games / Columns

The Gamer Parent’s Strategy Guide: Gaming With Babies

October 1, 2021 | Posted by Jed Shaffer
YAKUZA 6 Gaming With Babies

Before we begin …

The Gamer Parent’s Strategy Guide Podcast! There’s been a few new episodes since I last posted. Also, I was interviewed by Carol Oakley for her Ujana podcast, where we discussed demystifying gaming for non-gamer parents. Give us both a listen, eh?

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The column and podcast, on Facebook!

The email!.

This week’s business.

Contrary to popular belief, humans are not the only creature on this planet that is born defenseless. Baby giraffes start life with a six foot fall out of momma’s vag, and when momma isn’t constantly kicking over their baby as part of some weird survival training tactic, their food is out of their reach, so they have to rely solely on mother’s milk. Hippos are born underwater; since hippos are mammals, they breathe air, which makes being born underwater a bit untenable, so their first moments are spent trying not to drown. Crocodiles and tigers are subject to murder from their own kind. Don’t even ask about seahorses. They’re so screwed, they have a Brazzers logo tattooed on their body.

Where the major difference lies between animals and humans is in the length of helplessness. Just about everything short of birds can get from point A to point B on their own by the end of day one. Humans can’t even sit up for months, let alone move under our own power, feed ourselves, maintain bladder control, or communicate in a way that doesn’t require decoding and guesses. For the first year of a human’s life, in the most non-judgmental way possible, a newborn is a parasite, and us parents are the hosts.

Lazy freeloader, mooching off the system for food, shelter, transport, and other basic life needs. Get a haircut, ya commie pinko!

They’re also tiny despots, even if they’re ignorant of it, as their needs rule your every waking moment. Anything you want to do around the house will be interrupted, and anything outside will take more planning than a Presidential inauguration. Even running to the grocery store for a few things becomes a trip up the most difficult side of Everest, as you load up your SUV with a diaper bag, a stroller, a car seat, several changes of clothing, bottles, formula, 50 pounds of bison meat, tallow, cotton, and two extra axles. Simple household chores like dishes and the garbage require emergency services to be dispatched. You’ll have to start watching movies with subtitles so you don’t wake the little critter from its nap. Sex? Yeah, not gonna happen. Newborns have a sixth sense about it, and they will let out with a cry that sounds like a tornado alarm before the two of you can get to first base.

Gaming? Oh, my friend, you are IN FOR IT.

And that’s what we’re here to talk about, as we continue where my column on gaming during pregnancy left off. The moment has come. The nine-month wait is over. You’re now a gamer parent! Welcome to the club! We don’t have meetings, though, because that much depression in one place might make the early 90’s happen again. The world can’t handle another Candlebox run.

Anyway, it’s time. You’re a gamer parent now, and your life will never be the same.

No, you go back to sleep, I’ll get up with the baby for the fifth night in a row. I’d hate for your twelve followers on Twitch to see you yawn during a stream.

Before we get started, a word about the words I’ll use today. People use “Baby”, “newborn” and “infant” interchangeably, in much the same way as “politician” and “liar”and “lowest layer of prehistoric frog shit at the bottom of a New Jersey scum swamp”. Dictionaries don’t offer much help. A newborn is also an infant, but where the line between “newborn” and “infant” isn’t defined, and “baby” is a colloquial term. So, for clarity’s sake, let’s say a newborn is that first three months, and everything after, up to the one year mark, is an infant or baby. I know this casts a wide net. Babies change almost on a month to month basis, if not week to week. Comparing a one month old to a nine month old is like comparing apples and toasters. And I’m also aware that a one year old that walks is still dependent on its parents for literally everything else in life. But once that rugrat gets ambulatory on two legs, that’s a toddler, and that’s a whole different nightmare. Everything before walking is just variations on a theme.

So, without further ado, let me be among the many to wish you congratulations! You’re home and you’ve got this fussing, noisy, poop machine that isn’t much more than a fleshy doorstop. Cats are more active, and they sleep 18 hours of the day. You should still be able to do whatever you want, right? Bottles, diapers, done. How hard could a baby be?

