I Took A Month Off Work And I Didn't Play Any Video Games

Plenty of my friends have had babies, so I knew what to expect. The woman goes into labour. There is the physical pain. You rub the back and say 'there there'. You watch the little lump of flesh flop out like a wriggling trout. You shed the tears, you kiss the baby on the forehead. You take the photographs, you take the baby home. The baby sleeps for sixteen hours a day.

And then you play the videogames.

All of my friends who played video games said this would happen. But it didn't. At least, not the way I thought it would.

————— For the birth of my very first wee baby, I decided to take a whole month off from my day job of editing Kotaku Australia. I wanted to forget about work, I wanted to just be with my son. I wanted to learn to be a parent.

But also, I thought. There would be videogames. I was promised videogames.

Adult life — even an adult life like mine where one spends their working days writing about and discussing videogames — can be a life remarkably devoid of video games. I imagined that my month off would be different. A mini nirvana: a paradise spliced with with nappy changes, interspersed with peaceful gazes and baby talk. And copious amounts of gaming.

But that didn't happen. I took a month off work and I didn't play any video games.

I'm still not completely sure why.


You might suggest it was some sort of pre-occupation with my new-born son — a need to remain focused and undistracted — and you might be right. But I think it would be arrogant to assume that my friends — who spent a vast majority of their paternity leave perfecting their times on Trials Evolution, or collecting all the secret packages in GTA IV — love their children less than me. That would be entirely unfair. And it would be unfair to suggest these people are irresponsible parents when I know for an absolute fact they are not.

You might suggest I needed a holiday from gaming. That might be more accurate. But I would often daydream of the games I wanted to play later when my newborn baby went to sleep, yet when the time came I would always convince myself that something else was more important. The decision was barely conscious, no real thought was involved, I just did something else: watched television, read a book, messed around on Facebook. I did almost everything you could imagine, except play video games.

————— Well that's lie. A white lie. I did play one video game, almost exclusively, and that game was Rayman: Jungle Run. I happen to think that Rayman: Jungle Run is a very well put together game, but that's not the reason why I played it over every other video game I could have played instead.

It was the function of the game that was important, I think. And by that I mean the specific gap in my life that Rayman: Jungle Run plugged; the hole it filled. Increasingly that is becoming more important to me than the quality of the game itself. I've stopped asking, "how good is this game?" I've started to ask myself, "how does this game fit into my life?"

I wanted to continue playing The Walking Dead. That was the game I daydreamed about, but it was never the game I ultimately ended up playing. I played the games I felt made sense at that specific time. While my wife was breast-feeding, minutes away from the inevitable, impending nappy change, I picked up my tablet and played Rayman: Jungle Run. Not because I wanted to; because it was the only thing that really made sense in that moment. No investment, zero consequences — completely manageable and transient.

Is this a new thing? Will my gaming habits change? Have they already changed? An entire month. At home. No video games? Terrifying.

But in a weird way, liberating.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


    uhh...good for you?

    I havne games for months...been distracted with other things..Now I find myself falling back into borderlands 2

    During my three weeks of parental leave, I played a lot of Arkham City. But a lot of the hours recorded on Steam were me leaving it paused while I went and looked after the little one or his mother. I haven't played the game since, even though I love it.

    I want antipaternity leave: An occasional bonus vacation given for not spawning children.

      Find another way to keep contributing to the economy after your death, and we'll look into it for you.

        I contribute enough during life.

        It can be argued breeding will eventually kill the economy by overpopulation. Where's your messiah now?

          It has also been argued that not breeding will cause the human race to die out in less than eighty years, and will reduce the quality of life for nearly everyone. It's just a theory at the moment, though. Unlike your science fact :)

          Last edited 30/01/13 1:35 pm

            If everyone stopped breeding, sure, but that seems unlikely. Granted, human growth is slowing down, it took us longer to get from 6 to 7 billion than it took to get from 5 to 6, and we might actually see a population decline (i.e.: not even make it to 8 then dip below 7 again).

            Which, if I'm honest is a good idea. I'm not saying people should stop having kids, but maybe there could be less social pressure on people to have kids if they don't want to. (Like me.)

            That said, I'm not asking for a day off work because I choose to be childfree. No, I get to look forward to a long and largely empty life where I die alone.

