If there is one question I get more than any others, it’s usually, “Syp, dude, how do you do it? How do you juggle writing, work, gaming, and family?”
The answer often is, “Not perfectly, but I’m learning.”
For a long time I lived as a bachelor, and aside from work, my time was my own. But enter a wife, two (soon to be three) kids, and other responsibilities, and that time becomes less my own and more others. Which is cool. Whenever I’m feeling aggravated by all of the things I have to do before getting around to some personal fun time, I remember just how lonely I used to be, and how much more balanced and fulfilled I am now.
So in thinking about this, I came up with a few personal lessons that I’ve been learning over the past few years as a gamer who’s become a married father. How can you balance it? Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. Readjust expectations of playtime
Once you have kids, your free time is going to suffer. It’s not a bad thing, but it is inevitable and you have to make peace with that fact as soon as possible. My spouse and my kids take priority over gaming, and I have to constantly check myself to make sure I’m keeping it that way.
I’ll be honest: In the beginning, I did experience moments of bitterness toward these other people in my life who were being demanding of my time. That was the bachelor in me trying in vain to hold on to a way of life that was waving bye-bye. But I realized that as much as I like games, they’re just a hobby and incapable of satisfying my needs the way that my family and faith do.
So I readjusted my expectations of my playtime. I no longer had time to do huge gaming marathons. My gaming sessions were often going to be short. And with that, my play style and goals were going to have to shift accordingly.
I’ve actually found that having restrictions on my game time has made me appreciate it far more than when I could gorge on it. I’m reminded of one of my favorite verses from the Bible: “If you find honey, don’t eat too much, or it will make you throw up.” (Prov. 25:16). Solomon was talking about the importance of moderation, especially in regards to good things. MMOs are my honey. A little can be savored and appreciated; a lot can make me feel regretful and wondering why I just “wasted” a whole day on a game.
2. Keep family time free of gaming
This is a very important personal rule I try to follow. If people are home and awake, I don’t game. Period. I spend family time doing family stuff, even if it’s just sitting together watching a movie or eating dinner. This works out for me since everyone but me in my household goes to sleep fairly early. Even if they didn’t, I would hate to send a message to my wife and kids that I’d rather be playing a game than being with them. So I just make that block of time game-free, and I’m cool with it.
It certainly helps to join guilds that are either understanding of this or are largely family-oriented themselves. Guildies who understand that sometimes a kid wakes up and needs attention are invaluable to hang with, because it takes a lot of the pressure off having to be in the game every second.
3. Have a spouse who understands that this is your hobby
While it may seem like some crazy logic, it’s actually good for married couples to have their own hobbies and interests that are separate from their spouse’s. Having that “me time” helps to recharge personal batteries while making the “us time” more valuable and interesting.
My wife, by and large, is not an MMO gamer. She’s played them, but she doesn’t have the sustained interest in them to stay in the genre. What’s fascinating to me, in terms of games and news, is kind of boring to her. It’s just how it is. But she understands this is my hobby and supports me in it, which means sometimes she gives me some extra time to just game or listens patiently while I babble about the latest and greatest.
I guess what I’m saying is that it’s so vital as a gamer not to be in a relationship where games are seen as vying for your spouse’s affection or as the antagonist that’s threatening. If there’s communication, priorities, understanding, and compromise, gaming as a hobby can very much be an asset to a relationship instead of a detriment.
4. Be okay with not being the best
Because of my limited gaming time, I have had to come to terms that I will never, ever be the best in MMOs. I won’t have the time to develop mad skills or grind the best gear or even hit the level cap in all of the games I play. Some games will be sampled, some devoured, but all will feature me as a middle-class adventurer. And that’s okay.
It’s here that I have to make sure I don’t compare myself to that guy in the guild who hit the cap in two days and has been farming purples ever since. I realize that the more games I sample, the less I’m going to advance in any single one. And if I’m going to fully explore a game or gear up, I know that it’s going to take much, much longer than it used to be.
Again, that’s okay. Games are temporary pursuits; fun, engaging, relaxing, memorable — but temporary. Family is much more enduring than that, and I’m content to invest my time, skills, and grinding abilities right there.