GROW­ING UP

PATRICK STAFFORD wants to know: "Who's your daddy?"

Hyper - - CONTENTS -

Patrick Stafford on par­ent­ing and videogames

Walk into any videogame store and you'll prob­a­bly see this scene, or one very sim­i­lar: a par­ent with a fur­rowed brow, read­ing the back of a box.

Next to them will stand a young boy or girl, wide-eyed and re­peat­ing some­thing like, "pleee­assseee", "I prom­ise to pay half", or the more bold, "Call of Duty isn't that vi­o­lent, I swear".

Par­ent­ing and games share a close re­la­tion­ship. Par­ents, un­der­stand­ably ea­ger to con­trol the me­dia viewed by their chil­dren, have usu­ally kept a close eye on the games in their home – but his­tor­i­cally there has only been polic­ing, and lit­tle un­der­stand­ing.

But things are chang­ing. The aver­age age of a gamer is 30 years old. Those who grew up on gam­ing in the 1980s and 90s are hav­ing chil­dren of their own, and they're much more in­ter­ested in ac­tu­ally jug­gling the re­spon­si­bil­ity of rais­ing chil­dren and main­tain­ing their hobby.

This has cre­ated a shift in the de­vel­op­ment world. As the de­mo­graph­ics change, more games are be­ing de­signed for those people who have less time to play. Shorter, more fo­cused ti­tles are be­com­ing much more pop­u­lar.

Episodic se­ries such as Tell­tale’s The Walk­ing Dead and The Wolf Among Us, along­side shorter games like Jour­ney and even the slew of games on hand­helds such as the Vita and 3DS are mak­ing gam­ing as a par­ent eas­ier than ever.

"I don't think any­thing in this in­dus­try hap­pens by ac­ci­dent," says Mark Ser­rels, gam­ing jour­nal­ist, par­ent and edi­tor of Ko­taku Aus­tralia.

As it turns out, he might be right. Ron Curry, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Aus­tralian In­ter­ac­tive Games and En­ter­tain­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, sug­gests more de­vel­op­ers are keep­ing par­ents in mind – and it’s ma­tur­ing the in­dus­try rapidly.

“The mo­bil­ity of gam­ing lends it­self to episodic and snappier games... which is great for par­ents.”

PAR­ENT­HOOD CHANGES A THING OR TWO... >> Ah, to be young again. Hav­ing days of open-ended pos­si­bil­ity for games is an overwhelming feel­ing. Be­ing able to pound through a 40-hour RPG in a day or two is a priv­i­lege which fades in time.

But re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of adult­hood creep slowly into ex­is­tence. First comes the part- time job at 16, then univer­sity stud­ies, or maybe a full-time ap­pren­tice­ship. A proper job comes next. Days of gam­ing turn into a few hours a night, then week­ends, and fi­nally, when­ever you can find the time. Hav­ing a child com­pletely up-ends this. Writer and de­vel­oper at Tin Man Games, Leena van Deven­ter, says her gam­ing time has been com­pletely trans­formed af­ter hav­ing two kids – and it changes what she chooses to play. "I find my­self not play­ing many games "just be­cause". I def­i­nitely com­mit to a game when I'm pretty sure I'll like it, whereas I used to churn new re­leases. It comes down to my rule, no gam­ing when the kids are awake."

"I knew I'd like Skyrim, but also knew I wouldn't have the time to give it, so avoided it com­pletely. I also didn't last long in Fa­ble 3." Ben Kuchera, the edi­tor of the now-de­funct Penny Ar­cade Re­port and now opin­ion edi­tor for Poly­gon.com, has five chil­dren, all 12 and un­der. For him, hav­ing chil­dren also not only dic­tates when he plays, but how. "Some­thing like League of Leg­ends is right out – matches can be up to an hour long. That's the "fun" part about hav­ing kids – you don't know when some­one is go­ing to wake up cov­ered in vomit."

"There are cer­tain games that are just un­ac­com­mo­dat­ing to that."

Mark Ser­rels is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the joys of watch­ing an in­fant be­come a tod­dler – which car­ries with it more bur­dens on time.

