New dad diaries: the birth of gaming

, | Game diaries

“What are you doing?”

As I turn around to face my wife, I hit the small button on the bridge of my guitar. The lightshow on the television screen freezes, and my avatar halts in mid-sneer. The music that had been blasting from the speakers goes silent. The cooing of my son in the bouncy chair next to me becomes the most prominent sound in the room.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I thought it was no TV until they’re two?” she replies with a pointed but amused expression.

She’s referring to one of the baby books we had read while she was pregnant. In it, the author makes a case for no television before the age of two based on studies that show a worrisome impact on babies’ attention spans later in life.

“This isn’t TV,” I say.

“That’s not a TV?”

“Yes, that’s a TV, but this isn’t TV. It’s Rock Band.”

“I can see that,” she says. “What’s the difference?”

After the jump, the worst possible answer.

“It doesn’t have a plot,” I reply.

“Neither does The Real Housewives of New York,” she says.

“That’s not the same thing.”

“Oh, I think it is,” she replies, then smiles as she turns to go. I can see her inner celebration of this new loophole that will allow her to watch Bethenny Ever After during the purgatory of the 3 a.m. feeding. She gives me the same smile later as I play Heroes of Might and Magic V with my daughter on one arm.

I could argue that the sound and visuals of games are like a video mobile, stimulating and entertaining the kids with movement and music. Or I could admit that playing while watching the babies is one of the few ways I can work a little extra gaming time into my schedule. But my real agenda is much simpler:

I’m trying to turn my four-month old children into gamers.

The problem is that I don’t quite know how that works. Exposing the twins to games early and often seems a good place to start. If games have a strong presence in their lives from the beginning, then maybe they will be more inclined to show interest. Maybe they’ll even feel nostalgic towards them. My daughter has a head start; video screens already have a magnetic pull that she can’t resist. She’s truly Daddy’s girl.

In a year or two, I’ll move on to my father’s approach. He spent many hours introducing me to board games when I was young. Classics like Clue, less mainstream fare like Frontier-6, and electronically-enhanced oddities like Stop Thief. These proved to be excellent gateway drugs to the Atari 2600, the Apple IIe, and beyond.

I tried to remain a board gamer, but unlike video games, they require other people. My friends weren’t really into that scene, having Commodore 64s and TI-99/4As to keep them occupied. Little changed as I grew older. My wife likes board games, but she’s almost exclusively into the party variety. So in addition to stoking the video game fire, getting my kids into board games means I could get back into them myself. Having just discovered the Fantasy Flight Games catalog, that is a very exciting prospect indeed.

But hold on. Reality check.

Am I crossing the narrow line that every parent must walk? The line between sharing your hobby with your children and shoving it down their throats? Am I in danger of becoming one of those Mom-of-the-Year types that crowd the baby pageant circuit? The ones that work so hard to chase their own dreams through their daughters that they shellac them in spray tanner and force them to don Vegas Showgirl Garanimals and hairstyles from 1986? Or am I going to be some sort of mirror universe version of that perennial TV and movie villain, Sports Dad? Instead of belligerently pushing the twins to win at the big game, will I be belligerently pushing them to win at all games?

Not if I listen.

I can show my kids all the music games, strategy games, and board games that I want. It has always been the parents’ duty to bring the world to their children until their children are able to go out into the world. It has always been the parents’ prerogative to choose which parts of the world get priority, with the mother and father’s interests going to the head of the line. But it has always been the parents’ obligation to recognize that their children aren’t clones, to acknowledge their individual idiosyncrasies, and, most importantly, to listen to what they have to say. As long as I can do that, the twins should be fine.

So what does this all mean? It means gaming is very much alive in my home. It will be a shadow of its former self for a while, but it will soldier on. What I once knew as the experience of gaming, however, is gone. That experience was derived from my time as a solitary gamer, sitting alone in a darkened room, being immersed up to the eyeballs, and playing whatever whenever without regard to content or duration. That experience is dead.

From its ashes, a new gaming experience has been born. For now, it is a mystery. As it develops and grows over the years, I will revisit all of the aspects that make gaming magical through the eyes of my children. I will serve as the guide, but their ideas, their interests, and their perspectives will determine where we go. We may arrive at a destination quite different than the one I discovered in my childhood. I will be all the richer for seeing the place where my son and daughter take me, and I will be forever grateful for their company.

The journey begins.

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.