Being A Gaming Parent In A Gaming World
In the past decade, video games have gone from being an ostracized hobby for “nerds” to being the fastest growing entertainment medium on the planet. Everywhere you look, people are playing Fortnite (or watching others play Fortnite), counting down the days until popular releases, and lambasting terrible Saturday Night Live skits about games.
Video games have made it, baby. With that in mind, I’ve been curious lately about what it’s like to be a gamer who has a kid growing up in the current gaming-crazy landscape. Luckily, the offices of Game Informer are filled with people with children! So, for this week, I’ve decided to harass my coworker Kyle Hilliard into a discussion about the exciting highs and fraught dangers of being a gaming parent in the year 2019.
Javy Gwaltney : Hi Kyle! I don’t want you to be alarmed but there’s a rumor going around the office that you are in fact a parent.
Kyle Hilliard: Yeah, I won’t shut up about it! You haven’t truly lived until a miniature version of yourself relies on you entirely, or something like that.
How long have you been a parent now? How old is your kid?
Those two questions have the same answer, Javy. About eight years.
Does she play games with you at all? Or games by herself?
She does a little bit. I would not consider her a big gamer, honestly, but there are a handful of games she likes and she always likes to take the controller from me for a few minutes at least when I start something new. I have tried a handful of co-op games, but once she gets the basics, she usually asks me to leave so she can play by herself. The Lego games are the ones she typically genuinely gets into. I try to play co-op with her, but she doesn’t like when the game goes split-screen and asks me to go away.
What’s it like being someone who plays games and writes about games and makes a ton of content about games but is also a parent at the same time? Is that weird to her? That Dad’s job involves a lot of playing video games? Does it ever come up?
I think for kids in general, everything is weird and new, and as a result, everything is normal, and that goes for Dad’s job. Sometimes, grown-ups have to play a video game at home for work. I think it just annoys her more than anything else. I have explained to her what I do a few times and have shown her the magazine, but she could not be less interested or impressed. I imagine she will reach an age soon where she recognizes it’s actually kind of a weird job (which I recognize it absolutely is), but for now she just knows her dad likes video games a lot, and his job is related to that somehow.
Games are everywhere now. They’re a big thing, especially after the battle royale boom. And they’re also changing thanks to YouTube and streamers and such. Are you ever hands-on with that sort of content, like monitoring what she watches on YouTube? Are you worried about the sort of content she could be exposed to that’s gaming-related?
Oh god, yeah. YouTube is terrifying. It’s honestly one of the few things my wife and I are pretty restrictive about. Even the YouTube Kids stuff is a minefield of potentially inappropriate content (here’s a great episode of “Reply All” that goes into detail about why YouTube can be scary!). When it comes to paid streaming services like Netflix or comparable platforms, I am pretty relaxed and let her choose whatever she wants (within reason), but when it comes to YouTube, I am always over her shoulder. She has yet to gravitate toward specific streamers, but when that inevitably happens, I will be watching carefully for sure. I recognize it’s her generation’s chosen entertainment medium and I try to be self-reflective and not be an old man yelling at a cloud, but I don’t know that there has ever been a platform where anyone can post anything they want, whenever they want, as much as they want, anonymously. So yeah, to answer your question, yeah, I worry. But I also recognize that outright forbidding things also makes them more attractive, so I am just cautious.
Did you ever play games with your mom or dad growing up?
No, not at all. It was the biggest hurdle in my household to acquire a video game system. I got my dad, who spent a portion of his life as a professional bluegrass musician and has seemingly conquered every instrument with strings on it, to play Rock Band once and he thought it was clever. My mom watched me play Goldeneye for a few minutes once and was understandably aghast when she realized you “just walk around and shoot people”. They recognized it was something my siblings and I enjoyed and allowed us to play, but they were uninterested.
Do you think that’ll change for the future, in general? Like, my dad is a HUGE nerd. We were a very gamey, sci-fi focused household in a way that I don’t think is common, so playing games wasn’t really that rare of a thing. However, I understand that it is unusual. Do you think you and your family will play video games as a regular family activity as your kid gets older?
Well, it depends on her. I honestly don’t know if she is going to be into games in the same way her mother and I are – and that’s totally okay. I can’t imagine a future where I am not still playing games in my free time, and I hope she wants to play with me, but it is certainly not something I would ever force her to do. I think it will be a normalized entertainment activity, though. In the same way my parents watched TV, my kid’s parents will play games. I think it’s already just seen as another avenue of entertainment, as opposed to a personality-defining trait.
Any advice for soon-to-be/freshly minted parents who are also gamers?
You trying to make an announcement here, Javy? If you love games, don’t be scared that becoming a parent means you will never get to play games again. Infants are pretty boring. They just kind of lay around and sleep a lot, so you will still be able to make time to play – it just takes some planning. I don’t think I am qualified to give parenting advice, personally, just because being a parent is so much about going with your gut and trying to do the best for your kid and every kid is different. Yours might be super into games. Or they might think games are super dumb. Whatever they’re personal feelings on games end up being, they will be correct, so just roll with it.
Oh! It may seem excessive, but make sure you buy a wipe warmer. I didn’t think I would use it, but it makes changing diapers way easier. That’s the only advice I will offer.
Javy Gwaltney’s cultural column, The Virtual Life, is dedicated to exploring the places where our lives and games intersect, making meaningful connections to games. It runs bi-weekly on Wednesdays.
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