Itís that time again. The constant worry, the propping up, the rubbing, the seven different types of cheese in the fridge, it can all mean only one thing; another baby is due, and imminently. I should be old hat at this, already successfully rearing one to a healthy two-and-a-half (so far) while still engaging in my gaming addiction. Itís never quite that simple though, and as we gear up for the sleepless nights and meconium poops I canít help but wonder how my gaming habits will change this time round.
Three years ago I was still coming out of the haze of my WoW playtime, enjoying playing games that I could pause for a cup of tea, or even (gasp) save and finish whenever and wherever and then actually have a conversation with my wife. The great thing about having played Warcraft for so long was the huge library of backed up games for me to play, all with the benefit of critical hindsight. Bioshock, Mass Effect, Mr Robot, they all fell before me as I fell right back into the PC gaming scene. The Orange Box grabbed me by the beard and taught me of the genius of the Half-life saga, Portal and Team Fortress 2, each one a shining facet of what can be done within an FPS setting. As part of the nesting process we moved out of norf London into the deepest darkest country into an area with no digital TV and no chance for a satellite. An Xbox for Sky and a PS3 for iPlayer were procured, and the gaming worlds that came with them were unlocked. With all of this quality, all of these experiences to take onboard I couldnít quite understand how I had lost so much time to Warcraft, how I had sacrificed so much for reputation grinding and raid wipes. Regardless, it didnít matter now Ė I was back, baby, and nothing was going to stop me.
Until the actual baby came.
Well, it wasnít as if I hadnít telegraphed the impact the little one would have, and Iíll happily state now that I donít (and nor should any of you!) begrudge any second that you have to spend away from a hobby to spend with a child. It was the incidental impacts that got me, the ones that I didnít see coming. For instance, you spend the first few weeks living like a zombie, your entire life dedicated to this small noisy thing that somehow is managing to mentally break you while still being the most perfect creation ever. You start to get the hang of things, the big people workout a schedule that involves sleep and that eventually evolves into one that includes free time (not much mind, but some!). A friend calls, wants to shoot things in the face Ė you look over to your partner with anticipation and expectation of refusal in your eyes, only to be released. Hallelujah! The disc spins, the controller feels good in your hands, the lobby fills, the map loads and then WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.
Thatís right. Welcome to your new life Ė you are never off the clock. Ever. Those times you kicked back for hours on end grinding xp? Gone. The planning of play sessions that take over whole evenings? Gone. For a while, at least, anything vaguely multiplayer is out, and if you try co-op you had better have an understanding gaming partner. This is the change that will hit most people, the removal of gaming as a social pastime. Itís the modern equivalent of suddenly not being able to go to the pub all night every night with your friends, your newly accrued responsibilities decimating all in their path. The thing is gaming has evolved too, progressing to the point where there are possibilities for you to follow if only you can walk away from many of the usual suspects.
Amusingly my own situation was further compounded by the fact that my little girl just would not sleep unless she was being held. This wasnít a case of my wife or I not wanting to try to put her down, rather more that she was having none of it. With a survival instinct built around not being eaten by wolves I wasnít too surprised but being limited to one hand is actually quite debilitating Ė try making a coffee one handed with only four hours sleep over three days and see how you do. While the sleep did start coming again in dribs and drabs, the one-handedness stayed for a while, and it introduced me to games I wouldnít have otherwise played. Sitting on the sofa with the baby in one hand and the controller in the other I played through my first XBLA games, and boy were they different. Uno was fairly standard, with the messages and the odd video from other players being anything but. PacMan saw me return to an old classic and rekindle an old love, although I wished fervently that I was playing one-handed with an arcade rather than an analogue stick. And Feeding Frenzy? Feeding Frenzy allowed me to just kick back and relax, babe in arm and tea just out of reach.
Moving on from the cannibalistic fishtank game (which, if I havenít made clear, is strangely addictive) I also looked for games which I could play with only my mouse on the PC. The only game at the time which seemed to pique my interest was Torchlight and I intentionally built my guy so that I could play him with just a basic mouse. With the little one nestled in the crook of one arm, I began to feel I had nailed the whole fatherhood gaming thing really quite satisfactorily.
Of course, there was additional development; as the baby aged I was freed up in my Ďspareí time to explore more traditional gaming options, although multiplayer and co-op offerings remained painfully out of reach. I shouldnít have been surprised when two Valve offerings gave salvation ĖTeam Fortress 2 due to the immediacy and casual nature of public servers, and Left 4 Dead because it let you jump in and out without impacting your team mates too much. Well, not too much when you are playing on a pansy setting with friends but hey, I figured they would probably be Dads soon too and have to deal with their own 24/7 on call position. The next step saw me move back towards the mainstream, playing through Dawn of War II and various Assassinís Creeds. Itís not that the gaming experiences offered from the other sectors of the markets werenít good enough for me, but rather that I craved meatier products. Iíll happily admit that my PSP kept me going during this time, filling my daily commute while stealing train sleep and offering a bleeding eyed husk of a man to the office. Sleep deprivation is an awful torture, but itís nothing like removing the ability to game from a gamer.
And what now? With number two very nearly here I look with yearning at the games on my shelf, knowing in all certainty it will be at least eighteen months before I will get around to having started many (if any!) of them. Instead Iíve looked around and can tell what my next year of gaming will be like Ė thereís a Feeding Frenzy 2 apparently, and Ms PacMan should still be available for some quality time. Coincidentally Torchlight 2 is on the way too which should hopefully offer some more hot mouse action. Kongregate is always there for old school style flash offerings and my Vita is screaming for some more full game action when the commuting begins again. Oh, and the final couple of episodes of The Walking Dead. Iím fairly sure Iíll still be able to play those in front of a child whose age is measured in weeks and be ok, but I may well not tell the wife that Iím doing so...