Think of the Children: What Being a Gamer Dad Means
My son said the most beautiful words the other day which immediately put a lump in my throat and took all my willpower not to shower the entire room with tears. He said, “I want to grow up and be like you, Dad.” Before all the happiness just spewed forth from tear ducts I choked out, “Thanks, buddy. Why do you want to be like me?”
“I want to grow big and play games just like you.”
Not exactly what I was expecting, but some part of me wonders if I should have expected it a little. I keep most of my gaming rituals to when he’s in bed for the night or a quick nap in the afternoon, but I do spend a good deal of time playing games with him. To him, I’m an adult that gets to enjoy a fun hobby that he is completely in love with. No other adults really do that around him besides a couple of his uncles. His mother doesn’t play video games. His daycare provider doesn’t play video games. In hindsight, besides being his only father figure, I’m also one of the few adult gamers around that he feels he can relate to.
As if the pressure of fatherhood couldn’t get any heavier
Now that this has dawned on me the pressure of being a good role model just got heavier, and for some time I thought it really couldn’t get any heavier simply for the fact I was already his father. I really don’t have the opportunity to fail on the grand scheme of things. I can make some mistakes along the way, but he is looking at me not only as his father but someone who partakes in a common interest. I am someone who can teach him what it means to play video games responsibly, and I am also his “strategy guide” when he doesn’t quite know how to master a challenge he’s facing in his latest gaming conquest.
Sure, he and I also spend a lot of time talking about what he wants to do this upcoming baseball season. He also asks a lot about the proper way to tackle someone as we watch football. At the end of the day, however, what he sees me actually doing is playing a video game or two before bedtime. I work a full-time job, come home and take care of the family, and then I play my games. He wants all of that. Even at 5.
How do you teach a 5 year-old balance?
I’m pretty sure you can’t. The 5 year-old brain really can’t hold too much information about checks and balances beyond some limited understanding of consequences of not listening to his parents. What I can do is lead by example. This is extremely difficult. Whether you realize it or not, your children are always watching. They always want to know what you’re up to. You’re their first impression on what is the right or wrong way. By keeping this in the back of my mind helps in a lot of ways.
Here is a list of things that I’ve done to try to be a good “gamer Dad”:
Watch my damn language. Not always as easy at it sounds in the heat of the battle. I let something slip once around my 2 year-old who is perceptive enough to ask, “Dad, why did you say ‘dammit’?” Dammit.
Display balance in conversation and actions. I limit my conversations about video games to a bare minimum when I’m not actually playing, writing, or recording something about them. I encourage him to do the same. It’s a simple matter that not everyone talks about video games. Though I think they should. It would make it a lot easier to make friends. I also don’t pick up a controller during the slightest downtime.
Don’t punish; advise. Sometimes this one is hard. When you’re 5, and you really like to do something, you will find every way imaginable to incorporate it into your daily life. It is really easy to get short with him and say, “Enough about video games!” This is something I do struggle with. So I try to advise him on ways to get it out of his system and off his chest. He doesn’t get in trouble for talking about video games. He simply gets a redirection. I’m not saying to never punish or reinforce rules. I’m simply stating do not punish him for his interests.
5 year-olds have goals, too
I am not quite sure when I developed my first life-long dream or goal. I think I might have been around his age. I wanted to play baseball for the Chicago Cubs. Turns out I probably could. Wouldn’t have had too much of an impact on their record. I digress.
Kids have so many different ideas about what they want to do when they grow up. He has told my wife and I on multiple occasions he wants to make video games. His behavior supports this statement. He could be playing with building blocks, and he can tell me a whole story and set of rules to follow in how you build or destroy your creations. He usually gives these rules some sort of name. Oddly enough, all his games usually are a sequel of some other game which may be some indication of the types of games being released these days. Anyhow, when he tells me his goal it gives me something to hold onto myself. Not because my son may be making the next big thing down the line, but he has something tangible to support as a parent. Which is something I think every parent would like for their children.
Proud to be a gamer dad
Even with the pressure of raising my son while providing guidance and direction on his favorite hobby, I am very proud to be a gamer dad. Every father hopes to find common interests with his children to be able to better relate. I’m lucky his passion closely aligns with one of mine. Even if you’re not a gamer dad, it doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to relate to gamer child. Talk to your children about the games they like and play. Sometimes just listening is all they need. If you happen to be a gamer dad, however, lead by example. You’re raising the next generation of gamers which could very well alter the direction of the game industry.
Think of the Children is an ongoing series looking at the different issues we face as influential parties concerning children and the video game industry.
Giant Bomb (images)