Before I answer the question, I need to take you back to the start. Because only when you understand what gaming is to me, can you understand the argument.
After checking half way through, it’s a long one, so make yourself a tea and sit back!
My gaming life
I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember. My first dance with video games in the mid-late 90s came in the form of a moustached Italian plumber and his brother on Nintendo, and a little blue hedgehog on Sega Megadrive.
Growing up with a sister nine years older than me and a brother seven years older than me, and less-than expert skills as a youngster meant playing time was limited. We’d each play until we lost all our lives, and that was our turn over. And we were only allowed to play on weekends or the occasional hour in the evening. Regardless of how little time I spent actually playing, I was hooked. I loved watching my brother and sister take their turns.
Zelda, Echo the Dolphin and Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse are the ones that pop out in my memory. The ones I can see on the screen in front of me as I jog my memory. Then there were the summer holidays when our uncle would loan us his SNES, bringing Mario Kart and Star Fox into the fold of my memories. And soon enough, we started to explore PC gaming, most frequently Sega Worldwide Soccer 97 – yes, that ultra well-known legend of the football video game world! (Shoutout to Andrew for remembering the name of that one!)
That pattern of the three of us taking turns carried through all of those platforms. But it all changed when I was six, or when my brother turned 13, I should say. He got a Nintendo 64 for his birthday. Something I may or may not have let slip a few days before his birthday… I was six! I thought I was being really coy and clever when I told my brother, who was playing Sega Worldwide Soccer, “You won’t want to play THAT after your birthday!”
The N64 is where it all changed. Suddenly, we were able to play together. It introduced the competitive element that would become such a bit part of my gaming life. Goldeneye was the first game my brother had. To this day, it’s still my favourite game.
He’d always beat me. I doubt you’d be surprised if I told you it led to tantrums, repeatedly losing game after game, being killed time and time again. It didn’t, though… most of the time! By this time, our sister was losing interest in video games, but I just loved playing alongside my brother. As well as the legendary Bond instalment, Tom Clancy’s Rainbox Six, WWE’s No Mercy, Perfect Dark and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time were the focus of hours and hours of time together.
Fast forward a few years to 2000 and I got my first console for Christmas, the PSone (the mini version of the Playstation, if you didn’t remember). I was so excited. After years of playing on my siblings consoles, I had something that was mine. It introduced to me the amazing world of Spyro the Dragon and kickstarted a trend that would last another decade – football games.
I saved my money to buy my PS2 a few years later. And that’s where I really became a ‘gamer’. Everything up to that point had been fairly casual. But when it came to the PS2, it’s all I spent my money on. I saved my money for new games and football shirts. We played competitive games at almost every opportunity we could. And I played other, more story-based games when I was on my own. Now depleted from donations and selling, my PS2 collection was huge. Even now, it’s probably still quite substantial (it’s too late to have a look in the attic). It was an easy activity for me and my dad to do when I saw him on Tuesdays and Sundays. In between my football matches, and watching football, we played video games. Not that he was ever any good, or ever improved even slightly!
Of course, the PS3 brought with it a new era of gaming. Yes, my brother and I still spent hours and hours facing each other, and I still whooped my dad in just about 99.9% of games we played. But the PS3 introduced online gaming, meaning more time with friends. As the Call of Duty series took centre stage in the gaming world, it presented a new opportunity for groups of teenagers to interact. Instead of coming home to jump on MSN (that’s a computer version of WhatsApp for you youngsters) to ask ‘what you doing?’ half an hour after we said our goodbyes in school, we were playing together, talking over our headsets, working out our strategy. At school, we planned out what we’d play that evening – usually Call of Duty World at War’s Nazi Zombies mode. I remember the girls at school mocking us for it. They called it ‘sad’. But, if anything, they were doing exactly the same on MSN, just without actually talking to each other or working together.
Now, we’re at the PS4 era. And things have changed a lot. My collection of games is probably smaller than it’s ever been. Having just bought a house when I got my PS4, I had more important things to spend my money on. I could easily blow £40 on a game I kinda fancied buying on PS2 or PS3, I didn’t have any responsibilities. Not so much anymore. If I’m going to spend £50 on a game nowadays, I have to really want it. Both with young families, my brother and I rarely play together anymore. And with wives and girlfriends and jobs, playing online with friends is a rarity these days.
Should I stop?
I know you’ve been reading a while, and we haven’t even got to the crux of the blog, but I really hope it gave you an idea of my relationship with video games growing up.
I’ve been playing video games for about 23 years. I’m now 26 years old…I’ve just had a realisation that I’m closer to my 27th birthday than my 26th!!!…I’m married, I own a house, and, most importantly, I’m a father.
The stereotypical opinion of gaming is that it’s for children and teenagers. Gamers are 13 year old kids telling you they’re going to ‘F&*$ your mum’ because you killed them a few times on Call of Duty. I think it’s seen as something you’re supposed to grow out of, especially once you become an ‘adult’. I can’t remember specifically who, but I’ve seen a few male celebrities on talk shows explain how they ‘love games’, but joke ‘I can’t exactly do that anymore now I’ve got a child’.
Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about that very scenario, all the while knowing exactly what my answer is.
Should I give up gaming now that I’m a dad?
Gaming is one of my biggest hobbies and has been since I was a young boy. It’s part of who I am. I’ve spoken before about the importance of taking time for yourself, to have a hobby, to relax and enjoy yourself. Gaming is one of the things I do to chill out when Raife has gone to bed. I’m a strong believer that parents, dad and mums, need to look after themselves in order to look after their children. What use am I to either Emma or Raife if I never do the things I enjoy?
Obviously, I don’t spend anywhere near as much on games as I did when I was a teenager. I’m sure I spent £150 on three games shortly after getting my first student loan instalment. Now, I think I’ve bought two games in the past 12 months. And I’m not playing when Raife is awake. I’m not sacrificing any time with him or Emma to play. If I was still buying games left, right and centre, or playing games instead of spending time with my son, I’d understand. But I’m not.
The second part of my reasoning is that I hope it’s a hobby I can share with Raife in years to come. I do want him to have an active childhood, and some people will raise a few eyebrows at me wanting to have both. When we can’t go out, I’d love nothing more than to spend a few hours playing video games with Raife.
I spent so much time playing with my brother and my dad. I really look back fondly on the time my brother and I spent sat next to each other for hours on end, talking, joking, laughing. We had so much fun. My dad never enjoyed gaming, I think he just did it because it’s what I wanted to do and it was time with me. I really hope Raife and I have the same hobbies as he grows up. Whether it’s going to football matches, watching it on the TV, playing video games, cycling, whatever it was, doing these things with my dad or my brother are some of my favourite memories of a child. And I think it would be great to spend time with Raife genuinely enjoying what we’re doing, sharing my love of gaming, telling him how much it’s changed (which will further cement my standing as an old man in his eyes!), introducing him to old consoles I find on eBay for £30, and everything in between.
So, I don’t play as much as I used to, with who I used to, or spend as much as I used to. I still love gaming, though. It’s one of my favourite hobbies. And it’s something I want to carry on doing as long as enjoy it, for myself, and for Raife.