“I'm making the call,” I told the doctor. “I want to call it,” I said a little too firmly. As if my competency as a human being was being brought into question. As if this is where it would be decided whether or not I fail at life.
The doctor nodded from behind her blue face mask. Doctors always look like scrub-clad ninjas once their masks are up. It must be like working at a masquerade every single day in a hospital. The scrub-clad ninja nodded and looked at the clock. “The time is nine forty-three PM. Which is it?”
Which is it? That was my cue. My wife and I didn’t want to know the sex of our unborn baby beforehand, so the past nine months and twenty-six hours of hard labor culminated in this point, in accurately calling out whether we’d just had a boy or girl. All things considered, I had a fifty-fifty chance of getting this right. So I looked over to see, exactly, who it was the doctor was holding, and then I turned back to my wife. “We have an Estelle,” I said.
When I was in my twenties, everything existed according to the old Ptolemaic model: the universe revolved around me. No, that’s not groundbreaking news in the study of the male ego, but sometimes it’s hard to see what you’re in when you’re in it
. My small, small world was all I was capable of comprehending, really, being the uncertain and short-sighted person I was. Anything beyond my arm’s reach fell out of focus, and anything out of focus was out of sight and out of mind.
Then I’d married Grace, the most feminine woman I’d ever met who simultaneously outstripped my feeble masculinity. And with that exchange of rings, my Earth-at-the-center-of-the-universe model shifted to, at least, a binary star system. She explained to me, in so many words, just how archaic my geocentric thought patterns were, and she let me know, through the gravitational push and pull known as marriage, that a Copernican model of living would be more appropriate.
So now this. This baby comes into our lives. And there’s nothing like having a baby to make you revert back to the good old Ptolemaic way of thinking. Except this time the baby takes center stage. The baby becomes the new point of origin for the universe. A new ground zero for the Big Bang theory.
“Good job, dad,” the doctor said. “It’s a girl.”
I snapped out of my reverie of mixed astronomical metaphors and, twenty-four hours later, brought my daughter home for the first time. Being early 2010, I sat down for a night of branching moral decision trees in Mass Effect 2. I soon found out that my well-established midnight bedtime was about to get pushed to a much earlier time slot.
Our two-day-old daughter certainly “slept like a baby.” Except, for a newborn, “slept like a baby” meant that she woke up every three hours, crying, hungry, and with a full diaper. Me waking up dizzy-tired at midnight, three, and six A.M. every single day for three months had a way of putting me to bed earlier in the evening. You’ll understand if my late night gaming schedule was cut short.
Mass Effect 2 was, plus or minus, a sixty-hour game. When I was a boy, a sixty-hour game took me two or three weeks to complete. When I became a married man, a sixty-hour game then took upwards of three or four months. Now that I’d become a dad, my daughter had celebrated her first birthday before I’d ever saved the day with Commander Shepard. Granted, my flight hours in the Normandy bookended my hours on horseback in Red Dead Redemption, but you get the picture. If my gaming days weren’t over, they certainly felt domesticated to the point of nonexistence.
I rolled credits on exactly three games last year. The aforementioned Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption, and in a fit of New Year’s Eve confetti and alcohol, Limbo. While excellent games all, that’s probably not enough gaming for any self-respecting and self-proclaimed gamer to own up to. I mean, if a person only finished three novels in one year, they probably wouldn’t call themselves “a reader.” If a person only finished three movies in one year, they couldn't possibly call themselves “a moviegoer.”
So if I only finished three games last year, did that mean I was no longer “a gamer”?
The answer that surprised me was: yes. Absolutely. I was still a gamer, and quite possibly a better gamer than before. No, by “better” I wasn’t any closer to joining the Major League Gaming pro circuit. And no, my gamerscore hadn’t suddenly soared above my friends’. In fact, I’ve owned an Xbox 360 for five years and my gamerscore is still below 20,000. That’s pitiful and I’ll be the first to say it. That is, if gamerscore is how you measure yourself as a gamer.
But as a dad, I’m now a person with more games on my mind than in my 360, or in my PC for that matter. And while I finish far fewer games nowadays, I make a gallant effort to keep abreast of interesting games throughout the year. I was one of the millions that flocked to the Minecraft alpha; across one hundred hours, I’ve taken first place in fifty percent of my Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer matches; and while you may have played forty hours of Red Dead Redemption, I played one hundred twenty, and with a straight face I can tell you that I’ll play it again for another one hundred twenty.
One hundred twenty hours. How? I don’t even?
Well, at least in the case of Red Dead, poker helps. That, and turning off the minimap and committing the landscape to memory and navigating strictly by landmarks. And, just in general, taking my own sweet country time in pursuing the story’s mainline. Undead Nightmare has been a blast, too.
Why? I’d understand if it was an MMO, but?
Well, for another thing, one other place that a baby hits you, besides right in the middle of your beating heart, is in your wallet. I’ve been coerced -- by my lovely wife, Grace, my household’s chief financial officer -- into comprehending the plain and simple economics of renting versus buying. I don’t get to buy a game anymore unless it is a game that I can invest several dozen hours into. I don’t get to take the financial margin hit to my bank account by buying new and selling back used to GameStop. And Red Dead has become the standard by which I gauge making a purchase. “We’re agreed,” my wife reminded me for the umpteenth time, “that you don’t get to buy a game unless it’s a Red Dead.” She doesn’t mean a Red Dead sequel. She means a Red Dead in principle. A game that, in the end, is going to fork over more than one or two dollars-per-hour of entertainment.
On a related GameStop note, I’ve been playing bits and pieces of Far Cry 2 since 2008, starting and restarting over as I see fit with each player character, never making it past the halfway point on any one attempt. And I’ll never sell it back to GameStop for the two dollars and seventy-five cents they’d give me for it. So one day I’ll roll credits on Far Cry 2. I doubt it will happen this year, given that Bastion and From Dust are in the XBLA Summer of Arcade, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Rage, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Far Cry 3, Diablo 3, Max Payne 3, and Hitman 5 are on the docket. That right there would make for an excellent year in gaming. But for me, since I'm now a gaming dad, it’ll likely make an excellent three years
Now if you’ll excuse me, one-and-a-half year old Estelle would like to sit on my lap and mash some buttons while I go about rebuilding Bastion’s broken landscape.