Tag Archives: Work/Life/Gaming Balance

How Cheating Against my Three Year Old is Actually Good Parenting

Our three-and-a-half year old daughter was feeling left out. Her baby brother was needy and that meant I couldn’t play “running around games” with her as often as I used to. We needed something that we could do together while the wee guy was occupied in a highchair or held.  I bought Monopoly Jr. thinking that it would bring us closer together. Instead I started cheating at a board game, for her own good. 

I like to store the game pieces in the empty spot where my soul used to be.

Board games (and their video game equivalents) are great for wee kids. She has learned some basic math, and mastered a few minor fine motor skills like rolling a dice and moving a piece around a board. But more importantly she is learning the social skills that are hard to come by at this age. I take a turn, then you take a turn: everyone shares the dice and the game. Cooperation: it’s nice when Mommy helps you by moving your piece for you when you can’t reach, not an affront to your personhood. And, perhaps the hardest thing of all to learn: how to be a good winner and a good loser.

She was doing great at the “it’s okay when things don’t go my way in the game” skill set. We played Monopoly Jr. often and whenever she had to pay to use an attraction, she did it with a smile. “I LOVE the ARCADE! Here’s $2 Mommy! I love you!” She would hand over her little Monopoly money and would yap about how much fun she was having.

Yep, my kid reeks of awesome. Not only can she figure out how to add up $4 without using her precious last $4 bill (she likes to have at least one of every kind) she is a gracious little winner. I gleamed.

Here’s the thing. the kid must have horseshoes up her rear, cause she never lost. Not once in over a half dozen games. It’s easy to be full of sunshine and rainbows when you win. I started to get concerned. Part of this venture was to teach her how to lose. You can’t do that if you keep winning. The longer it took to get to that first loss meant that it would be more of a big deal. Losing should be part of winning, shouldn’t it?

It started small. First, I would actually play logically. It makes sense to get all properties of one colour if you can, and so on. Playing illogically will only teach the kid to think illogically. So I play properly. This earned me a raised eyebrow from my husband. She is three and a half! Ease up!

But then it progressed to using tactics that she really couldn’t pick up on. I would take the Ferris Wheel over the Loop the Loop, knowing that there was a chance card saying “Go To The Ferris Wheel.”  My husband would often “cheat” to move the game along quicker. At about the 20 minute mark in any given game, money from his stash surreptitiously made its way back to the bank. “Oh look, Daddy has no money! Let’s count it up and see who wins!” all the while ignoring my death-stares. She has more money, now is not the time! I considered a special signal between us to let him know that I had more money and that now would be an opportune time to fall on his sword and allow me sweet victory. But evidently I married a man with morals.

 Finally I started “forgetting” to give her allowance of $2 when she passed Go. I won, but victory was short lived. Now that she lost, the stench of loserdom clung to her, causing her to lose about half the time. But, this kid is a winner, and she mustn’t go to bed with the bitter taste of defeat. She demanded to play again. Suddenly Monopoly Jr. became a mini obsession with her.

“Honey, win or lose isn’t really the point. Whenever you play you tell the other person “Good Game, I had fun.” Did you have fun? Cause I love playing games with you even if I lose. I love playing with you.” She came around and yes, playing a game is fun, win or lose.

All this makes me sound like a competitive jackass. Honestly, I don’t care if I win or lose, as long as I am having a good time. I watch football and it drives my husband up the wall. “They have two minutes left and need three scores. It’s hopeless.Give up now.” or “There is only 20 seconds left, why do they even bother running out the clock? I would just hit the showers early!” When I play Magic The Gathering: Online I actually enjoy losing, if I am losing to something really cool. “First one out is the first one to the bar” is what I like to say. I am an excellent loser.

 But, let’s be honest here. You play to win, or you wouldn’t keep score.

