I unlocked the Mother of all achievements

March 8, 2012, Author: Bryony Stewart-Seume

Last summer I had a baby. Her name is Lily and she is beautiful. She was delivered after a not insignificant amount of pain and weighed in at 6lb and 8oz.  Hold on; you don’t give a toss about all that stuff. So, why the heck am I here?

Well, it occurred to me that I am a new parent, and I like games, so the chances are I am not the only one. This article is aimed at those with one in the oven, or those considering giving in to the maternal (or paternal) urge, but it may be of use to those with little terrors that are running rings around your feet already.

I’d like to take some time to explain to you how parenthood does not mean the end of your own fun, and specifically (as this is a games website) how it should not herald your final ragequit. I won’t lie to you, though; parenthood isn’t exactly a walk in the park, (although walks in the park may help to lull a teething infant to sleep) and it will certainly mean your trophy count and Gamerscore will increase at a lesser pace, but worry not. It is possible to combine both lifestyles, although not without certain compromises.

Those compromises will, and should, come from the gamer aspect of your life (babies really don’t understand “yes dear, but I just need to beat this boss…”) Having been told by a ‘friend’ that I would not be able to even attend the concert of my favourite musician (Brad Paisley, thanks for asking) a full month after the birth as… well… you don’t want to know what she said exactly; it involved several lady parts and a lot of leaky bodily fluids, I arose determined as never before to retain some of my own life post birth. As it turned out, I was able to attend said concert without my nipples bleeding and with my pelvic floor intact.

First and foremost, what I found was the type of games that are easily accessible will almost certainly change; if you are anything like me. This is certainly true for the first part of my leave, anyway. If I’d had eight months off work and at home with nothing better to do (such as changing yet another shitty nappy) I would probably have spent a reasonably large proportion of it lying on the floor playing Mass Effect.

I would then restart, creating a slightly different Shepard (always a woman, though) and playing her in almost exactly the same way as I have played all the other Shepards. I might pick up a story driven action type game such as Enslaved and play that through. I (and this depends a lot on how sociable I am feeling) may fire up Uncharted and suck at Deathmatch for eight hours solid. Hey, that 0.67 KDR ain’t gonna plummet itself, you know.

Comfort gaming at its best.

Here comes a big confession. Deep breath. I am a snob. It is true; I’d never played certain games on certain social networking  sites, because I assumed they would be a little bit naff. Well, I am sure some are, but once I had got past the stage of motherhood where you can’t take your eyes off your baby for two minutes, lest they do something really cute like move their head a tiny bit in their sleep, I found myself needing to do other things. As an aside, maternity leave is not a holiday, but there are times when you just don’t want to wash more clothes, mix more formula, or empty the nappy pail. Again. Those ‘social’ games were staring to look somewhat inviting.

I started playing Ravenwood Fair, and Ravenskye City, and I have to say, they were very enjoyable. I could play them, for the most part, at my own pace, and they didn’t complain a great deal if I needed to urgently attend to the ever digestively challenged Lily. I found myself adopting the ‘new mum’ stance for several hours (not necessarily all together) during the day.

The stance I am talking about involves lying propped on the sofa (legs akimbo to support baby) with the laptop open on a small table to my right. This is another advantage of those types of games; you only need one hand. This conveniently leaves the other hand free to hold onto and to gently caress the beautiful baby that will only sleep sprawled across your chest. The child will be safely hemmed in not only by yourself, but also the barricade to your right (or left if you happen to be a southpaw).

For those of you that are thinking “her baby was sleeping! She should have been sleeping, too!” All the books say (and this is genuinely good advice) to never fall asleep while holding your baby. Therein lies the problem. Some babies will only sleep when they are where they like it best; you guessed it, in that lovely little cradle made by the crook of your elbow. Not that lovely little cot that you spent hard-earned cash on from Mamas and Papas, or the beautiful hand-woven family heirloom Moses Basket that your parents lent you. Nope.

The downside of those types of games, for me, anyway, is that you are forced to make ‘friends’ with people purely to advance. I wouldn’t mind so much; meeting people, even virtually, is fun but I have since deleted the extra people I added as ‘neighbours’ as I didn’t make a connection with any of them, save for one. In the five or so months we were playing, she and I did have a few conversations, mostly about Rik Mayall, oddly enough.

The point still stands; you don’t make friends with people on Facebook to gain a greater knowledge of life in far-flung places of the world; you add people so you don’t have to buy Facebook Credits, and to spam them with invites for games they aren’t playing. I found this to be a problem, as it means that your News Feed gets filled with pictures of cats doing ‘hilarious’ things, ‘inspirational’ quotes, and passive aggressive status updates about how we only care about certain causes if we copy and paste to our own status. I know there are ways around this, but honestly I lost the will after a while.

