Kids: the ultimate time-suck. The world’s most immersive RPG, they require an 18 year subscription and huge monthly membership fees. For most people who like to keep up on all the latest games and hardware, having children sounds like the best way to effectively kill a videogame hobby. Kids and games both require time, energy and expendable resources, and it’s hard finding enough of all three to handle either games or kids alone, much less both at once.
But in that cloud lies a silver lining. Five, in fact. Having kids and being a gamer is actually way better than you think. Here’s why.
Everyone loves an audience, especially one young enough to not understand how bad you are at videogames. That’s where your kid (or your niece, or nephew, or your little cousin…try this on any kid in your life!) comes in. Kids are bored, easily distracted by bright colors and moving shapes, and they have no concept of time. They can easily spend 10 hours on a couch watching you suck at Mega Man 10 and be completely entertained.
They’re also really good at holding the controller and sucking even more at a videogame than you do, so if you needed some easy wins in Street Fighter V, you now have options. My dad used to make me play John Madden ‘94 just for the satisfaction of beating me 108-7. I didn’t even know what a football was but he was still very proud of this accomplishment.
Now, as any parent, aunt, uncle, or particularly cool grandparent will tell you, this trick works less and less as the adolescent child in your life grows older. At a certain point, a kid is going to figure out that it’s much more fun to play a game than watch one. But as Twitch and YouTube Let’s Plays firmly taken the reins from TV as many kids’ primary form of entertainment, there’s room for a rebound. Folks can make a lot of money streaming videogames and it’s not just because they make it fun to watch, but because people do in fact want to watch. So when you pick up that controller, tell your kid that you’re giving a live Twitch performance. They’ll settle in for the next six hours.
You’re in videogame store (ok it’s Gamestop, there’s only Gamestop, Gamestop is the only videogame store that exists) picking up the new Pokémon game, trying not to look like a child in front of the cashier when your daughter or nephew runs up behind you. “Oh is this for them?” The clerk asks casually and you feign a chuckle. “Yeah, I thought I’d get ‘em started early.” you say as you stuff the case in the front pocket of your overcoat like a gentleman spy.
Of course, once you get home, you’re actually going to cash in every last ounce of parental goodwill to hog the 3DS until they forget Pokémon even exists (“Mommy’s going to go wrap Christmas presents in her room… in July…for the next ten hours!”), but the cashier doesn’t have to know that. Nobody does. It doesn’t matter if it’s murder or Monster Hunter, children are the perfect cover.
One of my earliest memories is of the original Legend of Zelda on NES. That is, my babysitter and The Legend of Zelda. I was 4 and far too young to get a chance at the amazing adventure game myself, but she was still generous enough to let me sit on the couch as she played.
By generous I mean, it was fun for her because as I mentioned in #5, everyone loves an audience. And you know what’s better than an audience? A gofer! As in, go fer some soda and string cheese in the fridge, I need a snack. Or go hit that reset button on the console box because I ran out of lives and have to start over. As with #5 the power to pull this off diminishes as your tiny relative grows up and figures out you’re a dick, but it’s still fun while it lasts. Kids don’t get enough exercise these days anyway. Take advantage.
Sure, the internet exists, but you’re an adult, and you have to do this thing called “work”. Sucks, I know. But when you have a kid, you don’t just get the hip insider’s knowledge on what the cool game are these days. You also have your own personal paperboy slash town crier trumpeting the information from a booster chair at the top of their lungs while kicking your back through the seat until you just want to turn off the ignition and let the family minivan idle into oncoming traffic.
You won’t just know what’s cool, you’ll have it memorized, because children never stop talking. The last time I had a conversation with my 6 year old niece, she blabbed about the latest Minecraft update. For 45 minutes. Apparently it has llamas.
Despite all my riffing on a child’s inability to understand when they’re being conned, they’re actually weirdly intelligent. This will factor into your life as a random variable, something you can’t count on but may save you when you least expect it. The thing about kids is they haven’t yet learned to rule out the mundane and obvious, because to them, everything is new. All those moments you ragequit a videogame over a simple interface error or AI pattern, a kid can spot the obvious solution a mile away. Of course, this doesn’t make up for their lack of adult perspective and freakishly small hands, but it’s a merit nonetheless.
I make a lot of jokes but at the end of the day, the real reason it’s wonderful to have kids in your life with whom you can share your love of gaming is that you help open up a world of wonder, creativity, and solution-based critical thinking that can enrich and inspire a young mind. As adults we are lucky to have the chance to curate that experience for the next generation.
Holly Green is a reporter, editor, and semiprofessional photographer living in Seattle, WA. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gameranx, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.