“Fatherhood, Video Games, and the Lost Art of Selflessness”

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“Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, story-tellers, and singers of song.”
-Pamela Jane Barclay Brown

 

 

I always get sentimental when my wife has a baby.

Now that I’m a father², I’m thinking along the lines of getting wifey as much sleep as possible, providing for my family, looking to the future, and taking care of my older son. I consider parenting to be a noble cause and one which must be acted out with sincerity, purity, and wisdom. And children are worth it. Just wook at dis widdle face!~

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Nolan Sterling Sage Norton

In thinking about dadhood, though, I know I’m thinking about something that has long been dragged through the mud. Our society is very much concerned with rights of all kinds and with representation, equality, and tolerance. But at the same time, our society’s slander of masculinity, which has made “patriarchy” an ugly word, has by way of a symptom turned dads into the very image of incompetence. Dads are obsolete idiots too stupid to offer any valuable guidance to their offspring, in constant risk of blowing up their homes or causing sudden divorce, at least they’re so depicted. Is this equality, or do we need to drag dads down to be equal?

Think for a moment about the father figures in media and entertainment.

Which ones popped into your head first? Odds are they represent an array of laziness, indifference, gluttony and buffonery. They’re funny because they’re dad-clowns and man-children, and they should stay that way without dominating all perception of all dads, in a generalizing sense. Because, clearly, think of your own father. If he was at all a good one, or at least he tried to be, then you probably remember him well. I remember my own dad as fun-loving and strict, hardworking, a teacher who helped me see the wonder of the world. Was he occasionally awkward, inept or bumbling? Yes, sometimes. But was that how your own dad was all of the time?

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Now in case this immediately begins to sound overtly political, or for lack of a much better term, SJW-ish about dadhood and you feel shanghaied into a post you didn’t want to read in the first place, don’t worry.

To be clear, I don’t need anyone to validate my existence, except for my family and friends who already love me anyway. I can deal with this negative perception and portrayal without getting the government involved, thank you very much. I’m not out to demand better representation for dads. I’m not planning on marching in any dad-protests (could you imagine what kind of hell would break loose?!), nor do I see myself as enacting any kind of social change beyond the way I raise my own kids as individuals and beyond the thoughtful readers who happen to see this post.

I also don’t mean to go so far as to portray dads as these perfectly righteous saints and martyrs. Obviously, dads can be good or bad, just as any person can be good or bad, regardless of their group identity (ugh, to use another term for lack of a better one). In some way, when we bring in the subject of video games, some of us do a better job of perpetuating the portrayal of the dad as brainless more than others. Dads who enjoy video games can be seen as man-children, adults who act like boys and are treated as boys. Deservedly so, even, perhaps.

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That’s because we don’t learn a lot about how to be dads from video games. Maybe we didn’t learn how to be dads from our own dads. Maybe we didn’t actively seek out any father figures to fill that gap (that’s on us). Maybe we bought into the image of irresponsibility and frankly frailty that represents the dads of our era. Maybe we’ve known too many men who contribute to the deadbeat stereotype.

Gaming is largely a hobby about self. There, I said it. But think about it. If gaming is your hobby, then when you buy a game, you’re more often than not buying it for yourself, to play by yourself. If it’s multiplayer, then your primary purpose is still to work on your character, stats, league, guild, gear, ranking, and so on. Since the beginning of time (in video game terms), self has been at the center in terms of racking up points, earning a new record, and putting your initials down on that high score.

And this is why fatherhood and video games are in many ways antithetical. Being a parent is about self-sacrifice. Being a dad is about dying to yourself. Being a father is about becoming and learning to become selfless.

I assume the same is true about being a mother but since I was not born a woman I can’t tell you about that half of the bargain. Look I’ll cut to the quick: if there’s no difference between men and women, if we can’t point out what women do better than men and what men do better than women without being labeled sexist, then we can’t talk about the necessity of both a father and a mother in the home raising their children. Yet it isn’t difficult to see (and statistics would agree) that fatherless homes take the form of an epidemic in our modern society. No amount of social uproar, gender-redefinition, misrepresentation or downright misandry can detract from the experiential fact that there is nothing like a good dad and his effect upon his kids.

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Ask yourself: is there any value to having a dad? Is there? If so, then a dad has something unique to offer. I think many of us have great answers to that question.