I am way too anti-social for these games.

Lily, thankfully for all involved, developed the ability to be a little more independent, and not require my undivided attention for 24 hours a day. So once she had passed the three-month mark I found I had about 35 minutes to spare each day. “Sleep!” I hear you all shout. Well, Lily, bless her heart, since the age of seven weeks (here comes a big fat smug boast) has been sleeping through the night. So this was less of an issue now.

So, now able to play console games requiring the use of both hands, I blew the dust out of the Xbox and played the bejeezers out of Mass Effect 1 and 2. Yes, I could have gone out and bought a whole new game, but remember; I hadn’t played anything but Facebook games since the summer, so I wanted to play the stuff I had been missing. Also; those considering the option of shopping; one thing I genuinely found hard as a new mum was leaving the house for any length of time. When they are young and eating at least every three hours, the logistics behind going anywhere further than the end of the road have to be thought through meticulously each time. Pressing ‘on’ and shoving Mass Effect in was so much easier. I’m not saying don’t try it, but that is one thing about Maternity Leave I found difficult, both physically and emotionally.

November was a good month in terms of releases for me; Uncharted and Elder Scrolls are two of my favourite franchises. Uncharted 3; Drake’s Deception hand-delivered (by the courier) to my door a whole day early. My husband (who, as it happens, is simply amazing) took the day off work so I could fool around with Nathan Drake all by myself. I love my daughter, I really do, so if you judge me for taking the day off from my full-time mum job for a game; piss off (Also those currently judging me for playing games at all with a baby in the house; you can join them.)

What I haven’t been able to do is indulge in any multiplayer experience, except for a couple of times when my mother and father in law took the little one out for a walk. This is something that you need to be prepared for; if you are the type of gamer that particularly enjoys the multiplayer experience you will find it hard to play. Games that you can drop in and out of are fine, of course, but I tend to find multiplayer games can take so long to fire up and find a match for you that your baby has woken up and been sick on you before you have taken your first shot. Of course leaving games is counterproductive, and can be somewhat infuriating.

Uncharted isn’t a game I can play once; so that kept me going for a while (and still is). Had I not had a growing baby, no doubt I would have gotten over it a little quicker. Christmas arrived, and so did Skyrim. Remember that awesome man I married? Well, Skyrim was a gift from him. In a similar way to those Facebook games, which were now mostly a memory, Skyrim is a slow burner. It isn’t so action heavy, so little daughter can sit happily on the floor for however long playing (and learning) by herself while I Fus Ro Dahed the living daylights out of Ulfric Stormcloak’s dining room table.

If Lily had enough playing by herself, I was easily able to put the game down without spoiling the flow. Not all games are like this, so my advice to you if you are considering combining the lifestyle of a gamer with that of a parent, is to select games that are slow, open, and not driven by what might be right around the next corner. Also; you should be prepared to have your young one take a deep interest in your controller. It won’t be enough to simply give them the spare to play with; they will want yours.

All the thanes and housecarls in Skyrim couldn't keep his table laid.

Interestingly, my exploits did open up a dialogue with a Speech and Language Therapist who ran a playgroup for under ones. On Uncharted release day, my husband took Lily to the session; she’d been going with me for several weeks. I’m not entirely sure how, but Louise (the group leader) got the wrong end of the stick when my husband explained who he was and why I wasn’t there. When I went back the following week she told me that she thought that my job as a game designer must be fascinating and I must be really proud of my hard work in having a game released.

Having let her know that I was merely a fan, and not employed by Naughty Dog, (not through want of trying) the conversation evolved into a discussion about games and how they may help or hinder a child’s development. She was worried that if she bought her own son a Nintendo DS he would become introverted and lose the desire to read. We got into quite a long dialogue about how games can in fact encourage certain skills, without being too obvious about it. I am not an expert on the matter, but I did find the conversation (that carried over several weeks) really interesting, and unexpected. Her son was given a DS for Christmas, as a result.

So there you have it. Being a new parent does not mean that you have to give up your own life. Sure, the manner in which you do things and conduct yourself will almost certainly change, but this was something I was worried about while pregnant (along with “what if my baby has more than one head?”).

Of course I am lucky in that I have an immensely supportive husband, and my little girl has Grandparents that are devoted to her, and more than happy to take her out to give us a break from time to time, but I truly believe that if you are willing to make compromises (and I am learning that a lot of parenthood involves compromise) you can still enjoy the odd bit of indulgence from time to time. Don’t ever feel guilty for having your own fun.