Your suffering will be legendary, even in He—Oh, you’re a parent? Shit. I guess there’s nothing I can do to you that’ll scare you.

If you’re anything like my wife and I, after the first few days, you’ll wonder when the real parents will pick up this thing, so you can go back to all the things you enjoyed a few months ago. Things like sleeping through the night, showering more often than weekly, and eating food while it’s above room temp. The true luxuries of life. Alas, relief will not come. You may get occasional help from friends or family, but this is not ending anytime soon. It’s not a babysitting job. You’re a PARENT, now and forever.

Yes, your baby is a lump. It can’t support its own head, sit up, hold a bottle, or anything fundamental to basic survival needs. If you put it in a bassinet on its back, it will stay that way all night. This may fool you into thinking you can placate its needs, set it down, and queue up that new X-Box Series Whatever you got a couple months ago. You hear that siren’s call of the new Call of Duty in the online store. You know your buddy has it, and has no doubt gotten several dozen ranks in the online mode. You’ve got ground to make up.

Put that controller back where it came from, my friend. Put it back, and put it out of sight. For the next three months, for all intents and purposes, you need to pretend it doesn’t exist. Nothing exists outside of THE BABY.

Hello, storage container, my old friend.

You may have assumed all your child-endowed friends were joking about the trials of those first few months. If anything, they under-sold it. You will be up at 2:37 in the morning, watching TV in a dark room with the sound off, so you can have some light while not making any noise to keep the baby awake, trying to figure out what will soothe it back to sleep … and then you’ll do it again at 4:18. And 6:42. Newborns sleep in very short cycles, a couple hours at a time. And they need to be fed on the same cycle. Diapers are a crap-shoot (DAD JOKE!). Every parent has had the “changed it, and gotten as far as buttoning the onesie before they hear a shart” incident happen at least once, and you will too.

In this phase, you’re in a constant state of attending to their needs, and trying to keep your head above water with the rest of your life. Your vacuum will accumulate so much dust, you’ll need to buy a second one to vacuum off the first one. Laundry will pile up like strata in polar ice core samples. I looked at my Letterboxd for the year the twins were born, 2006; of the 26 films from that year, I can confidently say we saw, tops, 7 of them in the year of their release. But I saw that damned Bon Jovi video where they build the house every night for three months at all hours of the morning, because VH1 with the sound off in the middle of the night is great for providing light without getting you sucked into something.

There is something else too that’s crucial at this time: bonding with it. I know everybody gets all dewy-eyed when they see babies look up at their parents. They ascribe love and affection to their gaze, like they’re born with this groundswell of love for mommy and daddy. Yeah, that’s bullshit, both emotionally and literally. That dewy-eyed gaze is because they can’t see anything. And just as it needs to learn to recognize and bond with you, you need to do the same thing. You need to hold it, play with it, and talk to it in between all the feedings and burpings. It’s not like a dog, whose survival needs boil down to “put food in the bowl” or “let him in the backyard to take a dump” (and anybody who compares having pets to having kids can fall into an open septic tank and drown; they’re not the same at all, at all). Babies need you for life itself. You need to come to grips with it and love your baby despite the fact that, at this stage, it’s giving you nothing in return.

You know all those times you peed on me while I changed your diaper? I get to return the favor in 40 years, and I WILL SAVOR IT.

Am I saying you CAN’T play games? Well, no, there’s no rule. But this is something of an advice column, so my suggestion is don’t. Self-care is important while you have a baby, but, if you can’t tell by now, your dance card for the first few months is FULL. Soon enough, at least one of you is gonna go back to work. Between that, occasionally trying to eat or shower, and getting the occasional nap, that’s about all the time you have. There just isn’t spare time right now. It sucks, but it’s the price of admission.