              You'll see a MAJOR population decline in China in the next 50 years when the senior citizens and older adults start dying off. The one child policy will start showing its benefits then. (Not saying I AGREE with it, just saying that there's some benefits at least to a one child policy when trying to cull the population naturally, without forced death).

                I'm sure the one child policy made sense at the time, but I think the outcome has had considerably more negative effects than positive ones.

                  Other negative effects aside, can you imagine a whole nation of only childs?

                  @yrrnn that's the main issue I was referring to, apparently there's some serious social issues stemming from it.

                  That's aside from all the, you know, unwanted daughters being abandoned or murdered, or state-enforced abortions of illegal second children.

                  Last edited 30/01/13 3:10 pm

                  Of course. I do not endorse it. Its effective but in all the wrong ways.

          I don't think paternity leave is motivated by the economy, in either direction. It's not really 'leave', either- you're very busy. If you want to take a week off to game, take a week off- don't get all butthurt `cause you don't get a special holiday for being you.

          What's been happening in Australia, South Korea and Japan in particular is that the birth rate has been declining so the population is stagnating. The biggest problem with this is that due to the high standard of living, the elderly population will keep growing, workforce will get smaller and retirement age pushes back several years to compensate.

        Having children does not make you contribute to the economy after death. Your children contribute to the economy. What if you adopt children? To contribute to the economy after death I would advise creating a charity or foundation. Or selling your corpse as fertiliser.

          Your children's contribution to the economy depends a lot upon your parenting of them, and entirely upon your decision to raise them in the first place. I'm gonna take some of the credit for my kids' successes, just you watch.

          Also, pretty sure in most places, adoptive parents have the same leave entitlements as natural parents. Check on that.

            This turned into quite the political debate. I see a lot of people on the Gold Coast that probably shouldn't have had children. I think it wouldn't be too extreme to implement some radical changes to encourage people with reasonable intelligence to have kids (part of that involving how to quantify 'intelligence' properly).

              I've long advocated for breeding licences, so I'm with you there! :)

              While there's some people with kids (some of my relatives included) that make me shake my head and think "great, now I have to deal with more of THEM", at the end of the day we'd have a pretty useless society if only people in good standing socially and economically are having children. Someone's gotta flip the burgers and pump the gas, so to speak.

              I don't know where my kids would end up, and that's part of why I can't even conceive of having kids. I'd want to have that planned out, give them a better life than I had. I have no idea how to do that.

              Whereas... others... seem to feel the spray and pray approach is appropriate.

              Last edited 30/01/13 3:16 pm

              The "problem" is that many people of reasonable intelligence can note that children are expensive and destroy your freedom to enjoy life. :)

    I always find myself going through phases. For a while, I'll do other things, even though I have games to play, and really want to play, but just feel I should be doing more important things, and then other times I'll just obsessively play games (or more typically one game). Usually it's when there's a new Gothic game or something big like that. For a while after I finish it, I tend to find myself playing bits and pieces of other things, til I eventually drift back in to doing other things again.. so weird

      This. Sometimes other stuff just takes priority. Other hobbies. Life events. It's a veritable tapestry ;)

    I played (50hrs) Oblivion when my first was born (a girl).
    Didn't play anything for my second (a boy), despite taking thrice the amount of time off work.

    Must be a boy thing.

    Last edited 30/01/13 1:20 pm

      Boys definitely keep you busy. The seem to have only two modes: ASLEEP and CRASHBASHMORECOOKIEMUSTRUNNOW

        Hahahaha :)

        Though to be fair, my girl is totally like that too /o\

        Last edited 30/01/13 1:44 pm

    I was so brain-dead by the time the boy went to sleep that I just ground levels in DQXI over and over.

    I recall watching a lot of Super Meat Boy and Trials, although my memories of those first couple of weeks are very very fuzzy. It's hard to get ANYTHING done when they're very little - it gets easier when they get a bit bigger and can go longer between feeds, but I can understand you not wanting to sit and play for hours. I'm sure there were lots of other things to keep you occupied :)

    Speaking of which, I REALLY need to get off the computer and go do some housework while Mr Nearly 2 has his nap.

    My six weeks of paternity leave went as follows: Get up at 7am to feed. Change nappy. Wife would go back to sleep. I'd go downstairs with the baby. She'd sit in my lap while I played Borderlands 2 until 11am. Good times.