"Ba­bies tend to sleep for three or four hours, then wake up – so you can tend to game a lot when they're at that age. But when they're older, that changes." "What that means is you have a few hours to game, and that's a very spe­cific time. You need to choose care­fully what you're play­ing."

THE CHANG­ING NA­TURE OF GAMES >> All of this is fairly self-ex­plana­tory, and not exclusive to videogames. Plenty of par­ents lose time for hob­bies once their chil­dren start ag­ing, and a time-in­ten­sive ac­tiv­ity like gam­ing is usu­ally first on the "things to get rid of" list.

But a cu­ri­ous change has been oc­cur­ring in games over the past sev­eral years – more ti­tles are be­ing de­vel­oped that are, seem­ingly, much more friendly for adults.

Mo­bile and ca­sual games are an easy ex­am­ple here. Be­ing able to pick out your phone and ham­mer out a few min­utes of Su­per Hexagon or even an RPG port like Chrono Trig­ger is an amaz­ing ben­e­fit for time-poor par­ents, wait­ing around un­til the next feed – or try­ing to grab a few min­utes of pre­cious game time on a train. But it's go­ing be­yond that, even now. Games such as Tell­tale's The Walk­ing Dead se­ries are putting se­ri­ous, fo­cused nar­ra­tive into an ex­pe­ri­ence which only lasts a few hours at a time. The episodic na­ture of such a se­ries means the player has a big­ger sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion, wait­ing for the next in­stall­ment. The com­pany's next fran­chise, The Wolf Among Us, is made in the same vein. But ac­ces­si­ble gam­ing hasn't stopped there. Some of the most crit­i­cally ac­claimed games of the past few years are not sprawl­ing epics, but tight, fo­cused ex­pe­ri­ences.

Thatgame­com­pany's Jour­ney is merely a few hours long, and ti­tles such as The Stan­ley Para­ble, Pa­pers, Please, or Dear Es­ther are con­tained in short, bite-sized chunks. The trend to­wards rogue-likes with games such as FTL or Spelunky is an even bet­ter way to game with­out de­vot­ing hours to a quest line that doesn't end. (In fact, you're bet­ter off play­ing one of these games as you're bound to die sooner rather than later).

But is this just a co­in­ci­dence, or are de­vel­op­ers ac­tu­ally re­act­ing to the shift in gam­ing de­mo­graph­ics by mak­ing more se­ri­ous, fo­cused and time-con­scious games?

WHAT DO THE DE­VEL­OP­ERS SAY? >> Steve Gaynor, founder of the Full­bright Com­pany which pro­duced the crit­i­cally ac­claimed Gone Home, says while this isn't a con­scious con­cern for him and his team, it's not ex­actly ir­rel­e­vant, ei­ther.

"I'd have to say that I don't re­ally con­sider par­ents as gamers specif­i­cally when de­sign­ing stuff I work on," he says.

"How­ever, I do con­sider my own pref­er­ences and those of the team and our friends - and I think a lot of us, de­spite very few of us be­ing par­ents our­selves, do pre­fer a shorter, more fo­cused game ex­pe­ri­ence that can be en­joyed fully over the course of a few play ses­sions."

"That self-con­tained ex­pe­ri­ence with no filler can be par­tic­u­larly sat­is­fy­ing, and I'm glad to see more de­vel­op­ers ex­plor­ing this scope of game in a va­ri­ety of gen­res, not as a par­ent, but as a gamer."

Dean Do­drill, cre­ator of 2012’s Dust: An Elysian Tail, which re­cently sur­passed the one mil­lion sales mark, says his own ex­pe­ri­ence as a par­ent, jug­gling his hobby and his time, in­flu­ences his work as a de­vel­oper.

“I’m learn­ing I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the short game,” he says. “An ex­pe­ri­ence that may only last for a few hours, or few min­utes. As a de­vel­oper I’m start­ing to be more con­scious and more re­spect­ful of [the player’s] time.”

Do­drill’s view is that be­cause so many games can be ad­dic­tive, de­vel­op­ers are re­spon­si­ble to en­sure there is a care­ful bal­ance. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant for par­ents, who

“It's odd... it seems as de­sign­ers we should be do­ing ev­ery­thing in our power to 'keep the player hooked', and ba­si­cally eat away at their time... get them ad­dicted. And it sort of both­ered me, to be hon­est.

