The kids are in bed fast asleep. Seriously, no fighting, just right to bed like little angels. Normally I’d sit down and start gaming right away. Today, I sat on the couch for a bit, listening to the silence, taking it all in. I took a hot bath with candles and my favourite tunes. Now I’m in the living room, staring at a blank television, with no clue what to do with myself.
I just spent two solid months working from home while my delightful children were off on summer vacation. July and August felt like I was constantly on the go with no time to rest. I thought I was overworked, cramming in my reviews, previews, and testing during any free moment I had. I regularly stayed up far too late getting the last few hours in with a game before I had to meet a deadline.
Now the kids are back in school, and I’m getting more done than ever. I caught myself looking around this week feeling like I was missing something major because I haven’t had spare time in what feels like forever. It turns out that you can get a heck of a lot more done when you don’t have to be a tiny human’s personal vending machine. But now that I am able to play catch up, I have free time after they go to bed. I’ve been genuinely lost on what to do with myself.
My job is technology and gaming. I literally get to play video games and test the newest gear all day and get paid for it. It’s the dream, right? I’ve spent the last few months playing all the games I have to play for work, but now that I have extra time at night, I don’t really know what I want to do with all this gaming freedom. No one is around to complain about what I play, my reviews are all done, so I don’t have any obligations, and the house is quiet.
“Needless to say, becoming a mom changed my gaming journey.”
The Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch AND PC are all free for the taking. I’m overwhelmed with opportunity, and it’s a little frightening. Before I had my children, I was very deep into World of Warcraft. I had a guild of pals, and we spent three nights a week raiding, three hours each night. “Don’t talk to me, I’m healing”, came out of my mouth on more than one occasion. That really isn’t conducive to parenting, especially when your kids are small and could need you at any minute.
Needless to say, becoming a mom changed my gaming journey. Before MMO’s, I spent my time playing RPGs. Fable, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Fall Out, Oblivion, Skyrim…you name it, I played it. I can remember spending most of my free time in high school locked up in my room with my crystal Xbox. It was my happy place. So, when it came time to put away the games that can’t be paused, I stepped back into the RPG world.
Things have changed. Or maybe I have changed. I find it much harder to connect with RPGs today. The Assassin’s Creed series never spoke to me, I’ve never cared for the JRPG genre, and Cyberpunk 2077 was pure chaos when it was released. I feel like “games just aren’t what they used to be”, and it kills me to say that.
“I was on maternity leave, RPGs weren’t hitting the spot, and ACNH was the answer to my prayers.”
Realistically, my time is much more precious now, and I can’t let myself be bothered with the “run here, kill this” gameplay. But I’m still a gamer at heart, so clearly there is a dilemma. I don’t want to become that parent that gets stuck on whatever today’s version of Candy Crush is. I definitely don’t want to lose my gamer status. So what’s a girl to do?
Last year, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released, and that was it for me. I was on maternity leave, RPGs weren’t hitting the spot, and ACNH was the answer to my prayers. Everyone was playing it. I spoke in an earlier column about how it helped our families connect during the pandemic, but even if that weren’t the case, the cute adventure-sim would have sucked me in.
After months of struggling to find a game I connected with, this was what did it? I spent more hours than I can count breeding flowers and building a glorious garden that couldn’t be rivalled, only to tear it all up and start new. I redesigned my island again and again and again. In no time, I had over a thousand hours played, had joined far too many Facebook groups and was addicted to the turnip market. It was a very strange problem to have.
My “precious time” was spent digging holes and talking to unicorns (Julian was to die for, am I right?). What I realized was that Animal Crossing gave me the opportunity to do anything I wanted to do. If I was tired and needed something mindless that night, I could water the plants and shake my trees. If I wanted a challenge, I could aim to collect full sets of furniture, bugs or fish. If I wanted to be creative, I could build a new area in almost any theme I could think of. There were very few limits, so the game could stick with me, no matter who I was that day.
“That’s something we don’t talk about with parenting. I’m a different person every damn day.”
That’s something we don’t talk about with parenting. I’m a different person every damn day. Today I was a superhero. I made a good meal, the dishes were done, the kids were bathed and happy, the house was cleaned, I couldn’t be stopped. Yesterday, however, my hair was a mess, I didn’t get dressed, I had so many cups of coffee I lost count and I raised my voice more than once. The woman from yesterday doesn’t know who I am today. They are completely separate entities, so finding a game to please them both is a Herculean challenge.
Now, Animal Crossing: New Horizons eventually wore out for me (and the girl from yesterday), but I still jump in every now and again. I found myself lost in Stardew Valley for a while, for many of the same reasons I enjoyed ACNH. I dove into a couple MMOs for work, like Swords of Legends Online and Elder Scrolls Online—which I enjoyed, but could easily put down and forget about. Fortnite is a regular part of my week with my son, but even there, I find I’m struggling to complete the Battle Pass each month.
I’m still waiting for the next big game to consume all my free time and satisfy all sides of me. Something to really bring me back into gaming. Elder Scrolls 6, Guardians of the Galaxy, Elden Ring and the more recently announced KOTOR are all coming, and I’m anxious with anticipation. What if it’s not the games that are the problem? What if it’s me? I’m a mom, and I’m a gamer. I don’t know how to be anything else. I don’t want to be anything else. I have health potions tattooed on my body, there’s no way I’m backing down from this fight.
With my free time returning and gaming back on the table, I’m still sitting here frozen, but that’s just who I am today. Who knows what tomorrow holds? Maybe one of the games coming soon will save me, or maybe I’ll play some Bejeweled. Maybe I’ll find a game that can be mindless, or challenging, or addictive or infuriating. Any way you spin it, I’m still going to be hunting for my next “favourite” game, and that’s good enough for me.
(In case you’re wondering, I ended up having snacks that I didn’t have to share and watching the Netflix Documentary High Score—about video games—while I wait impatiently for KOTOR.)