Competitiveness is a good thing. She will need that as she grows up. That drive to win is the same self control that you need to stick to anything long enough in order to become great at it. Yes, winning isn’t everything. Unless it is. I like the fact that losing upset my daughter, she has a spine, a fire and she won’t shrug it off until she figures out how to master this skill called “Monopoly Jr.”

My father-in-law is a rec league umpire. He loves the league he umps for at the moment. They are older. “Old enough to take the game seriously, but to not take themselves seriously” he said.  What a fine line to walk. This is going to take years for both me and my daughter to learn.

In the meantime, I think she may be getting Clue Jr. for Christmas. Maybe this time I won’t sully my soul.

Need a Helping Hand: Accessability

Gaming with newborn makes me wish more developers emulated Dragon Quest VIII. Not because it’s a very well done turn based RPG, although it is that. Not for its adorable art direction, which it has. But for its control system.

One sleepy baby (12lbs of deadweight) who seems to only sleep on Mom, means I am somewhat sleep deprived and confined to a chair. And I like gaming. But I also like (need?) sips of coffee and you know, holding onto that newborn thingie. Dragon’s Quest VIII allowed me the option of playing the regular way, or one handed.

One handed. I could drink a cuppa and game. At the same time. Brilliant. I suppose you could say I was indulging both “addictions” at the same time.

My reason for loving an accessible game is, granted, a bit silly. There are others who for whatever reason, lack mobility in their hands or fingers making gaming itself a difficult task. Yet, a company found a way to make a turn based RPG a bit more accessible for more gamers.

So if it is so easy, why don’t more people create accessible games?

Accessibility Means Different Things For Different People

My daughter was sick last week, and so I decided to get her something that would lend itself to hours on the couch resting. Nintendogs. I looked up how to play the game: stylus and voice commands. OK should be good for a kid who doesn’t game using a controller. Perfect, right?

Nope.

Little did I realize that in order to get past the tutorial “level” you had to teach the dog his name by saying his name into the mic many times over in the exact same way at the correct time. Impossible for a) a three year old and b) a SICK three year old. I did it for her (WAGS! WAGS! WAGS! over and over again) then I had to do the same thing with the “sit” command. And this is how you teach your new dog old tricks; a pretty big part of the game was locked for my daughter.

So for a person with limited mobility, this is perfect. For someone with difficulties with speech this is horrible. And that’s the difficulty… accessibility means different things for different people.

Why Should I Care?

When I was chatting about this idea with my husband, he said to watch it. People’s eye glaze over when you talk accessibility, no matter how noble the cause. As I mentioned, accessibility can mean so many different things, and there seems to be a limited pay back for the amount of effort required. I really do pity developers sometimes. They need to make a game that is awesome in so many different ways, produce it on time and on budget and then we throw something like this at them. It’s no fair.

 So rather than talking about how it’s the right thing to do, or how choice in how we play is good for gaming, I will give people a really good reason to care.

You are getting old.

If it hasn’t happened yet, it soon will. You will hurt yourself sleeping. You will get up from a chair going “ARGggg!” You will get arthritis, and need bifocals. The whole bit.

And you may also suffer injury in your time. It may not be a life changing event, but it could happen. My Mother can’t console game. She cut herself on a sharp tin can lid and sliced through tendons in her thumb. Cant move her thumb well, therefore can’t console game. Could happen to you and right now you have no options other than moving to PC gaming.

The Good News

The good news it I am not that smart.

You better believe that there are people who are thinking of this stuff; how the changing demographic will change everything, including gaming. They will create it and make grand amounts of money off of it. It’s already starting to happen, we have already seen Nintendo bring out the Nintendo DS XL which has a much bigger screen for us decrepit old bats. Everyone is doing motion control which is good for those with limited fine motor skills. Kinect has a voice control option. So it’s starting.

Now if someone could come pour me a cup of coffee, that would be awesome.

Community Breakup – When it’s time to leave a bad relationship

Welcome to Dumpsville popul... ah you know the rest.

