games / Columns

The Gamer Parent’s Strategy Guide: Gaming During Pregnancy

February 8, 2021 | Posted by Jed Shaffer
Video Game Pregnant

It’s been said your life changes the moment you have a baby, which might be the most obvious under-statement since “it hurts when you fall from a 70-story building”. Where once your life’s pronoun dynamic was a duality – “you and I” – a baby makes it a trio – “you, me and the baby”. It sounds so ominous and important, it almost needs to be capitalized, like a deity: The Baby! The little critter becomes the still center of the turning wheel of your life for the next two decades, as omnipresent as idiots on Twitter or Charlotte Flair on WWE programming. This tiny, fragile, completely dependent human being in your life that you made isn’t going anywhere, not anytime soon. Never mind that it also functions as a living countdown of your own mortality. On the other hand, it’s also a reminder of that one time your wife wore the sexy Pebbles Flintstone costume and asked for the piledriver position out of nowhere.

But really, the change happens the moment you get some kind of positive indicator on a stick. It’s not the same as having the mewling poop factory in front of you, but life during pregnancy is also not the same as life before it. There’s a weird, mad scramble and a flurry of action, but the reason for everything happening isn’t present. Life becomes a nine-month party planning session, except the party won’t start, and the guest of honor is taking their sweet time in arriving. The life you knew before you and your spouse had one too many Alabama Slammers is irrevocably and utterly gone. You’re committed to the bit, and it’s one of those bits in a painful E3 presser that you can see has gone south but refuses to end.

The song they’re playing is called “When The Wii Stopped Being Cool”.

Among the countless ways life is going to change is how gaming fits into your life. This might be the most “no shit, Jed” statement I’ve made since … the first paragraph, but gaming is sort of the gimmick of this column. If you and your significant other are expecting, or are thinking of bringing another Brycyn or Muhkinzeee into the world, you have no idea. Pet owners love to spout BS about being a “dog mommy” or whatever, and they can all go fuck off right into the sea, because it is nothing like having a human child (before the comments section lights up, I’ve had pets and kids; sorry-not-sorry, pets are not kids, not even close). You might as well be explaining quantum physics to a squirrel, or honesty to Peter Molyneux. Okay, maybe the physics/squirrel thing is more realistic. Anyway, the point is, once it’s official and there’s a bun in that oven, life as a gamer is going to change, hard and fast, just like how that kid got here in the first place. HI-YO!

And since I’ve never BS’ed you before, I certainly ain’t gonna do it now, so, up front, it’s gotta be said: the way it changes isn’t the same for the genders. Pregnancy is not an situation like salaries or voting rights, where there shouldn’t be a gender split at all. When it comes to pregnancy, she who is pregnant and the partner who isn’t (trying to be inclusive here, even if it makes the prose clumsy) aren’t even living in the same dimension when it comes to what’s cool and what isn’t during said nine month sentence. To that effect, I’m going to split it up here and talk about the mom-to-be first. I don’t know how many women read my column, if any at all, but I’m all about inclusivity. It wouldn’t be proper to leave them out. I mean, they’re doing the heavy lifting, so to speak. I don’t mean heavy that way; I mean they have the bigger – no, let me rephrase that … aw, hell.

No, honey, you’re not fat, you’re radiant. So radiant, I can see your glow even though you’re upstairs and I’m sleeping in the basement for the next week.

So, let’s start off with Mommy.

How life changes for gamer moms-to-be

Ya know, not a whole heck of a lot.

Well, I mean, it does in the overall sense. You’re carrying a small, parasitic space heater in your abdomen. These are not circumstances you’re liable to face on your average Thursday, unless you’re a crew member of the USCSS Nostromo.

But as far as being a gamer goes, the obstacles aren’t obstacles, strictly speaking. The non-pregnant side of the parental equation has a few more obstacles throws their way, but maybe that’s nature balancing the scales. Pregnant women get the business end of reproduction’s biological processes. I like to think that, for that “honor”, they get a nine months of being treated like Faberge eggs with skin. You’re not allowed to carry anything heavier than a Halloween-sized Snickers. Everywhere you go in public, people are obliged to give you twenty-five feet of clearance. You have a pregnancy craving for an antipasto salad forty-five minutes to midnight on a Tuesday? Sure, I’ll start Googling open pizza places, and funeral parlors in case none are open. It’s not all sunshine and parades, especially in the back half of the pregnancy. You just get a little more leeway. You’re what is called, in the sports world, a “healthy scratch” from participating in most things. So, with all that, your opportunity isn’t impeded as much.

One of the challenges you may face, though, is called, for lack of a better term, “pregnancy brain”. I’m going to try to explain this very delicately, and then I’m going to run as if a grenade is about to go off.

Pictured: not me.

