Let's cut right to the chase: babies are unbalanced. We're talking Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo Shin Akuma levels of bullshit here. For every 3-1 lead you manage to pull with consistent naptimes, easy feedings, and lovable snuggles, there's a 4 hour window of crying in their back pocket, ready to strike when your guard is down. Fortunately for you, I've spent 10 months battling this epic boss and it IS doable, you just need to rethink your strategy, buy some potions, and prepare yourself for victory.
On February sixth in the year twenty-twenty, I became a father. It was a joyous moment filled with tears, anxiety, and exhilaration. I knew this little guy would change my life forever, but I never understood the impact it would have on my life. Prior to my son being born, I was an avid competitive gamer, spending most of my free time competing in games such as Third Strike, Quake Champions, and Company of Heroes 2. However, not 3 days after his birth I realized I would need to drastically change my habits or risk running into burn out.
Leading up to his birth, I spent a lot of time reading guides online about how to be a parent and continue gaming. Many games journalists have documented their journeys with various successes. Having their baby sleep on their chest while finishing Final Fantasy 15, rocking their child to sleep in a baby bjorn while raiding in WoW. Some have even reported their child eats and immediately sleeps afterwards, allowing unlimited game time. I have since confirmed that person gave birth to a unicorn.
Before I continue, I would like to discuss a growing concern I have with online guides to managing the ups and downs of being a new parent. Countless articles are written with the explicit intent to stop a behavior rather than to understand the reasons behind them. Every baby is unique and will have their own positive and negative traits that you will be responsible for. It is your duty as a parent to set aside yourself while caring for your child. This is especially hard if you've been an independent gamer before. This means missing out on game night with the boys so you can sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for the 30th time to help your child sleep. It also means forgoing gaming if it means you can get a 2 hour catnap. You may not be able to game at all with a little one based on your circumstances and that's ok! Your time will come if you hang in there. Now, let's get into some strategies to help you win the fight.
Babies are the kind of player that says "glhf" and immediately rushes you with a proxy rax to harass your assembly line. Within your first 48 hours you can expect to have your ass handed to you followed by "gg ez" every couple hours. This is completely normal and means you're a scrub who needs to work on your build order.
The first thing to improve is time management. During the early stages of your little one's life, gaming sessions will come in short bursts (on average they feed every 2 hours). In order to prepare yourself for these fleeting moments, check out this quick checklist I've made below:
Another important component to time management is sleep. Oh sleep, how I miss you. I recommend planning out sleep duties with your partner before you both are waste deep in diapers. Each of you will be expected to feed your newborn every 2 hours or so for the first few weeks. This can be draining on your physical and mental health and requires discipline that you may not have had before your child. That being said, sleep is the ultimate resource to gather and spend in order to triumph as a gamer parent, so farm it often and don't be afraid to stockpile sleep until you can spend it. Games will always be there waiting for you.
Once you're comfortable with your level of sleep, it's time to start gaming. In the early weeks, your baby will often take long naps in between feeding. Use this to your advantage! The following tools are Team Tidal® approved:
These tools, when used properly, can be great boons on your quest to slay dragons. Just remember to game in moderation. As always, learn how to properly care for your child and avoid SIDS by consulting with your birth class specialists.
The first few months are crucial to getting your rhythm and learning how radically your baby will shift in behavior as they develop. The initial 2 weeks are critical for your and your partner's success at caring for your newborn. However, by week 3, you should be able to squeeze in some game time. By week 4 you'll have a basic understanding of how your child sleeps which will aid you in finding additional time to game.
In month 2 you can start experimenting with the baby harness. If you secure your child properly their head will be elevated and they can watch you while you play. Keep a close eye on them and make sure that if they nod off you move them to their bassinet. Around the 6 week mark you can expect your little one to start having long naps and or night sleeps. If you play your cards right and consistently train your child that night time is for sleeping then soon you will be able to start spending those sleep points on a game night. Just remember that your baby will shift and change as they develop. Learn about "milestones" and how they can radically alter their sleep for a while. It's ok to take a break from gaming when this happens! Remember: gaming while tired is never fun, so bank up those points for when it can be enjoyable!