Months 3-6

At this point, your baby has progressed from useless lump to interactive lump. If you put it on its tummy, it can push itself up with its arms, like it’s trying yoga. It should be able to hold its own head up, although it still may have a case of bobble-head. It can hold simple things like rattles and blankets, usually with both hands. It can track you visually and recognize your smell. In this period, it’ll also start to roll over. It’s starting to resemble a human being and not just a resource-sucking leech.

One useful thing it can do at this point is sleep through the night. This takes a little work, but you will get there. Remember: letting it cry itself to sleep is okay. Last I checked, sleep is not terminal, unless you live in Springwood.

Mommy, I had a bad dream about a terrible comedian trying to kill me with awful jokes. Yes, it was Jeff Dunham.

By the end of this period, your baby will also be doing things like holding its bottle, recognizing its name and having “conversations” with its parents, bringing things near and into its mouth, and trying to get things out of reach.

You should start to see where this might intersect gaming.

The baby recognizes what attention is and WANTS IT. And it also wants what you’re holding, and it wants to stick it in its mouth, because why not.

Again, does this mean gaming now is off the table? No, but the obstacles have changed. Sleep and general hygiene are no longer a mortal enemy. But the baby’s desire for interaction means you can’t just hand it a rattle and everything’s jake. It’s just as likely to send that toy across the room (and Murphy’s Law dictates it will always hit someone in the head) as it is to play with it. And then you’re gonna have to go get it, or you’re gonna hear a wailing like NORAD has gone to DEFCON 2. If it wants attention? More air-raid siren. Hungry, messy diaper, needs a burping, wants you instead of your spouse? TURN IT UP, BRING THE NOISE.

There’s also that person on the other side of the couch. You remember them, right? You’re in this together, remember? It’s easy for parents to drift apart in that first year, as you’re focused on not getting an angry visit from Child Protective Services, or worse, one of your mothers. It’s easy to stop seeing each other in any other role other than co-caregiver, but you’re more than that. You’re partners and lovers. You need to keep nurturing that relationship. You need to take little moments when you can to remind each other – and yourselves – of that. Re-watch a movie the two of you love. Take a walk. Hell, play a video game together, maybe something from one of the Jackbox series, so you laugh together. If you’re gonna play a video game solo, maybe this is where you start picking games that fit your schedule. Games you can jump in and out of with no sense of loss. Games you can set down for a while, come back, and won’t feel like you’ve fallen off the edge of the world when you come back to it.

Because the next phase is when it things take a serious turn.

The smelliest of all kaiju.

Months 6-9

Within this period, your baby should now be able to sit up without support. Huzzah! It’s not a limp dishrag! Muscle tone is useful!

But with the newfound mastery of basic bodily control comes another problem: mobility. Whether it’s a full-on crawl, a combat crawl like they’re preparing for military academy, or scooting around on their butt, they’re no longer stationary objects. And by the end of this time frame, they’re not gonna be satisfied with crawling. They’re gonna pull themselves up on the couch, the dining room chair, their crib, anything they can see that’s eye level. And if there’s anything at that level that fits in their hand, it’s going in the mouth.

So, take everything before – cause the diapers, bonding, playtime, and caravan’s worth of luggage for a drive around the block – hasn’t gone away, and now add in that it can go from one place to another on its own, AND reach things you don’t want. Unless you’ve got your console elevated somehow, it and everything about it is in danger. Hell, if you just leave the controller sitting on the coffee table or the couch, it’s a chew toy in their eyes.

Aside from the prospect of losing a controller to a drooling, drunken penguin, gaming gets a little easier here. You’re still not in charge of all your free time – truth be told, you’ve got almost two decades before you really can say you are, assuming you kept reproduction to a singular entity. But with the baby now able to play with things and occupy itself for short bursts, sleeping through now more than ever, and just generally getting on a more consistent schedule, you’re gonna see some free time open. Not a lot, don’t get it twisted. I still wouldn’t suggest trying to complete every quest in Skyrim or taking on a JRPG, or you’re gonna be spending a year on it. Trust me. It took me a year to finish an RPG with a 70 hour story mode, plus the 30 hour post-game to get the Platinum trophy.

