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How to play video games when you have five children

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A beginner’s guide to doing the impossible

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I have five children of various ages, and I already know all the funny things you’re going to say after I report that fact. Yes, I know how that happens. No, I am not very religious. No, I don’t know how we do it either when you’re so busy with just one, or two, or however many kids you have.

I also don’t think you have it easier because you have fewer children, or no children. No one has an easy or uncomplicated life. Having a big family is one of the ways my particular life is complicated.

But I have learned a thing or five about how to handle this hobby of ours with a big family, and I thought I’d put down a few thoughts during the holiday season to answer questions I often get about how to juggle children and playing video games. It can be done, but if you’re having your first kid soon? You should ...

Understand that you’re going to have to give it up for awhile

I often hear from new parents wondering if they’re ever going to be able to play video games again after they have their first kid, and my answer isn’t always welcome: Not yet. And maybe not for awhile.

I have a lot of kids, but the shift from four kids to five kids wasn’t much of a shock to my system after our youngest was born. My wife and I were already exhausted, we were already not getting enough free time, alone or together, and there just wasn’t much more blood available from nearby stones. The shift from zero kids to one kid, however? That’s the biggest shift you’re ever going to make in your life.

The first year is tricky, the learning process is complicated and scary and every free moment you have to sleep should be spent on sleep. Yes, you will have to put gaming away as a serious pursuit for awhile, although you and your partner should give each other breaks to at least visit your old hobbies from time to time.

“They second she lets go of my hand, it’s back to Stardew Valley,” they both thought.
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The first year of your first kid is the hardest year, in my opinion. It’s OK to put gaming on the back burner, things will settle down once your kid sleeps more and you learn how to do all the little things that keep them calm. Games you can play on your phone with one hand while rocking a baby to sleep may be your friend for awhile.

This all seems like common sense, but I’m asked the question so often by so many people just starting their families that I wanted to get it down for the record.

The first year is the hardest. Don’t worry if you can’t find time to play games. You will later in your life, and you will spend a lot of that gaming time missing the time your child was a baby. They grow up fast, and you tend to forget most of the bad stuff and remember the good stuff. Enjoy this part of your life as much as you can while understanding it’s a struggle for everyone.

There were nights when I would be rocking a baby to sleep at 3 a.m. in the living room, knowing I would have to be awake in a few hours to work and knowing the day was going to be dreadful. If I ever felt angry or resentful I would tell myself that I was actually 40 years older, and my last wish was to go back in time and rock one of my children to sleep so I could remember what they were like at that age. It’s a silly trick, but it would often turn the anger into thankfulness.

It’s OK to put gaming on hold for a bit. Once your kids are a little older, a good way to get more gaming time in is to ...

Plan what you’re going to play before you play it

I know some people who sit down every night and spend at least 30 minutes trying to decide what to play, and those folks have much more free time than I do. Don’t waste any time you could be playing a game on deciding which game to play, even if the choices are overwhelming.

Flip a coin if you have to. Buy one game at a time, finish it, and only then move onto the next one if it makes things simpler. It doesn’t matter what trick you use, but figure out what you’re going to play before you start playing, and make peace with the fact you’re also saying no to all the other games you could be playing. Once you know exactly what you’re going to play and on what system in your small amount of free time, you can ...

Get your set up done ahead of time

Modern games, PCs and consoles always need to be updated, controllers need to be charged and the little dongle for your wireless headset is easy to lose. Downloads take time, and a huge patch at the wrong moment can ruin an otherwise perfectly planned evening to game.

Don’t let it. It can be hard to find a full hour to play a video game, but it can be easy to run a quick errand or two in the hours leading up to that one hour of game time. Turn on your console and make sure it’s up to date. Set it to automatically download patches if that’s an option. Make sure the game you want to play is fully downloaded and patched.

Plug in your controller. Make sure you have all the necessary accessories. Don’t start putting this shit together when it’s time to actually play, because that is your time to play. Steal a minute or two here and there throughout the day to make sure your game and hardware are ready to go the moment you sit down to play. I’ve had plenty of evenings ruined due to updating something or trying to track down a headset, so make sure you have all that together before it’s time to begin.

If you find yourself staying up later than you expected, however? You can always choose to ...

Sleep much less

This is the easiest solution, although it’s not the healthiest. My gaming time disappeared when I began taking a sleeping aid for my insomnia, but the rest of my quality of life improved. Go figure.

If you’re willing to stay up after everyone else is asleep, or wake up very early in the morning before everyone else wakes up, you’re golden. Those are the hours that are the easiest to get back, although the price will continue to rise as you get older.

Being well-rested is like a super-power, it makes everything else in your life easier. This should be your last option. One way to relieve some of the pressure is to ...

Plan on having a lot of TVs

Yeah, I know. It sounds wasteful and privileged and horrible, but hear me out.

Your kids will want to watch one thing while you want to play something, or an older kid is going to want to play a game that’s not appropriate for younger kids while the younger kids may want to play a game that’s too easy for older kids, or maybe someone is going to want to watch Netflix while someone else plays a game, or maybe you just want to use the TV as a babysitter for 20 minutes to finish a single damned round of PUBG. It’s not the end of the world to do so, you know.

The rise of tablets and smartphones and laptops have made it easier than ever to have multiple screens around the house to give you and the family gaming options, and the Switch is a godsend for this reason.

But when I wrote my guide to buying a 4K TV I caught a lot of shit from people wondering why I didn’t just save up a little bit more to get a truly perfect display instead of settling for something that only had amazing picture quality instead of a display that was perfect. Part of the reason is that I’d rather use the savings to make sure I had at least one extra not-perfect-but-amazing display in the house to give the kids and I options for who is playing what and where.

If you’re going to have kids, and you have the space, budget for two good enough displays instead of one perfect one. You will thank me later. And if all else fails, or if everything is going perfect, there is always the option to ...

Play games with your kids

My middle son and I love taking turns playing Super Mario Odyssey. My oldest son and I have been taking turns seeing who can survive the longest in PUBG. My youngest children are old enough to have fun playing games on the Super NES Classic. My daughter and I used to exchange notes on our cats in Neko Atsume.

I don’t do this enough, because life gets in the way and it’s hard to find time to play games between getting everyone’s homework done and making sure dinner is ready and the rest of the day’s work is put away.

But one of the joys of having children is being able to share the hobby with them as they get older and learn to enjoy it with or without you. The Switch, in particular, makes it very easy to jump into a game your kid is playing when you only have a few moments.

To bring it all home

You can be a parent and play games, even if you have a lot of kids. Particularly if you have a lot of kids. Having a hobby and keeping up with something that brings you joy is mandatory if you’re going to have the mental energy to keep up with parenting. You don’t cease to become a person just because you have kids, and finding healthy ways to relieve the stress will make you a better parent and human being.

The trick is to make sure you’re taking part in this hobby in a mindful way, and making the small bits of free time actually count.

Good luck, and try to get some sleep.