If you’re a dad, your children need you in a different way than they need education, finances, security, entertainment, family, and even their own mother. If you’re a dad, you’ve been called into a tremendous service not only to your progeny but to your society. If you’re a dad, you have a responsibility to raise your children to be better than you are, to sacrifice for them so they can be better off than you, not to leave them or scar them. If you’re a dad, you’re new motto is “selflessness”. Call yourselves to a higher standard than others might set for you. Be a man in the fullest sense of that anachronistic phrase. Manhood used to mean something, in a non-detracting way to either gender.

But can I still play video games…?

Short answer: yes! Here’s my philosophy with gaming, which has evolved over time. Maybe you share it with me. When I was a little boy, video games were as much playtime as going outside or swimming at the beach. When I was a teenager, video games took on an aspect of escapism that helped me cope with social dangers of entering adulthood. When I was an unmarried adult, video games were time-killers and sources of relaxation after work. After I became married, video games took on new life as I focused on titles that I could share with my spouse. Now that I’m a father, the perspective has changed yet again.

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Yes, I write on video games and treat them as art, but I also find in them a way to experience the world with my child and someday children. Seeing the world as a child, with their exclusive wonder and awe, is something which frames my way of life. I love to see my first son experience a certain game which was important to me and have his own personal reaction to it, just like he reacts to the music, movies, and places that I share with him. The second one is still too young to do just about anything but eat and poop.

So these two things, fatherhood and video games, can indeed be reconciled. Will I veg out on a game now and then? Yeah, but it’s rarer now than it used to be that I’ll binge, because responsibility toward my beloved family comes first. The reason why I play video games has deepened. Time originally spent alone is now time I can spend with my kids. And you know? I’m okay with that.

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More thoughts on fatherhood and video games to come. As always, thanks for reading! I more than welcome your thoughts, fellow fathers out there. There’s no instruction manual. We’re all learning together.

Affectionately,
Well-Red-Mage-Black-
-The Well-Red Mage 

 

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60 thoughts on ““Fatherhood, Video Games, and the Lost Art of Selflessness”

  1. I remember that feeling…holding and seeing my daughter for the first time. You can’t truly convey that feeling into a single entry or a chapter of a book. So I applaud you for giving your everything on this post!

    During this time, your mind is going to be racing with worry and mostly from the lack of sleep and natural instinct to care for your boy. (BTW, Nice name! Super adorable, too!) Simply remember to keep what works and what doesn’t out. That may seem like a super simple saying, but it’s true. From my perspective, dads are all about stability and consistency. (Like, “Eat your veggies” and “Make sure to wash your hands”.) We are the anchor to the ship in rough seas and the steam that moves the wheels on a train. Always remember that, the household is run with a cooperative effort between you and your lady, but always be firm on the strength of your words.

    Sometimes those words may lose recognition with your child and lady. If there are rules made in the house by the both of you, it’s up to us to keep it that way.

    As far as being a support for her, that’s fantastic; it’s what we do as men and good husbands, by giving her that break and breathing room. Especially now, considering that boy is in need of her for 4/5 out of the day.

    Both of you keep up the great work and late congratulations to you both!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for leaving such a heartfelt comment. I read it earlier this morning and I’ve been thinking about it periodically throughout the day. There’s so much wisdom there. I’m definitely trying to be an anchor for this family. My older son is hitting 21 months so the terrible twos are starting to pop up but we’re trying to nip it in the bud asap. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved this post! The first images that came to mind when you mentioned how dads are depicted were Homer Simpson & Peter Griffin, there are countless others but those definitely ring true with the point you are making. I hate the way that co-workers and other men act about gaming, everybody has their things that they do to enjoy themselves. It seems like most of the ones who act that way have an alcohol or drug problem at least in my personal experience, like that is so much more manly! Lol. Anyways, I really enjoyed the read and you touched on a lot of points that him home with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So long as gaming doesn’t become an escape to ignore duties or our families, and so long as it doesn’t inspire violence or evil (court is out on that one), then it’s harmless compared to so many other things we could be doing with our time as dads. At worst it’s equivocal to obsession with sports, which can involve rioting in some incidents and definitely ignoring our own families, so there’s nothing to get up in arms about. i think people still have the idea of gaming being something one does in one’s parents’ basement. Sharing it with my oldest kid, recently with Mario Kart 8, has been a delight. Thanks for reading! I’m happy it resonated with you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s interesting to see you talk here about not being able to binge because of family responsibility, I was actually thinking about that earlier this week! I was playing some Borderlands 2 and grinding out a mission that took me an hour and a half to play, and I was just thinking, if I was a father or if I had a nine-to-five job, how could I cope with the hours this game demands from me? I think when that time comes for me, I’ll have to focus more on games with more concentrated outputs against the time I spend with them, like Telltale games. Silver lining?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Silver lining! Well in my opinion at least. I’ve found that my taste and choice in games has naturally evolved from largely whimsical and brief retro games to brief, generally indie, almost arthouse-type modern games. There’s an interlude now and then where I’ll tackle a huge open world RPG or some tedious sidequest-heavy game, but that’s rarer for me because of time. I don’t look back though, because I’m glad I have an excuse to dodge the drudgery bullet in these huge AAA games, a lot of the time. You’ll be able to find your own groove when you have kids, I’m certain. A lot of it will depend undoubtedly on the support of your partner. Luckily, I married someone who supports me playing and writing on video games.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve had some great experiences sharing games together with my wife, once gf. For co-op Metal Slug, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, River City Ransom, Broforce, or any of the Lego games, if you’ve got the right platforms for these. For wow factor you could try Journey and Shadow of the Colossus together, too. Even Katamari Damacy would be hilarious together.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Nice find! It looks like it was written for parents who are unfamiliar with video games, so it would be an interesting read in that respect. I’m satisfied that my current taste in games is virtually synonymous with family friendliness, though, with a few steps outside of that realm.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh gosh, if I knew it was for people with no game experience then I totally wouldn’t have recommended it. 😦 My bad, it was a bit of a hasty suggestion. Of all the people who *don’t* need it, its you.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Nah I wouldn’t go so far as to say that! I’m of the opinion that reading more equals better anyway, plus reading from a different perspective like that is revelatory of how different people think. I appreciate that you thought of me!

