at me to go back to bed, but the idea of an extra hour of gaming was enticing. I sat down on the couch to decide what to do. When I came to, the side of my face was wet with drool. It had pooled in a faint circle on the cushion where I passed out. I suddenly felt like one of the babies resting in the nursery. I looked at the clock, its segmented numbers blinding in the darkness: 5:52.

Sleep won. It always does.

2) Games

No, that’s not a typo; games prevent me from playing games through something I call “option lock.” When I finally get a moment to sit down in front of my computer or console, I want each moment to be so magnificent, so rewarding, so perfect that I can’t decide what to play. The choices become overwhelming.

Do I work on completing one of the games that were in process before the twins came? If so, which one? Or do I pick something more casual that doesn’t have a beginning or end so that I can make less of a commitment? What about that new title that’s coming out that looks fantastic? Do I pay the full release price for the privilege of experiencing it simultaneously with my peers? Can I afford it with two new mouths to feed? If it’s a niche console game from Atlus or the like, do I run the risk of it going out of print if I wait? If it’s a PC game, should I hold off until the inevitable Steam sale since it’s probably going to end up in my backlog anyway? And speaking of my backlog, when am I going to get to the dozens of games that are already on it?

More often than not, I end up browsing the Quarter to Three forums, reading all about the lovely games people have been enjoying. Lucky bastards.

3) Crime

The only window I have for focused, uninterrupted gaming is my commute to work. That magical hour each weekday morning is my strongest lifeline to my hobby. Handhelds rule the day, of course, whether it’s my DS Lite, PSP, or Android phone. I shut out the screeching brakes of the train, the squawking, aimless cell phone conversations, and the loud, bristling energy of the students on their way to school so that I can reconnect with old friends like Professor Layton, Junpei Iori, and flocks of angry birds.

But there’s a new wrinkle. Over the past two months, there has been a sharp increase in smartphone thefts on public transportation. The favored MO is for the perp to grab his prize and bolt from the train or bus seconds before the doors shut, leaving a gobsmacked victim riding away from the scene of the crime.

No Uniwar or Internet browsing on the way to work? Okay. While inconvenient, it’s not a huge sacrifice.

But the thieves are moving beyond smartphones. They’re also becoming more violent. A few weeks ago, three teens on a train punched a 58-year old man in the face and took his laptop during the afternoon rush hour. Now, announcements are made on each bus and train line to keep all personal electronics out of sight, including portable game consoles.

So I have a choice: either give up my last bastion of dedicated gaming or run the risk of having my handhelds stolen. Given the new level of aggression, there’s also a possibility that I could get hurt. That sounds melodramatic until you hear about the passerby who was recently pushed down the stairs of a train platform by a thief as he made his getaway with a swiped iPhone. She died of her injuries the next day.

Even though the odds of something like that happening to me are infinitesimal, as a new father and as the primary breadwinner while my wife takes an unpaid leave to watch the twins, it is something I have to consider.

A year ago, it would have been a simple decision to make. But now, when all other opportunities to indulge in my favorite pastime are withering, it’s not so easy.

Up next: the birth of gaming; or “You, all right? I learned it by watching you!”
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.