Three months ago my wife and I had a baby. This has affected my life in innumerable ways, but here are just two: First, I am up at all hours of the night with the baby, and second, I spend a lot of that time with only one hand free, because I am holding a baby.
I have had to make some adjustments to my gaming habits.
Fortunately, I’ve discovered that there are plenty of games that you can play with only the use of a single hand. Console gaming options are limited, yes, but between PC, handheld, smartphone, and tablet games, you’re sure to find something to while away those early-morning hours. So if you, too, find yourself laden with infant child, below are some excellent distractions.
If you’re going to be up into the wee hours of the morning because your child won’t sleep unless they’re draped over your shoulder, why not play something that would’ve kept you up all night anyway? Firaxis Games’s empire-building epic can be played almost entirely with the mouse, and because it’s turn-based, if you really feel the need to use the hotkeys, a few seconds’ delay as you reach across your desk won’t mean the difference between globe-spanning hegemony and being relegated to the dustbin of history. If you’re one of those people who’s already sunk hundreds of hours into Civ V and need a greater challenge, you could always attempt a mouse-only shot at one of Paradox Interactive’s strategy games, Crusader Kings II or Europa Universalis IV—just remember the pause button if you need a breather from all the diplomatic back-stabbing.
If you prefer your turn-based strategy to be a little smaller in scale, you pretty much can’t do better than Firaxis’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown and its add-on Enemy Within. Send your squad of soldiers up against hordes of vicious aliens, and recoil in dismay as a depressingly low number of them make it back alive! It’s not really feasible to play one-handed on a console, but on PC you can play entirely with the mouse, and the touch interface of the iPad version is very functional. As with Civilization, there may be some times when you want to reach for the keyboard for hotkeys, but if you shift your body slowly, odds are the child sleeping on top of you won’t wake up. Other good turn-based strategy games to try are The Banner Saga, Shadowrun Returns, and Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, all of which have touch-based interfaces in their mobile incarnations.
Square Enix’s little Final-Fantasy-that-wasn’t is a fine way to kill 80 hours with its charming visuals and rockin’ soundtrack. Like the JRPGs of the ‘90s which it seeks to emulate, it requires a good bit of grinding for levels, but at least those countless random battles can be negotiated with just your left hand! The entire menu system, both in and out of battle, can be navigated using the 3DS’s d-pad, and the left shoulder button doubles as a ‘confirm’ button. It’s an elegant and thoughtful bit of design that acknowledges that hey, maybe you want to be doing something else while you’re leveling up your guys. (The more recent Pokemon games have a similar control option, though it’s not quite as comprehensive.)
Maybe you’re one of the handful of people who chose Sony’s handheld over Nintendo’s wildly-successful 3DS. Maybe you like JRPGs but would rather play a true classic of the genre than a modern imitator. Voila: Suikoden II. Konami’s tale of war, friendship, and cooking showdowns uses a similar system to Bravely Default’s, where the L1 and L2 buttons work as confirm and cancel, respectively. If you’re playing on the Vita, the default controls are a little awkward—you’d have to hold a finger on the rear touchpad to run—but thanks to the Vita’s ability to remap controller inputs for any PSOne Classic, you can set the controls up any way you’d like! This freedom opens up all kinds of classic RPGs. Wild ARMs with one hand? Sure! Final Fantasy VII? Why not! Xenogears? It’s theoretically possible!
If you’ve been reading this list and lamenting that everything so far has been turn-based, stop lamenting right this second and look up Crypt of the Necrodancer. A rhythm game that is also a rogue-like, Necrodancer is enormous fun and sports one of the best game soundtracks in recent memory. The controls are very economical: You use the arrow keys for everything, including moving your character around the titular crypt and activating abilities and items. Necrodancer is also designed to be compatible with dance pads of the sort once required by Dance Dance Revolution, so if your baby is an exceptionally sound sleeper, you could play this one no-handed. If you’re looking for a different musical experience, the awkwardly named Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call for 3DS also has a one-handed mode.
If a rogue-like sounds appealing to you but you’ve no sense of rhythm, why not attempt to navigate through hostile star systems? Subset Games’s FTL: Faster Than Light sees you helming a spacecraft through often uncharted territory with an enemy fleet hard on your space-heels. Recruit new crew members, watch them die from asphyxiation as a hole is blown in your hull, and do your best not to let your ship fall to pieces! It’s not an easy task. FTL plays out in real time, and can be a little tricky to play without hotkeys, but the pause button is set by default to the middle mouse button—just pause the action whenever you’re faced with a tough decision, and you’ll have all the time in the world to realize you’ve inevitably chosen poorly! If you’d like another game about making hard choices but don’t want to make them in space, you could also play the stellar and sobering Papers, Please, which is mostly mouse-controlled. Bonus: Play Papers, Please with your infant son asleep on your shoulder for an extra-harrowing experience.
Any of the old LucasArts classic point-and-click adventures are prime candidates for playing with only a mouse (it’s as simple as point and click, right?). The Monkey Island series is particularly easy to recommend—I’ll gladly return to the Caribbean for a round of insult-swordfighting with wannabe-pirate Guybrush Threepwood any day—but there are plenty of other adventure games from the LucasArts archives that, statistically speaking, you’re more likely to have missed the first time around. Why not try out Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, which is unquestionably better than that fourth Indy movie I’m sure glad they never made, or The Dig, about a group of astronauts who find alien ruins on an asteroid hurtling towards Earth? Take a break from wondering why your child won’t sleep in a bassinet like a normal infant to puzzle over which two items you need to combine to solve an arcane puzzle (spoiler: It’s the maple syrup and the flower).
It should go without saying that if you’ve got to play games with only one hand, your phone is your easiest source of one-thumbed entertainment. As the clock ticks toward 4:30am and your hazy mind becomes less and less capable of complex thought, consider treating yourself to Threes!, the simple and stylish card-combining puzzle game. It’s tricky enough to make you put thought into each move, but quick enough that you can fly through games by instinct alone if you’re bleary-eyed and fading. If you’re still alert enough for truly complex and strategic thinking, you should go with 868-HACK, which requires careful planning and risk evaluation. If you’re not awake enough to manage Threes!, go for Crossy Road! Just keep tapping until your animal of choice is run over by pixelated automobiles!
Is that the sun shining through the blinds? Have you made it through another night? No matter. Just keep clicking. All you have to do is click. Click click click. Soon the game will be playing itself, and you will be able to sleep. Blissful, majestic sleep. Just… click the cookie.
Nate Ewert-Krocker is a writer and a Montessori teacher who lives in Atlanta. His first book, an adventure novel for teens, is available here. You can find him on Twitter at @NEwertKrocker, where he mostly gushes about final boss themes from JRPGs.