          Liked by 1 person

            • Honestly, it’s something I struggle with and have for years. I used to be a pessimist, and every once in a while a friend reminds me I’m sometimes a real downer, but I consider myself to be at least moderate right now! Old habits die hard but they do die.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Continuing on this train of thought of struggling to make changes and such… I’ve had an interesting experience related to that. It’s on the lines of even though you might put in a phenomenal effort to change, people tend not to want you to change in a sense. Perhaps its more subconscious of them not wanting you to change because if you’re like “hey man, I’m trying to do something new here. Can you support me here?” people tend to do “Oh, yeah, definitely”.

                For me I left the US and started a new career in S. Korea. I was 25 years old at that time. When I finally came back to the states when I was 32 years old, obviously I had changed quite a lot, grown, matured, learned some things… but all people cared about when I came back were the old days. People I was reconnecting with tended to judge me as if I was still a 25 year old when I had experienced basically being able to reinvent myself in another country, to an extent.

                So any personal change is at least doubly-hard because on one hand you have to do the hard work of changing and then you might have to fight everybody else who just want you to be the same.

                I doubt the struggle ever ends much, at least in my experience. Oh and to add, then there’s other people who are yelling at you to change when its not what you are ready yet for or even are capable of at the moment.

                Ahhh, life… what a wacky thing!

                Liked by 1 person

                • Wow. I’m telling you, man, your comments are moving! Thanks for sharing about your experiences like that. In an odd way, you’ve motivated me to continue more writing today. I hope you find some good support. Can’t say I’ve been in that kind of a situation. The only thing comparable is when I went to school in England for a semester in college and came back different, but not 7 years different! Life is wacky and incredible, indeed.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • I get a lot of thoughts and ideas through chatting with you as well. That’s interesting that you went to England for a semester! I’d like to hear more about that sometime! I’ve never been to Europe and someday I’ll go there for my next travel destination.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • That’s very flattering of you to say that.

                  I wish I was in England much, much longer than a few months. Beautiful country with some amazing history and architecture. I wish I’d gone back but alas, funds. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Europe yourself soon someday.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • Darn that funding! The only way I could go to Korea was to get a job there teaching English. I went there last summer and didn’t have to work and it was like a whole new world. When I was like 22 or 21 I went to Japan for a month after selling some of my cool stuff. That was a crazy trip!

                  Liked by 1 person

                • I bet! Japan is on my bucket list along with visiting Israel and Scotland. I don’t care for too much travelling but I think it’s stimulating to the intellect and eye-opening to experience other parts of the world. What was Japan like? I was thinking on the lines of church planting there some day, given its low Christian population.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • Japan was great! In fact, I spent some time at their International Christian Univesity in Tokyo. As of 2017, I’ve been there around 3 times. It definitely would be a great place to get diverse perspectives concerning religion/spirituality. Those studio Gibli films have Japanese spirituality all through them 😉

                  Liked by 1 person

                • What an experience! You can be sure that I’m more than fairly covetous of your experiences. I don’t feel like I have any over-dramatized, romanticized view of Japan, I just love Japanese food. 😀
                  And yes! Reviewing all those Ghibli films and trying to analyze them really made it clear to my mind how they came from a different way of thinking alien to the West in a lot of ways.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • Yeah, I’ve met a few of the “proto-over-dramatized-Japan-romantics” when I studied Japanese in my undergrad years. I might have had romantic views of it, but instead I just went there and dispelled any potential romanticism. The wave was just beginning to crash at that time, (around 2001-2). I also went to Korea without knowing almost anything about the Kpop/Kdrama wave either. I’m like an unconscious barometer popular of media waves.

