8 things about playing games with a baby

No, not Peekaboo or “how quickly can you steal glasses off my face”, but grownup digital games. In the early days (weeks) (months) (years?) of your bundle arriving on the planet, you won’t be able to see anything beyond the constant grind of babycare, but if you like to play games, at some point you’re going to yearn for a controller or mouse or screen in your hand once more.

I hit that stage when the baby was two months old and have been playing games since. He’s now eight months and teeteringly close to crawling, which will bring a whole other set of challenges. Here are some things I wish I’d known when I started out.

Disclaimer: all babies and parental experiences are different, mileage may vary, etc etc.

Don’t feel guilty

Before you’ve even sat down at the computer, you will have been bombarded with approximately threety-five million messages from society, media, and your own brain about how you’re supposed to be spending every waking moment thinking about your baby. These messages are especially intense if you’re someone who has given birth.

It’s utter rubbish.

You. Need. A. Break. You need something fun in your life and you need to switch your brain off or to a different setting, and that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.


Find somewhere to stash your baby

Articles abound about putting babies down to nap. Very cute, usually illustrated by a baby looking adorable in a blanket. My son is eight months old and has been successfully put down to nap in his cot all of twice.

When I first started playing games post-baby I put him on my lap, but him being a wriggly creature made it distracting and painful on my shoulders. If it’s comfortable and you can afford it, a sling is invaluable. Otherwise, some sort of rocking chair or baby bouncer or jumper once the baby can hold up their head is a good bet.


Mobile games are a double-edged sword

I never used to play mobile games much: I tended to play interactive fiction on a desktop. But now they’re a godsend. At various points, playing 80 Days or Pendragon were what helped me stay awake while baby-feeding in the small hours. Those two, plus The City’s Thirst and a plethora of free IF works like Cape, Mere Anarchy, Birdland and To Spring Open.

But be wary. Using a mobile device when the baby is sleepy may wake them up, it may wake you up and make it harder to get back to sleep, or the baby may grab. Most of the mobile games I play are text-based so baby-grabbing isn’t so much of a problem, but Fay’s game of Candy Crush has often been ruined by an intrigued our son.


Accept that time is limited

After the baby was born was the first game I played was Tales from the Borderlands. At 8.30 I started downloading. Ten minutes later the baby woke up and it was half an hour before I could sit down to play again. Before I reached the first save point he woke again, and because I was pretending to be a grownup that day I switched off the XBox to save electricity (I later discovered that the first save point is about five minutes in). He needed a couple of hours of attention, and then I restarted the game and got going.

It’s frustrating, but try to relax and remember that you will be able to get some play in – it may just be later than you think.


Therefore: save slots or frequent save points are your best friend

Playing Dark Souls with a baby is going to be very difficult indeed, but at the beginning even Tales from the Borderlands was hard going. Before I got into the rhythm of things, I was breathlessly waiting for the next save point so I’d be safe for another few minutes. You get used to it, but it dents immersion a little. Best to start out with a game with save slots or whose save points are fairly close together, so you’re not on tenterhooks for the wrong reasons.


Therefore #2: short, focused games are your other best friend

I used to love roaming around Borderlands 2 finding weird things and shooting them. No more. Not only is my time limited, I also have little energy, attention span or space for such a drawn-out experience or a game that has a high wandering to plot ratio. Several otherwise great games have fallen by the wayside: Dragon Age: Inquisition (excellent plot and characters, too much wandering), Sun Dogs (marvellous evocative setting, not enough immediate gratification), Age of Empires II and Baldur’s Gate II (both lovely fun nostalgia trips, too much brain required and too much wandering respectively).

My favourite post-baby games have been Tales from the Borderlands (short episodes with individual arcs), 80 Days (short, easy to dip in and out of, constantly stimulating), Oxenfree (short, tightly-plotted), and various interactive fiction works I played on a desktop such as Midnight. Swordfight., Invasion, and Hana Feels.


Consider your boundaries

Our son isn’t old enough to play games himself, but Fay and I have had a lot of hypothetical discussions about when that time comes along. Babies take in a lot of information and you may or may not be comfortable with what they can see or hear onscreen. A couple of times he has got upset by someone crying on a TV show, and didn’t want to do anything other than stare when I tried playing Spec Ops: The Line when he was awake.

My approach is to play violent games when the baby is asleep, partly because of the content but also because they tend to involve more coordination and concentration. I don’t have any answers to this issue except consider your comfort and as the baby gets older, take cues from them.


Have fun

Don’t waste time on a game you’re lukewarm about. Don’t feel you have to finish a game that’s been languishing half-done. I’m halfway through the final episode of Life is Strange, have hit an issue and can’t really be bothered to carry on based on what I know about the ending. That’s OK. Your time is precious and, if after you’ve carved out some for yourself, you sit down and you don’t actually feel like playing the game you’ve put on, don’t do it.

Enjoy playing games to relax, to get out of your own head, to socialise with other people, to have something to do that isn’t to do with your baby. Time for yourself is incredibly important as a new parent: do what you can to make it what you want it to be.

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