I’ve either known or been around multiple women who’ve gone through pregnancy’s rigors, and every single one of them has attested to the existence of this. Please don’t shoot the messenger, when there are so many other enjoyable targets. “Pregnancy brain” is the phenomenon that renders a woman a little on the daft side during pregnancy. Focus, logic, memory, all of these start to falter for pregnant ladies. It’s not so bad that your brain could be studied by Chris Nowinski’s concussion institute, but believe me when I say that there is a noticeable change in the upstairs furniture layout. Since even the most rudimentary video games require at least pattern recognition and reflexes, that makes video games a taller mountain to climb than normal.

But that’s if you’re even interested in playing to begin with. The other obstacle you might face sounds like some kind of Lovecraftian prophecy: the awakening of the maternal instincts. When I asked my wife about this topic for actual female perspective, she said that when she was pregnant, video games were the furthest thing from her mind. Her brain was consumed with what they’d need for the newborn phase, the toddler years, clothes for preschool and so on. Mind you, the fetus at this point could fit on a teaspoon, and here she’s thinking about the next four years. It’s hilarious to consider her mapping out the child’s life before she’s even showing, all the while she could barely form a sentence without sounding like a Morse code device. It’s the truth, though, and it’s okay. Pregnancy is a weird time. It plays biological Boggle with a woman’s body chemistry. Not a far stretch to think maybe priorities will shift, and gaming will step back.

Now, if you can get past those two things, hey, rock on, the world is yours. You’re the sun around which we all orbit for the next nine months. You have the opportunity now to complete every side-quest in Skyrim, and nobody’s gonna argue.

It’s time, though, we transition to the other half of the equation.

How life changes for the other parent

Oh boy. Ohhhhhhhhh boy.

Preach on it, my brother.

A sad fact of life some gamers refuse to accept is that people who don’t get gaming really don’t get gaming. It isn’t like any other hobby or pursuit. If you bowl in a league or play softball, no big deal, everybody needs an outlet and you’re getting exercise. Do model railroads, you’ll impress someone with the landscapes you build for the trains. Participate in Scouts, and you’re helping the youth of today to learn skills, morals and building a sense of character. Collect coins or stamps, and you’re an investor.

But since the release of the Atari 2600 in 1977, video games have carried a stigma of being a kid’s thing. There’s been some pushback against this in the ensuing years; the sales numbers prove the audience is getting bigger all the time. eSports are a thing, carried on legit sports channels and pulling in significant sponsorships. But the stigma still remains, especially for the older generations. As Boomers and early Gen-X’ers transition from grandparents to great-grandparents, and late Gen-X/early Millennials move into the position of in-laws/grandparents, this bias might recede. But there will always be some people who view video games as the pursuit of children, and any adult who plays them as someone clinging to their childhood when they should be facing responsibility. Be prepared for the possibility of some disapproving glares and “when are you going to grow up” comments passed through your significant other. There’s no reason this should impede your enjoyment of games, but it is an environment you might find yourself facing. How you handle it is up to you.

It’s also possible that you feel this pressure from within. After all, you’re about to be a parent, you gotta be responsible sooner or later, but it also doesn’t mean you have to subordinate your identity. I know I felt it, even if it felt like a betrayal of everything I’d been for almost 30 years at that time.

The Wii came out six months after my twins were born, and, thanks to its scarcity, I got one spring of ’07. Aside from almost tearing a rotator cuff playing Wii Sports when we first got it, the Wii was a console I had that was perfectly content waiting for me. Until I got the PS3 in 2010, I think the most intense games I played were Super Mario Galaxy and Little King’s Story. It wasn’t that the Wii lacked depth. Gaming just slid down the ladder. That feeling of paternal responsibility may kick in during the pregnancy, as you’re looking at her abdomen swell with baby. Just like your woman might suddenly face, you too might face a shifting of priorities.

Looking at you carrying our baby makes me so much love … also, I feel like bringing a screwdriver to Applebee’s and fixing the loose screw on the bathroom stall door.

And if it isn’t the parental instinct kicking in, you may just not have the time, as your schedule is going to look like the President’s for the next nine months. As the person who isn’t pregnant, your solemn duty is to do everything in your power to make sure that beautiful creature that’s growing another creature inside of her is as comfortable as she can be. Earlier, where I mentioned antipasto salad? That sounds like a random joke, but it wasn’t. That was personal experience. On a random Tuesday night, as I was minutes away from going to bed, my wife says “I want an antipasto salad. I need one. Right now.” I looked at her and, metaphorically speaking, put a gun to my head as I replied that I didn’t know if there would be anywhere open that would have one. The expression on her face made it very clear that not only was she out of fucks to give, they would be on back-order for decades to come. She made it very clear, without saying a word, that she would yank on my junk like the ripcord to a parachute if I did not locate her an antipasto salad right then and there. I found a place, and he was not happy, as he was fifteen minutes from closing when I called. Dante and Randal didn’t show their customers as much naked contempt as I got when I picked up that salad. But I had a very, very satisfied baby-mama when I got home, and that made it all worth it.