                  Liked by 1 person

                • Growing up in Hawaii, I had a lot of friends who had very fancy ideas of what Japan was like, to the point to where it was obviously untrue. Like there’s no way there’s women in scanty clothes with blue and pink hair walking around with giant swords and men in pikachu jumpsuits everywhere chasing cats and eating dumplings, like some kind of utopian anime anarchist country. No country is like that. But I found when I went to England, everyone there thought that California was the entire country and that there were cowboys riding around everywhere and country singers on every street corner. I was asked if I ever met Bruce Willis or Will Smith… I was like, you have any idea how big America is?

                  Liked by 1 person

                • That’s what I was thinking. She helped me find my way across a large road at night. Apparently I looked lost and she was shouting “Obama! Obama!” I’m lookin around for the president and then she linked elbows with me and took me to the stairs that go under the road and unlinked elbows. She gave me the thumbs up and “bye Obama!” I was confused, but grateful.

                  Liked by 1 person

  4. Great thought-provoking article! I actually wrote a paper years ago for school about fatherhood. I won’t bore you with the details (nor would I ever want to share it anyway), but I think fathers get the short-end of the stick because of the way society views them. Due to various factors, which can include the biological necessity of breastfeeding or the mother “gatekeeping” the child from the father, the father sometimes stays away doing his own stuff (like games) or at worst, being absent from the family. I’m not a father, nor am I a saint, but I believe a father can share love in very special ways. The biggest of which is self-sacrifice, which you mentioned. I’ll always remember what one of my friends said to me when they first had a child, “I would die for my son.” That shapes the attitude for the father, helping him remember what it’s all for. And then of course, playing with the child, which you predicate on using games as the example. It doesn’t have to be play (whether rough and tumble or gaming), but that’s a key way fathers can bond, at least that’s what research indicated for present fathers. I will surely be sharing the love of gaming with any future children, keeping in mind that the baby is far more important than any game, and that they are free to enjoy what they want.

    That said, I think Bowser’s a good father (not necessarily a good role model though). He shares his interests of dominating the Mushroom Kingdom with his children. And that particularly cute commercial shows that he’s concerned about Jr.’s gaming habits, but still wants to engage with him on those topics. All that while being a single dad. I’ve said it before, but Peach needs to go for this guy instead of Mario.

    And of course, congratulations on your newest mage! So happy for you three! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice comment! I may be paranoid, but I think the trend of eliminating the differences between the two genders leads to diminishing the role of the father in the house, whether by the father himself or in the way he’s perceived. My wife and I have basically come to the conclusion that children seem to need their mothers more early on and their fathers more later on, traditionally speaking: basic needs in early life and then showing the way the world works later in life. I believe a father can share love in special ways too (just as a mother can in her own special way), and that’s at the heart of this post. You sound like you’ve given it lots of thought and I’m sure your future children will enjoy having a panda-dad! Thanks for the congratulations and for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interestingly enough it is patriarchy that bombards us with images and fallacies of the “man-child, incompetent dad,” because women are “supposed” to be one way (generally nurturing, loving, etc.) and men are supposed to not be like that. I call shenanigans on those memes whenever I see them, because acting like your husband is another child is demeaning in my opinion. Your gender doesn’t dictate whether or not you’ll make a good parent; there are numerous factors involved in that. It’s the same reason women are often awarded custody even when they’re the less competent parent, because of these fallacious beliefs. It hurts everybody because of assumption and expectations that you’re punished for not following. Shenanigans to the extreme. I’m happy we’re moving away from the Homer Simpsons and Peter Griffins (no matter how funny they might be). It just reinforces that tired stereotype, and, well, media matters.

    I just read an article from a doctor’s blog I follow where she talked about patients who either didn’t know or had ceased contact with their fathers. There’s a virulent stereotype that most people could take them or leave them, but the doctor had patient after patient visibly and invisibly wounded by their absence or indifference. It definitely matters.