For those of you barely hanging on, here's where I'm at 11 months in: from 8pm to 7am I am free. I can game to my heart's content. You will make it there! I promise! Just hang in there and be the loving parent you need to be. Now....let's look at some games to enjoy.
What to play
So you're plopped down with snacks at the ready and some quiet time to yourself. Let's look at what's most important in a game as a new parent.
Back to PC gaming, we already discussed how important it is to minimize downtime getting in and out of games. But what kind of games suit new parents? Here's some suggestions based on my personal experience:
Sim games can be a great way to blow off steam in between diapers, soothings, and manic episodes because your child hasn't pooped in 24 hours. Thankfully, simulation games have been in a sort of renaissance these last few years with numerous titles out there to play. For example, the following game got lots of love during my first 6 months with my son.
Parkitect gives you a full control to custom tailor YOUR experience. Do you want to play through the campaign? Pick one of 20+ scenarios lined out with varying objectives to complete. Do you want a sandbox where money is no object and guests are never safe? Go ahead, the option's there on menu. Parkitect has pleasing music, an excellent interface, great tools for building pretty parks, and tons of charm all laid out in a unique package. If you grew up playing Rollercoaster Tycoon, this is the game for you.
This is a catch-all title to represent games that plop you in a large world with minimal direction. This can range from survival titles like Ark, unique experiences such as Snow Runner, or more action oriented titles like Skyrim. While there are hundreds of titles out there, this next game was perfect for me when I wanted to chill out and explore.
The Long Dark is a survival game set in the frozen north of Canada. While there is a story mode, I highly recommend just plopping into the survival mode instead. This game saves often, has no cutscenes, and is relatively stress free on the lower difficulties. That doesn't mean the game is boring however. Often times it can feel harrowing to leave your little settlement you discovered because supplies are running low. There's nothing quite like trekking out into the unknown with a single rifle shot, a flair, some fire making materials, and an incoming blizzard. Oh, are those wolves howling? Better find an abandoned car quick!
Puzzle games are great ways to test your brain without requiring an active engagement. Popcap has long been the king of Puzzlers but more developers have been throwing their hat in and the last 5 years have brought us some truly memorable experiences. In the days of screaming babies and frequent night wakings, playing something like RealMyst can be a nice pallete cleanser. And one title in particular was a joy to experience front to back:
The Witness is an environmental puzzle system that relies on presenting minimalist "scenes" where you connect the dots to move on. A lot of praise was given to this game (as well as criticism) but for me it was the perfect way to get some relaxing downtime while charging my brain cells. One thing I really enjoy about this game is the art direction. Each scene feels like a painting brought to life which helps motivate you to move along and see what the developers have waiting for your just around the corner.
Ah yes, the arch-enemy of Orthopedics, ARPGs have been getting plenty of spotlight these last few years for their addictive gameplay, seasons based replayability, and visual spectacle. ARPGs are perfect, bite sized action adventures that can have you hop in and out in no time. Most of these games focus on getting more and more loot while slowly increasing your heroe's overall power. While I have a fondness for Diablo 2 and can't wait to get my hands on Resurrected for the sake of something different I'm going to recommend a title that may not be as familiar to you.
Grim Dawn, of all things, is a spiritual successor to Titan Quest (PLAY THAT TOO!). Taking the gameplay and systems from Titan Quest, Crate Entertainment came in under the radar after a successful crowdfunding campaign and slowly built up one of, if not the, best ARPG experiences on the market today. Unlike other games, Grim Dawn has multi classing integrated into its core. The amount of variability in builds is staggering and the engine is a beauty to look at. And, as an added bonus, the game is quick to get in and out. No online server to sign into, no long story cutscenes, and most importantly no punishing you for short gameplay sessions. Grim Dawn is a great experience through to the end and, even recently, had a major expansion release. If you like Eldritch horror and the blackpowder era, you'll love Grim Dawn.
Wrapping things up
As I end this discussion, I want to bring up a few things to remember as a new parent: cherish and love your children unconditionally. Put them first before anything else. And above all don't put gaming before caregiving. Your children absorb so much and it all starts with you presenting the best environment to cultivate a happy household.
If you have any advice or tips of your own, feel free to leave a comment below! As for me, I gotta get back to delivering that parcel in Death Stranding....