I be­lieve that games can be ad­dic­tive, and I think de­vel­op­ers should take a lit­tle re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Thomas Grip, cre­ative di­rec­tor of Fric­tional Games, the cre­ator of Am­ne­sia, has a slightly dif­fer­ent take. Al­though Grip ac­knowl­edges his habits as a par­ent have changed quite a lot, as a de­vel­oper he still holds the same views he al­ways had – that all types of play­ers should be ac­com­mo­dated for.

“Stuff like no pad­ding and be­ing able to quit and save when­ever you like are cru­cial for me right now as a par­ent, but it has also been part of our de­sign for sev­eral years back.” Re­cently at the Game De­vel­oper's Con­fer­ence in San Fran­cisco, sev­eral Tell­tale em­ploy­ees told Hy­per – off the record – their games are de­signed with time-poor play­ers in mind – specif­i­cally, par­ents and people look­ing af­ter young chil­dren.

But this isn't just about par­ents. As the in­dus­try has ma­tured, de­vel­op­ers have re­alised they can tell short, fo­cused sto­ries in a few hours with­out the nec­es­sary pad­ding in­cluded in so many other games. Broth­ers, a Tale of Two Sons is barely a few hours long, but was cited by many crit­ics as one of the most emo­tion­ally ful­fill­ing ti­tles of 2013. Ben Kuchera says this al­most comes down to a mat­ter of re­spect. Al­though plenty of play­ers are happy to slog through a 60+ hour ses­sion of The Witcher, many more have jobs and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and want that some nar­ra­tive im­pact in the time it takes to watch a movie.

"It al­most shows a level of re­spect for the player, and is re­ally at­trac­tive for adult gamers," he says. For a de­vel­oper and player like van Deven­ter, this is al­most es­sen­tial. "Due to hav­ing less time, I have less pa­tience for games that don't en­gage me 100%." Ron Curry says this shouldn't be a sur­prise to any­one. It's in­evitable as the in­dus­try ma­tures, and it's only go­ing to con­tinue. "This is how we're used to en­gag­ing with other me­dia like tele­vi­sion shows and films, so it's no sur­prise to see videogames are mim­ick­ing that," he says.

Tele­vi­sion is an apt com­par­i­son. The past 15 years of the so-called "golden age" of tele­vi­sion have been ex­tremely kind to par­ents who may only get an hour of free time at night, or less. Be­ing able to en­gage in a deep nar­ra­tive, quickly, is the type of ma­ture in­ter­ac­tion par­ents of young chil­dren crave.

"This also al­lows for dif­fer­ent sorts of busi­ness mod­els," says Curry. "And that's both on a cost-to-deliver model, and a cost-for-en­joy­ment ba­sis. Do you need to spend $79 on a game, or can the player in­stead spend less at a time and do play episod­i­cally?"

STAY­ING IN THE GAME >> It's a type of per­fect storm. More par­ents have had gam­ing in­stilled in them from a young age and more games are be­ing made to ac­com­mo­date for their chang­ing life sit­u­a­tions.

But this raises even more ques­tions. How can par­ents who love gam­ing make sure they're able to con­tinue their favourite pas­time, even when jug­gling the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of rais­ing chil­dren? And even more im­por­tant – how can they do so while in­tro­duc­ing their own chil­dren to gam­ing in a con­scious and ap­pro­pri­ate way?

Es­pe­cially with new­borns, when par­ents are wak­ing sev­eral times a night, get­ting in a quick gam­ing ses­sion dur­ing a feed isn't out of the ques­tion. On the other hand, sev­eral all-night ben­ders through Dark Souls will eat you alive.

These de­vel­op­ers rec­om­mend set­ting some ground rules when kids first start pop­ping up. Dean Do­drill says gam­ing was a big part of his mar­riage be­fore kids, which made things easy – but it also set the tem­per­a­ture for when kids even­tu­ally ar­rived.