    And of course congrats on the newest, tiniest mage!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for sharing your observations. I just wanted to add that Lee from Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is another good candidate for a positive father figure in a video game. As with most characters in The Walking Dead games, Lee is complicated, but his affection for Clementine struck me. Very touching.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was just thinking the other day of how excited I am for when my son is old enough to play video games so I can help guide him through and see his experiences with a hobby I enjoy so much. Gaming is something I shared with my family growing up and I look forward to sitting around a console with my wife and son racing karts, defeating monsters, and experiencing new worlds together, carrying on the tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s an amazing and hopeful feeling to be able to share your life’s experiences with your children. We’ve moved away in gaming from the days of the “famicom” family computer with the whole crew huddled around the tv to enjoy games, but I’m confident that on an individual basis many of us can enjoy introducing members of our families to gaming’s wonders.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting read and a huge congrats on the latest addition to your party! I never really thought about how dad’s are portrayed in the media and games (FYI, Rost from HZD is a great example of an awesome father figure). I’ve always been a daddy’s girl so I understand the importance of great fathers. Honestly, all these stupid gender stereotypes and traditional roles in society annoy me. We are all equal human beings at the end of the day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much! I’ll need to get around to HZD, especially if there’s a great father figure to be enjoyed 🙂 I’m happy to know you know the importance of a good father as well. The traditional roles annoy you though? Absolutely, all human beings are created equal and endowed with certain rights by their creator, as a certain important document once said. We’re all equal but there are unique attributes we possess that don’t detract from equality (i.e. fathers and mothers) eh?

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  9. Great article, Red. I’ve followed the same path of gaming in my life and have reached the same conclusion. Gaming is a wonderful experience that holds value in different ways throughout our lives. Of course like anything it can become a snare but it’s in no way inherent and more often brings about bonding within a family when brought to maturity. I’m currently playing Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime with my daughter and we’re learning to work together, acting giddy as we upgrade our ship, and most importantly cherishing each other’s company.

    I also agree with your assessment of fatherhood being a journey of selflessness. I can’t even comprehend what the world would look like if just that one charge were taken seriously in today’s society. It’s something I took seriously from the start and while it may be difficult at times it’s truly an investment that enriches both of your lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for taking the time to check it out, TM. I saw you were playing that via the PlayStation network and that’s really great. Taking fatherhood seriously is a crusade worth undertaking and a hill to die on.

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  10. I’m with you. There’s no reason why, in a march for equality, men need to be emasculated or be made to feel inferior, or be portrayed as bumbling fools, and it really grinds my gears when I see *that* in the media, too. Good representation is so important for any group, and poor representation can send such harmful messages. But I digress.

    You’re right that being a good parent is not exclusive to one gender or another. It’s the quality of the relationship that matters. To be fair, children raised in non-traditional households (raised by grandparents, single parents, homosexual parents, etc.) tend to do just as well as children in traditional households, when they received love and support from their parents/guardians, but I do agree that, again, the quality is more important over something like gender. And I definitely agree that video games can be complimentary to real life, like any entertainment medium, and so I really like that you put that out there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thanks for your comment, my friend! Admittedly, I thought of you when writing this, given our recent civil discussion on Twitter along social lines, but I want you to know that these are my genuine thoughts, many of which I’ve thought for a while now, and they weren’t written here in any kind of backhanded or bitter way, especially toward you. I know you understand that, but I just wanted to say it anyway 🙂
      I think the distinction is made between a dad and a father-figure, which would occupy the role in the non-traditional households you’ve named. I didn’t come from a traditional household myself with my own father being absent for a portion of my childhood, but that made me appreciate the office of fatherhood even more, being raised by a single mom and by a grandparent. I’m not sure what sort of man I’d be today had I had my father in my home all my youth, but I get the gist that something was missing. As much as my mother and grandmother loved me, they both admittedly couldn’t do for me what my dad could. Take that anecdotal evidence as far as you will. I think all of these other considerations in which fatherhood has left or is irrelevant deserve some thought and research but that’s beyond the scope and reach of this post. I appreciate your commenting in such a respectful and thoughtful manner, as always!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your kind words. I’m always intrigued by your username every time you comment, and here most especially. When I try to think of good father figures in media, I’m inevitably drawn to a lot of early television programming or to a few rare instances here and there, but yeah the landscape seems dominated by blithering morons. They’re funny and funny is successful, so I’d like to tell stories about men who are valiant fathers. I really want to play The Last of Us for this reason, as that dad from that game always pops up on good dad lists.

      Liked by 2 people

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