Growing up: Parenthood and videogames

Growing up: Parenthood and videogames
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Patrick Stafford wants to know: "Who's your daddy?"

Walk into any videogame store and you'll probably see this scene, or one very similar: a parent with a furrowed brow, reading the back of a box.

Next to them will stand a young boy or girl, wide-eyed and repeating something like, "pleeeassseee", "I promise to pay half", or the more bold, "Call of Duty isn't that violent, I swear".

Parenting and games share a close relationship. Parents, understandably eager to control the media viewed by their children, have usually kept a close eye on the games in their home – but historically there has only been policing, and little understanding.

But things are changing. The average age of a gamer is 30 years old. Those who grew up on gaming in the 1980s and 90s are having children of their own, and they're much more interested in actually juggling the responsibility of raising children and maintaining their hobby.

This has created a shift in the development world. As the demographics change, more games are being designed for those people who have less time to play. Shorter, more focused titles are becoming much more popular. 

Episodic series such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, alongside shorter games like Journey and even the slew of games on handhelds such as the Vita and 3DS are making gaming as a parent easier than ever. 

"I don't think anything in this industry happens by accident," says Mark Serrels, gaming journalist, parent and editor of Kotaku Australia. 

As it turns out, he might be right. Ron Curry, the chief executive of the Australian Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, suggests more developers are keeping parents in mind – and it’s maturing the industry rapidly. 

“The mobility of gaming lends itself to episodic and snappier games... which is great for parents.” 

Parenthood changes a thing or two... >>
Ah, to be young again. Having days of open-ended possibility for games is an overwhelming feeling. Being able to pound through a 40-hour RPG in a day or two is a privilege which fades in time. 

But responsibilities of adulthood creep slowly into existence. First comes the part-time job at 16, then university studies, or maybe a full-time apprenticeship. A proper job comes next. Days of gaming turn into a few hours a night, then weekends, and finally, whenever you can find the time. 

Having a child completely up-ends this. Writer and developer at Tin Man Games, Leena van Deventer, says her gaming time has been completely transformed after having two kids – and it changes what she chooses to play.

"I find myself not playing many games "just because". I definitely commit to a game when I'm pretty sure I'll like it, whereas I used to churn new releases. It comes down to my rule, no gaming when the kids are awake."

"I knew I'd like Skyrim, but also knew I wouldn't have the time to give it, so avoided it completely. I also didn't last long in Fable 3."

Ben Kuchera, the editor of the now-defunct Penny Arcade Report and now opinion editor for, has five children, all 12 and under. For him, having children also not only dictates when he plays, but how.

"Something like League of Legends is right out – matches can be up to an hour long. That's the "fun" part about having kids – you don't know when someone is going to wake up covered in vomit."

"There are certain games that are just unaccommodating to that."

Mark Serrels is experiencing the joys of watching an infant become a toddler – which carries with it more burdens on time.

"Babies tend to sleep for three or four hours, then wake up – so you can tend to game a lot when they're at that age. But when they're older, that changes."

"What that means is you have a few hours to game, and that's a very specific time. You need to choose carefully what you're playing."

The changing nature of games >>
All of this is fairly self-explanatory, and not exclusive to videogames. Plenty of parents lose time for hobbies once their children start aging, and a time-intensive activity like gaming is usually first on the "things to get rid of" list. 

But a curious change has been occurring in games over the past several years – more titles are being developed that are, seemingly, much more friendly for adults.

 Mobile and casual games are an easy example here. Being able to pick out your phone and hammer out a few minutes of Super Hexagon or even an RPG port like Chrono Trigger is an amazing benefit for time-poor parents, waiting around until the next feed – or trying to grab a few minutes of precious game time on a train.

But it's going beyond that, even now. Games such as Telltale's The Walking Dead series are putting serious, focused narrative into an experience which only lasts a few hours at a time. The episodic nature of such a series means the player has a bigger sense of anticipation, waiting for the next installment.

The company's next franchise, The Wolf Among Us, is made in the same vein. But accessible gaming hasn't stopped there. Some of the most critically acclaimed games of the past few years are not sprawling epics, but tight, focused experiences. 

Thatgamecompany's Journey is merely a few hours long, and titles such as The Stanley Parable, Papers, Please, or Dear Esther are contained in short, bite-sized chunks. The trend towards rogue-likes with games such as FTL or Spelunky is an even better way to game without devoting hours to a quest line that doesn't end. (In fact, you're better off playing one of these games as you're bound to die sooner rather than later).

But is this just a coincidence, or are developers actually reacting to the shift in gaming demographics by making more serious, focused and time-conscious games?

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