    When my daughter was born I was a single parent and it was around the time Final Fantasy IX was released. JRPGs are perfect for playing whilst feeding or rocking a baby because they were all at the time able to be played one-handed. So I played FFIX a lot and it definitely contributed positively to me being able to cope with my new life.

    When my son was born my husband used his paternity leave to play Valkyria Chronicles. The music to the game became kind of a lullaby to our newborn son and he almost had trouble going to sleep if we didn't have Valkyria Chronicles on.

    Last edited 30/01/13 1:41 pm

    I think your gaming habits will change, but at the same time it really is a big transition in life , one that takes priority over everything.

    Personally, we've just had the birth of our first and second baby (twins!) back on December 21st and from then til now I also have essentially played nothing significant also. Love me some trophies and attempted to gain the 4 online trophies for NBA Jam before they shut the servers down, so with a sleeping baby in arm, I got in 2-3 hours worth of attempting to find some games and ultimately fell short by 1 trophy. Only this week, have I played the demo of The Cave and MGS:Rising. That has been the extent of gaming in the house.

    I returned to work last week and with a 90min each way commute, the Vita was my friend and logged in some hours with Knytt Underground (which I loved).

    It really came down to simply not enough time in the day for anything but something related to a baby, having feeds every 4 hrs, my missus isn't producing enough milk so there is companion feeding with a bottle (which helps). In our situation, they tag team, one goes down and the other stays up, you finally get the second one to sleep and the first one will wake up just after. Clean the bottles, sterilise, make formula, nappy change, wash their clothes, etc... That cycle continues and then you have to work in breakfast, lunch and dinner for yourself. A shower was a luxury, even if it was during the middle of the afternoon! ;) Don't get me wrong, I love the kids and would prefer to put up with all the crazy at home rather than go to work.

    My issue was that if I did manage to get an hour here or there, I didn't choose to play anything 'big' because I couldn't guarantee that time, so I didn't want to stop/start a new game or continue one like that. As they get older they won't need as much of that constant attention, so it will be easier to find that time to sit down and enjoy a game.

    Maybe its just one of those cases where your mind just wants to relax. If we replace video games with TV programs, it would be like how someone would rather just relax and watch a sitcom instead of a long running series with complicated story lines and plot twists.

    Sure you're a fan of the series and would rate it higher than a sitcom any day. But sometimes, your mind just wants to relax.

    Glad you're back fella, and congratulations. I tend to think of science as my baby and thus although I love video games, I have found the past year and a half has steadily seen me fall into the same habit as you: "what video game fits into this narrow window of time I have between doing science, thinking about science and writing about science"

    The answer, it seems, is Super Hexagon.

    I also thought the same when I took a month off work for my first born. I thought I'd certainly be able to fit in a bit of gaming and doing some illustrations in that month. I was wrong, too. Babies might sleep quite a bit in the first few weeks but they don't follow any schedule or normal routine, at least ours didn't. And they still need to be fed every 3-4 hours in first few weeks, too. Then you have nappy changes in between. Add on having to clean bottles, cook and do laundry, I was pretty buggered by end of each day. If anything, I felt like a zombie from the Walking Dead in that month off.

    Ever since, I've only ever been able to fit in some odd hours of gaming when both my wife and baby have gone to sleep. Even then I've been pretty selective in what I do in those hours since it's pretty much the only "me time" that I get and most often sleeping seems like a better option!

    I have a hard enough time getting involved in a game when I know I only have an hour or two before bed, or before I have to go somewhere. I spend so much time sitting around deliberating if I should get invested in a game or not that I never have time to. I have to be really hooked to sink in at every opportunity, which last happened with Sleeping Dogs. I actually woke up at 4am one morning and decided to play for a couple of hours before getting ready for work, instead of going back to sleep like I normally would.

    If I had the potential interruption of a crying newborn needing my attention at any moment I wouldn't be able to play a thing, pause button be damned.

    Wouldn't mind getting a month's paternity leave but the way they have things setup here I'd have to give birth myself to get it or my wife would have to return to work on the same day she gave birth. I could of course take unpaid leave.. which I will have to do since it's my wife's cultural background to not do anything for the first month after giving birth.. but it does kinda suck that they've set it up like that.. I just wonder why women are given up to 32 weeks (16 paid by employer, 16 paid by government) for every child but the man doesn't even get a month or whatever? Seems like it's not inline with equal rights to me. Can't have things both ways.. it's either equal or it's not. I get the whole "primary care giver" thing.. but what if the primary care giver is the male parent but the female still can't work.. reality is not black and white... it's a whole lot of grey.