 

So there I was, having contractions on my wedding anniversary arguing with a community member about her (granted) work-in-progress article. The hook behind the potential post was “all things crappy in gaming can be blamed on mothers and women” with, of course, the implied “not cool women like US.” 

And that’s when it hit me. If this community was a guy, I would have dumped his ass long ago. Why the hell was I sticking around? 

It wasn’t the article. Yes, this article did make me see red. As a woman and mother, I’m sick of being blamed for everything shitty. But this is old hat. Seen it many times. 

But what hurt most was that I knew that in the hands of this excellent writer, this was going to get page views, and lots of them. And that the community site for which this was written would all stand up and cheer this article on. Once again I would be a lone voice – Hey do we really need to throw women under a bus to make this point? And once again, only to be shot down as a hysterical loser. 

Or that’s what the cynical part of me was saying. The cynical bitter part. 

I don’t like cynical and bitter me. I like the old me, the fun-loving, easy-going, genuine me.  The person I was before I started to get mad at the sexism on the community site. And there is a lot. Just this week I asked for a second opinion of an Admin regarding a rape scene in someone’s wallpaper.  

Asking for a second opinion on a rape scene… WTF? I have been there for over three and a half years. I am a mod on that site, I used to write for the front page. I have done interviews representing the site. Yet, when it came to something as blatant as pictures of young anime girls screaming with their clothes ripped off, I was asking for a second opinion as to whether or not this violated the TOS. Why? What made me so gun shy? Why was I not doing my job? 

Cause I want to be liked. Women are socialized from such a young age to be nice. To not rock the boat. To put up and shut up.
“Ha ha, boys will be boys. I guess I have to join them since I can’t change their minds.” Well. that doesn’t really work well with me. I don’t sit quietly. I get mad, and I do something. So, I have tried to rock the boat, to show the community how I saw things. 

Each member of the site gets a blog, mine is fairly popular. I once wrote in response to a question from another blog about feminism and how women are treated differently. I tried, in my own way, to show how most gamers have male privilege, and how this affects how they see -or don’t see- the sexism in gaming and on the community site itself. I brought forward examples of said sexism: objectification of women, discussions in threads that centred on slut-shaming and victim blaming etc.  As expected, I had some dissenters, and even a few advocates. However the response was a straw feminist rant on the front page, one that was described as an almost personal attack. 

Point taken. Will shut up now. 

Women are also socialized to solve the worlds problems by internalizing everyone’s needs. “If I just play their game, maybe I can be one of them. If I am one of them, if they are happy, I can make the community a better place.” I see that I have tried that as well. If I volunteer more, I will be liked more. If I am liked more, I can have more respect and people will take me seriously.  Nope. that doesn’t happen. 

So the big question: how much does one take? Do you try to stay on and keep fighting the good fight, or do you leave? When do you leave? Is it quitting, or is it staying sane? 

I can only answer the question for myself. The time for me to leave is now. I have a year of maternity to look forward to, and I want that year to be filled with positive things. I joined the community while on maternity leave with my first. This seemed like the right time. For the last six months, I have been hit with too much negative. There is no room for me, or my voice there, not really. It’s been made clear. If that makes me a quitter, so be it. I have this blog. If anyone is still interested in what I have to say, they can catch it here. 

Now in any break up, it does help to remember the good times; there were many. This community was there when I first got my Xbox, and played on line gaming for the first time. I joined by first clan there, started a few of my own. Went to a Lan to meet these folks and they were wonderful. I’ve seen friends divorce and find new love. I’ve seen babies born, people get married. Kids have gotten sick and the response is fast, vocal and genuinely caring and supportive. 

While, yes, some members of the site are vile individuals – it’s only expected in a population of over 17,000 – the grand majority don’t mean to create a space where someone like me is not welcome. But they do. Some are so wonderful and supporting, and I will try to stay in touch with them the best I can.  

