Being a gaming parent

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I’m a gamer. Probably the sort you’d call “hardcore.” Like most gamers my age, it’s a label I’ve had nearly my whole life. I played games, weaning myself on a one-buttoned joystick, before I reached puberty. I played games through my teens with increasingly sophisticated controllers, and have continued to do so despite rapidly approaching middle age. I’ve recently, much to the shock of those who know me, become a parent.

Unlike those who’ve actually procreated, I had parental duties thrust in my general direction after espousing with my inamorata, a mother of three. There are now 3 demi-humans under my care; a boy of 10 and a younger boy and girl both aged 6, who would be loathe to be branded “twins” despite that being exactly what they are. I haven’t had the benefit of time to make the adjustment.

Gamer or parent? I’ll be honest in saying I’m finding it quite difficult to reconcile the two.

On the one hand, it’s pretty cool for them to have somebody around with the requisite knowledge, hardware, and games library. I play a fair amount of games with them; something that I’d have loved to have happened more with my own parents. It adds a bit of common ground, decreasing the impact of the inherent generational gap. We regularly play games like Mario Kart, New Super Mario Bros Wii and similar child-friendly titles on the much maligned – among the hardcore crowd, at least – Wii. Microsoft’s full-body motion sensing Kinect gets as much family attention.

Playing games with and buying them for children has made me more acutely aware of the game rating on the box, something I’ve seen non-gaming parents completely ignore. I’ve witnessed parents of young children blithely buy mature rated games like Grand Theft Auto, either blissfully unaware of the game’s content – or just not giving a damn.

I was in the fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate, depending on your opinion of the state of my mind) position of growing up without many real parental controls. I could watch whatever I liked, play whatever I liked – and I’d like to extend that to them. Knowing what I know about video games though, I’m not sure I can do that. The level of violence and sex in some games is exceptionally graphic – especially with today’s gaming hardware. Though I played games like the hyper-violent Splatterhouse in my youth, I’d probably be unwilling to let any of my kids play the recently released reboot (not just because it’s a bit rubbish). The pixelated 16-bit intestines of my youth are a far cry from the hyper-realistic pixel-shaded innards you can see in the new game, but it’s more the context and setting of the game than its visceral violence that’ll stop me from letting them play.

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Mortal-Kombat

I won’t let game ratings make my parental decisions for me though; the older boy is quite a keen fan of the Mortal Kombat franchise – something I’m happy to let him play and something I’ll happily play with him , because I know he’s able to separate the game’s comic violence from reality. Like me, he’s a gentle sort who wouldn’t wish real malice upon anybody – but boy does he delight in ripping out virtual spines and hearts. The younger two? I’d prefer they didn’t.

Though it’s immeasurably cool to always have willing participants to play family-oriented and casual titles I’d otherwise be playing alone, it’s put quite a dent in to my single-player game time. Where’d I’d previously been able to easily pour three or four hours day in to a game, I’m now lucky to get that much play time in a week. My need to purchase must-have games hasn’t diminished at all, and as a result my backlog of untouched games has grown considerably.

Those of you who’re in a similar position – gamers who’re parents – how do you find a balance? Do you manage to find the time to indulge both pursuits or have you, like me, practically cast off your gamer label?

Images courtesy of GettyImages.
Mortal Kombat is a registered trademark of Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment

Last Updated: February 16, 2011

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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