It doesn’t stop at irrational midnight cravings. Taking care of her is a full time job. If she can’t stand your shampoo or antiperspirant, you bet your ass you’ll be changing brands. She needs to stretch out to feel comfortable in bed? Grab some couch, bub, and politely cram the complaints up your balloon knot. Combating morning sickness is like playing the second quest of Zelda; you know this thing in front of you, and it’s familiar in some ways, but also it isn’t? And it’s doing things for reasons you don’t understand and nothing makes any sense, and it’s honestly kind of daunting? Today, she might be fine with you eating Cool Ranch Doritos. Tomorrow, you might have to do so from the International Space Station, provided you don’t orbit over the continent in which she lives. She might need ginger ale to help soothe a volcanic belly, so you’re sent to the corner store to get some, and God help you if you don’t come back with Canada Dry ginger ale, because SCHWEPPS IS FOR JUNKIES AND WHORES, YOU STUPID SON OF A BITCH!

Hi. I was just in here. I got the wrong soda for my wife, she’s pregnant. She said to say she blames you for letting my knuckle-dragging ass out of here with the wrong brand, and she wishes a pox upon your house, and hopes your children’s pets die painfully in front of them. Mind if I exchange?

Once that urge to nest kicks in (regardless of whether its you or her that feels it)? You’re gonna know the layout of Target’s baby section better than you know the layout of your childhood home, and you’re gonna spend enough money to BUY that childhood home. And speaking of children and homes, got that nursery set up yet? Guess who gets to do the lion’s share of the work? She’s pregnant; she shouldn’t be bending over to put together some Ikea cabinet, and she sure as hell can’t be breathing those paint fumes or wallpaper glue.

But perhaps the biggest impediment to playing video games won’t be the tasks she assigns you, or people judging you for your hobby, or your own feelings. And, again, I will try to phrase this as politely and nicely as I can, because it is meant with zero hostility or resentment.

The biggest reason you might find your controller gathering dust might just be … her.

Calm down, have some dip.

I mean this in two ways, and neither are negative. First, with her emotions going all Forrest Gump-playing-ping-pong in her brain, she may not want to sit through you trying to hit that sweet 360-no-scope headshot kill in Call Of Duty 37: The Grenada Invasion or look for that rare Vinny Testaverde card in Madden so you can complete your ’94 Browns team. Maybe the movement on screen triggers her morning sickness, or maybe she’s just annoyed by it and wants to watch something that she can get lost in. Or it may be that the content of what you’re playing disturbs her in some way, and for her emotional health, she cannot abide it. I remember when my wife was pregnant with our youngest, The Walking Dead was in its second season. She’s never been a horror fan, but I’d convinced her to try the show when it debuted, and she got hooked. But the combination of pregnancy and the show’s inherent brutality and inhumanity rattled her down to the bone once she was pregnant with H. We went on a hiatus until she gave birth, and it’s a good thing we did; the next episode after we stopped watching was the second season’s midway point, where the little girl they’d spent the entire half-season searching for turned out to be a zombie locked in the barn. She cried at American Express commercials. I don’t even want to imagine how she would’ve reacted to seeing a zombified child.

That leads into the other way in which she might just be what makes gaming harder during pregnancy; maybe she wants to spend time with you. While your opportunities to game won’t be as plentiful once that baby is finally on this side of the tummy, gaming is still gaming. It’s a one-way relationship of usury, just like television or racquetball. Your relationship with your console of choice doesn’t change, just the amount of time you spend with. But your relationship with your girl will change. Once the nine month alarm clock goes off, she will no longer be yours alone, and vice versa; there will be at least one other human being in this house, and for the next several years, that new arrival is wholly dependent on you for their day-to-day survival. The days of pick-up-and-go on a whim, spending the weekend in a hotel for no reason other than the kinkiness of it, getting drunk on a Thursday and blowing off Friday just because, going to the casino and dropping a few hundred on the craps table for fun … those days are well and truly gone. You will never be this young and be alone together again. The next time you’ll only have each other as company day in and day out, there will be extra pounds around the middle, and gray hairs on the head, and the lines on your faces will be carved a little deeper. It’s not a bad thing that this time in your life is ending; it’s just a thing that happens. But maybe she just wants to revel in what is left of it while the two of you have the chance.

Just remember: if you’re scared of what’s coming, think how she feels. She’s doing the hard work. If you need to put down the games to make her feel better, it’s literally the smallest sacrifice possible. Take her out. Make her smile. Remind her you still find her gorgeous, even full of baby. Make her laugh. Video games will always be there.

But if you try to compare childbirth to this as a joke, you may not be here for long.

And in closing …

A heartfelt thank you to those who extended well wishes after the last column. I hope it brought some perspective or solace to someone who needed it.

As always, you can find me on Twitter, and email me at [email protected]. If you enjoy this column — not just this specific edition, but in general, or a specific edition, either way — please share it with friends and on social media.

No idea what the next edition will be (not doing the follow-up to this right away … gonna space them out), but it’ll be here in two weeks, as normal. Now that’s how you build anticipation!