But all in all: it’s time we move on. I have new opportunities. This blog, while still in its infancy, has allowed me to see a new community. One of my own choosing. I am excited to move on to something new. 

Sorry guys. It’s not me; it’s you. Good luck.

Outside the Comfort Zone: Platformers and Touchscreens

A while back, we made the mistake of letting our three-year old daughter play with my husband’s iPod Touch. We were in the process of buying/selling a house, and … well frankly we needed a bit of a babysitter while we discussed nuts and bolts with the real estate agent.

We created an Angry Bird monster. Our daughter giggles like a maniac as she flings the birds straight down. Sometimes she even gets a piggy or two.

A few weeks later, my husband and I were talking with my Aunt about new technology. Now, this woman is not new to tech. Her husband is an IT professional; she writes and is published on-line. But she has never used an iPod. She mentioned how she wasn’t sure she could get the hang of a game using touch screen technology. The three of us chimed in “Yes, you would.”

At that moment, I saw another example of how having too much knowledge can be harmful. My daughter had as much experience with gaming devices as my Aunt, but didn’t know that the tech was new or that she could not work the touch screen. All she knew was the blue birds split, and the yellow ones go fast. And if you whine when Angry Bird is done, you get no more Angry Bird.

The result? My daughter was fearless in giving it a shot. And within days she was flipping through menus, and loading up different apps. (We didn’t teach her this. It’s actually a bit frightening.)

I wonder if sometimes we, as gamers, hobble ourselves by having too much knowledge.  We compare ourselves to “experts” in the gaming field, and believe that we can’t be good at the game. One bad experience with a genre and it’s all over. “Oh, I don’t play stealth games.” “I’m not good at Halo.” “I can’t get through an RPG.”

I’m guilty of this.  I hate platforming. I suck at it. Prince of Persia, I spent maybe 10 minutes at it. The platforming in God of War made me want to throw my controller through the T.V.  Normally this doesn’t bother me. Too many great games to worry about the ones I won’t like.

Yet, all of this Limbo talk had me intrigued… but my previous knowledge has me hobbled. I know I hate platformers. Limbo is a platformer, therefore I will hate Limbo.  But that was then, this is now.

Have I improved as a gamer?  Will I be able to finish it? Is the fear of failing keeping me from experiencing a great game? This one that seems right up my alley, and it seems like one of those games EVERYONE must play. I mean who cares if I can’t complete it. All I will have lost is $15, but gained all the real life experience of seeing something artistic and new and trying something different.

Well… maybe after we move.

Vets vs. the FNG: Gaming Mentorship

It is summertime, and certain aspects of my life have ramped up to insane levels. As always, gaming is a refuge.

But alas, no energy.

Mass Effect 2, Dragon’s Age: Origins and Splinter Cell: Conviction in rapid succession sort of sucked the gaming out of me for a while. And again with this “real life” stuff that keeps on hammering away at me. What’s a girl to do?

Easy: casual or turn based games. Turn based games engage the mind, but leave the tension behind. Lately, my go to game has been Magic the Gathering: Duel of the Plainswalkers on XBLA. So much so, I finally bit the bullet and joined up with Magic the Gathering: Online (MTGO).

Now, I used to play back in tha’ day. So I understand the mechanics of this admittedly complicated game.  However, I ws not prepared for what I was to face.

Trading systems, deck requirements, deck restrictions, different game types, live chat, clans, buddies, and on and on. None of it intuitive. None of it explained. Very little help. Now, I’m a lucky lass with connections, so I was basically in a great clan before I entered in my credit card number to buy my membership. (check that nerd cred, yo) But I have no idea how others do it. And this isn’t vanity talking. All my clan members agree… this is one complicated and crappy interface.

But how do you change something as big as  MTGO to be friendlier to the newb, without alienating the hardcore fans? Slim down the number of cards and abilities, fix the interface (with presumably a certain downtime or time on the new learning curve) and the established players are upset. But if you don’t; you gain no new members… and older members always leave and need replacing.

