Gaming As Parents

Or: Why Twitter Won Me Over When I Had a Newborn

Living in the Shadow of the Past

Seppo and I are, first and foremost, parents of two wonderful small children. Our lives are filled with joy and surprises. For instance, today, I got covered in about a pint of projectile vomit. That would go under surprises.

But back to the point: our lives are filled to capacity.

I used to have a lot of "me" time when we didn't have kids. We also had, as a couple, a lot of "us" time. We could have a long day at work but still enjoy a few hours to ourselves and decompress with video games, movies, and books. If we were feeling particularly ambitious, we'd go out to dinner and/or a late night coffee. We don't have these luxuries anymore, and I'd be 1) lying and 2) not human if I didn't miss them even a little bit. But it wasn't just the time, but the mental space to know I could do whatever I wanted to.

We grew up loving games. But it seemed like parenting & gaming just didn’t mix. Who had hours & hours to learn new control schemes & mechanics and to build up your stats to something even remotely useful?

Sound familiar?

I wish I could just add hours to the day, but we haven't found a way to do that... yet! Despite this huge failing, we still have figured out how to connect and relax, just not in our old ways.

Back when I was at home on maternity leave with my first son, I was a fairly new iPhone user, and not a huge user of twitter and Facebook. But during my leave, I became a prolific, constant user, because when I was alone at home with the baby, rocking him for hours a day, I was still able to be with my friends and have conversations with them, keep up with their lives, get advice & support, and generally feel like I wasn't so alone. I didn't have time to blog anymore, something I used to do regularly before having children, but I had time to tap out a 140-character tweet. I could do this because I didn't need to book special time away from my baby but could do it while he was dozing in my arms.

I wasn't alone. I was still connecting with my friends. This was a genuine lifeline I felt in my life at a time when I really needed it.

And now we play different kinds of games, mostly on our phones or tablets. Even if one of us is spending 1.5 hours in one of our kids' rooms, trying to put him to sleep, we can play a game together, taking turns in the dark. We can celebrate big blowouts and razor's-edge wins that we had during the day even when we were not in the same room. Internet victory dance!

These are not complex, huge, world-building games. These aren't not fully-immersive, hours-long experiences. These games we play together now are more like twitter than blogging: short exchanges rather than lengthy alone time. What they let us do is replace the tiny, seemingly useless gaps in our time with fun: time that we'd have spent waiting in line, waiting for kids to fall asleep deeply enough for us to sneak out, waiting to pick up the car from the shop, time that always seemed too short for anything meaningful in the past.

Yet these small, mobile, connected games give Seppo and me a way to enjoy new shared experiences even when we can't be in the same room at the same time, even when we can't block out hours to go see a movie. There is a difference between just reviewing our days versus living our days together, a difference between sharing our thoughts and sharing our actions. On limited time, these games give us a much needed dose of fun -- together.

This is the kind of game we want to build: one that will fill the tiny gaps in your life with shared delight and new memories, one that you won't have to clear your schedule for.