Ben Kuchera and Mark Ser­rels rec­om­mend tak­ing a laser-fo­cused ap­proached to gam­ing time. When you've only got an hour or two to play, you be­come a lot more de­ter­mined to pick some­thing that will have an im­pact.

"You will never take an hour of un­in­ter­rupted gam­ing time for granted ever again," says Kuchera. "It feels like a treat and a lit­tle more mean­ing­ful.

I think one of the big­gest reval­u­a­tions you have to make is that, yes, you can still read books and play games, but you just have to change the way you do it – it's more of a plan­ning sit­u­a­tion."

This is all well and good. But there's the other as­pect of the sit­u­a­tion to deal with – how to slowly in­cor­po­rate gam­ing into your child's life and en­ter­tain­ment habits as well.

It's in­creas­ingly ap­par­ent among these de­vel­op­ers and afi­ciona­dos there is a strict ap­proach to gam­ing when chil­dren are around. This is mostly be­cause they're so in­volved with gam­ing they have an in­ti­mate knowl­edge of what's in­volved in each game. This is a big shift from the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, when games were mostly seen as time wasters.

"Most people I know who work in the in­dus­try tend to be fairly strict," says Kuchera. "We're fairly strict about it too."

Kuchera sug­gests wait­ing un­til kids are a lit­tle older to in­tro­duce them to gam­ing – at least, gam­ing with a nar­ra­tive.

"My par­ents limited my gam­ing time un­til I was read­ing a lot. Games are such a pow­er­ful art form they can blot out ev­ery­thing else. If you're be­low the age of 10 and play­ing a game, it's just so much bet­ter than movies and books."

"I think wait­ing un­til they're above the age of 10 to se­ri­ously start play­ing games is prob­a­bly help­ful."

But this isn't just about in­tro­duc­ing kids to games in a ma­ture man­ner. One of the joys of be­ing a par­ent with gam­ing knowl­edge is be­ing able to take part in co-op with your child. Just as run­ning around out­side, fly­ing a kite or kick­ing a foot­ball can in­crease the bond with a child, so can gam­ing.

"I think in the fu­ture we'll see more par­ents with great game lit­er­acy," says van Deven­ter, "and so we'll have more re­spon­si­ble gam­ing par­ents, then hap­pier gam­ing kids."

"I may not have time to play the mas­sive RPGs I use to en­joy," Do­drill says, "but we ac­tu­ally have coop and com­pete­tive Spelunky matches now, so I can't com­plain!"

THE NEXT GEN­ER­A­TION >> With all the talk of par­ent­hood, and the self­ish fo­cus of how par­ents can get away with play­ing their favourite hobby, it can be lost just what im­pact this is hav­ing on the next gen­er­a­tion of play­ers.

The con­sen­sus is that it will lead to good things. "Work­ing in games I don't feel a lot of the anx­i­ety a lot of my friends feel about their kids play­ing videogames," says van Deven­ter. "I know my way around, parental con­trols, the clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, and that YouTube Let's Plays are a thing. I'm lucky! That games lit­er­acy is some­thing I have to re­mind my­self not ev­ery­one has." Ron Curry be­lieves the same, or at least, is "cer­tainly hop­ing" it will leave a last­ing, pos­i­tive im­pres­sion. "We know that a lot of par­ents thank­fully un­der­stand games clas­si­fi­ca­tion, so they get that, and a lot of, the next stage is that un­der­stand­ing and that ap­pli­ca­tion and turn­ing it into ac­tion as parental con­trol goes." But for Mark Ser­rels, this goes be­yond the sim­ple no­tion of good par­ent­ing, and ex­tends into some­thing even more pos­i­tive – the idea that just maybe, games are be­gin­ning to ma­ture along­side their play­ers. Just as they've grown up, have jobs and now fam­i­lies of their own, the games they play are be­gin­ning to re­flect their life sit­u­a­tion more ac­cu­rately.

"It's okay, love. We'll have time to play Skyrim one day, I prom­ise."

At just over two hours, Gone Home is per­fect for the time-poor adult gamer

"Let's make this quick. School's just about out."

Jour­ney – thank­fully not a long one, ei­ther

Pick a door, any door

The Stan­ley Para­ble

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