We see this often with on-line multiplayer. If you are mere weeks behind the curve in Call of Duty, and the like, prepare to be pwned. Everyone else has leveled up, and you are stuck trying to figure out maps in vain while rocking the basic load out. Forget it if you have never picked up a controller or played a FPS.  And if you don’t have some type of rank or levelling system, well, that kind of sucks too. It’s fun to get better and get a reward for it.

So. The argument is as follows:

1. As Vets leave, or ramp down their gaming time for a variety of reasons, developers and publishers have to keep adding new players (FNG) into the gaming experience.

2. You can’t alienate your current fan base (Vets), a sure thing, for the possiblity of new fan (well… you just have to do the risk assessment). This is marketing 101.

Therefore…

3. There is a pull between two different groups: the Vet, and the FNG.

So… what do we think developers might have to do? They are going to, in some respects, stack the deck a bit for the FNG. Maybe make things a bit easier for them, dumb down controls, who knows? Got to get new players.

But that isn’t the only option.

Vets, us gamers, can also be the heroes here. It’s not that fun to beat up on the little guy. We all learned this (hopefully) in kindergarten.

Let’s be human. Help the FNG learn the damn game. You see someone who has no clue what they are doing… don’t spam kill them. Hell… maybe even send them a FR and (gasp) take them under your wing for a few games. The more FNGs we, as gamers, can convert into Vets, the less the game developers have to do the same.

Mentorship. It works. Let’s do this.

Gaming Budgets: Time vs. Cash

Every gamer has a gaming budget, even those with unlimited funds. Cash isn’t my problem, it’s time, or rather my lack of time.  As gamers get older, I imagine this will become the norm.

Gone are the days when I can game all weekend, or stay up until 3AM on a weeknight to get in one more turn. I’m older, have a “big girl” job and I’m a mother and wife. Those things eat at the hours and days. It’s not a complaint, it’s reality. I have only so much time to allocate to all the things I need to do, that gaming must (and should) come second to real life relationships.

I can make more money year after year. Even in hard times, the general trend is to make more money as one continues to move up the career path. If I am wise and lucky, I should have more disposable income over the years. But not time. That I can’t change. We all only get 24 hours a day.

So, I see new consoles coming out, such as the Nintendo 3DS, or peripherals (Microsoft Kinect) but I don’t see how I can afford to get them. There are already so many great  games that I would love to, but can’t find time to play, and play well, that I don’t see the sense in getting yet a new console or peripheral.

And since my budget is getting tighter and tighter, I want to make sure I LOVE the games I purchase. I used to think “Meh, if I get a game and I hate it, no biggie, something else will come along.” Now I don’t have time to not love a game that I am playing. Perceived quality over quantity.

This year my gaming budget consisted of: Dragons Age: Origins, Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII, and Splinter Cell: Conviction. Games that I bought on the fly, that weren’t part of the budget were: Plants vs Zombies (PC and iPhone) Pokemon: HeartGold and Magic the Gathering: Online. For the first time I moved my gaming budget from where I wanted to, and have historically played (i.e. the Console) to where it was convenient for me to play (on my laptop, iPhone).

 I know that I’m not alone in this, yet many blogs, and news items seem to assume that gamers have enough time and money to spend on an unlimited number of games. As gamers age, our income will tend to increase, but our time budget for gaming will decrease. I wonder how this will change gaming habits, and how developers will react. More iPhone apps for gamers that have only a few minutes a day to squeeze in some play between giving the youngest a bath, and helping the eldest with homework? Or maybe this is why we see the rise of the sequel, the biggest games are sequels and reboots of existing franchises. Sell gamers on something they already know and love.

Have you seen your gaming habits change as your gaming budget slowed down? Have you switched from a cash gaming crunch to a time gaming crunch and vice versa?