I could’ve learned to play guitar, or taken up woodworking, or written a novel. Nope. I 100%’ed an obscure indie RPG. A life well spent.

Months 9-12

Your baby is now on the borderline of toddler, and it’s got a whole bunch of milestones here. It’ll respond to simple requests. It can do things like use a sippy cup or give you something as a way of showing interest. It can also find hidden things, cry when you leave, and likes to explore physical interactions, like banging things together, shaking, or throwing. Keep those valuables locked up and in high places.

And walking. By the end of this period, your baby will almost certainly be walking. Now it can grab things and RUN. You will spend a not insignificant amount of time chasing it around because it grabbed your cell phone or the remote. And when it thinks you’re near to catching them, prepare to watch your cell phone sail through the air.

This newfound ability will throw everything off kilter again for a little bit, as you get used to playing a game of tag you did not agree to. And gaming doesn’t get any easier. In fact, since the little thing is now able to walk around and probably climb onto the couch all on its own, it may be HARDER to game now. Aside from the sanctity of your console, controllers and games – and that should really not be minimized, go invest in some kind of locking mechanism or re-arrange your entertainment center NOW – it will come actively seek your attention. It’s gonna pull itself up on the couch, hand you a copy of Goodnight Moon, and make this face.

I’ll only ask you to read it 37 more times today, I promise.

Trust me, when it’s your kid, you’re not gonna say no to that. Especially if saying no may result in you eating the book at high speeds. Then there’s how they really start mimicking speech at this point, and how that can be problematic. You might be thinking “they can watch me play Grand Theft Auto, nobody remembers things from when they’re one”, and on one hand, you’re right. But on the other hand, the F-bomb is a pretty easy word for young kids learning speech to imitate, and once they start saying words, they will use them over and over and over. Have fun at your kid’s first birthday party when they’re playing with their smash cake, stringing together enough fucks to qualify as a longshoreman.

In summation

If it feels like every paragraph of this is “you’re gonna have to cut down”, yeah, sorry, sometimes the news is bleak. Hey, you’re the one who wanted kids. This is the reality. Having a baby is not just a commitment, it’s a total upheaval of everything in your life, many of it in good ways.Your time, as an individual and as a couple, is no longer your own. Say goodbye to pick-up-and-go trips; you now require more luggage than an armed forces platoon. There’ll be no more brew-pubs and high-class establishments in your restaurant rotation; it’s now Happy Meals and Applebee’s. Remember when you could stay in bed until 11 on weekends, and would tear each other’s clothes off multiple times a week? Now you’ll be up with the birds, and if you’re lucky, squeeze in a fiver in between the baby’s naps, once every few weeks.

Video games will always be there. You may have to adjust how and when you play. Yeah, you may be forever behind the curve, picking up Halo: Reach for $9.99 used while everybody else is dropping $60 on Halo: Infinite the day of release. Maybe you get by on platformers, shmups, and Tetris Effect until then. Or maybe you stick with deeper games, and manage your patience as God Of War takes two months to finish (and that’s without beating the Valkyries). One day, you WILL be able to dive back into super-long JRPG’s, franchise modes in sports games, and huge open-world games. One day, you’ll even be able to SHARE gaming with them. Eventually, the situation will change. Just hold on a while.

I didn’t say the situation would get BETTER.

And in closing …

Minor announcement: for the foreseeable future, the column’s gonna move to a monthly schedule. I’ve got another huge writing project on my plate, and I can’t balance both of them if this keeps up a fortnightly schedule. The other one is a huge passion project, and I gotta see it through, so, this has to scale back just a little. The podcast will remain weekly, though. That’s easy enough to do.

Speaking of, I moved to a new host, which if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know. If not, I provided my Linktree up top. The new host also distributes with some new venues I didn’t have before: Amazon, YouTube, and Stitcher. So now there’s more places you can find my annoying-ass voice.

See you in … well, not two anymore. Sometime in October.