      Actually, the government parental leave (the one where you get minimum wage) can be claimed by either parent, or even a bit each, so long as you meet the requirements.

        Only by the primary carer, though, whoever that happens to be at the time. It'll usually be the mother, especially immediately after the birth.

      The govt is introducting a fortnight of paid secondary carer leave soon. Otherwise, sadly, you gotta save up your annual leave (as I did) to make up the time you want.

        I think that every job I've had so far actually had a two week paid paternity leave. When I did finally take it, I added two weeks of annual leave on top of it.

      My mate's work has the same amount of parental leave no matter the gender of the parent.
      And it's generous too like 4 months or something.
      I am totally jealous. Even though I won't be having kids any time soon.
      However, given my fiancées health it's quite possible I would be primary career. It would be difficult to convince work of that though and I don't think they would care anyway.

    When I worked at Games R Us in Brisbane city from 99 - 2000 I think it was, I swear, after the first month, I was 100% put off videogames. I did not touch a single game for at least 18 months outside work hours. Sometimes Serrels, I seriously wonder how you do it? I have a passion for gaming but working with them every day, it put me right off them. Last thing I wanted to do at night was play a game. In that time period I swear I saw friends and family (and outside) more than any other time in my life...

      I'm actually a game developer, and my parents were hoping the same thing when I got into the industry. They were hoping that working with games every day would put me off playing them for enjoyment. But you know what? It had the opposite effect. If anything I started playing games MORE.

      Of course, being able to claim them back on tax helps :)

      Some people I talk to, including members of my own family, consider it a bit weird.

      "So, you make games all day?"
      "And then you come home and play games?"
      *Looks as me like I've grown 3 extra heads*

      I don't play them as much as I used to, but as I outline below, that's because I'm now married with a toddler. My passion for gaming is still as strong as it's ever been and I've been making games now for almost 10 years.

        I design T-shirt graphics as a full time day job and then I come home and design my own T-shirt graphics. It is almost the complete opposite in regards to the kind of graphics - at work it's very trend based, all computer done typography and design, whereas at home I like doing hand drawn, illustrative stuff. Soit's not exactly the same, but tshirt graphics none the less.

        I just like designing t-shirt graphics I guess. My girlfriend does get a bit annoyed, but it's just my personality - I like working and being productive, so much so that my gaming pile of shame is growing to an alarming size...

          I get what you mean, although for someone that's not in a creative industry like we are, I can sort of understand their point. If you're a truck driver for example, you're probably not going to be interested in driving trucks on your days off. If you work at Woolworths, you're not going to come home from a shift and start re-organising your fridge or pantry.

          But for us I think it's beneficial. You hit the nail on the head actually with the "not exactly the same" comment. For me, playing games for fun in my own time is totally different to working on games all day. If you're working on a game, it's an unfinished, horrible broken mess. It's frustrating and sometimes mind numbing. Sometimes the hours are ungodly. Often times it can be pretty damn stressful. It's not always as fun as it sounds. Sitting down and actually playing a game - a finished, released game - rather than working on one, is often a good way to unwind and take your mind off all of that.

          For someone looking from the outside in, they see it as a bit weird..."Why would you want to be around games/t-shirt designs/whatever at home when you are around them all day at work?". I say, why wouldn't we want to be? There's a lot of people out there stuck in jobs they never wanted to be in. I don't think you'll find too many truckies or Woolworths shelf stackers that will honestly tell you that's what they wanted to do when they grew up. And that's the difference. As a kid, I wanted to make games, and here I am. I'd wager that as a kid, you wanted to be a graphic designer, and here you are. Not too many people can truly, honestly, sincerely say that, and that's a big difference between the creative industries and many others out there.

          Last edited 30/01/13 4:13 pm

    I played a fair amount of games while my daughter was still a newborn and sleeping a lot.

    Now though, as she is approaching 3 years old in a couple of months, she doesn't sleep during the day and the only real time I get for gaming is after she's gone to bed a night...or more accurately after I've eaten dinner. But this time, which is realistically only a couple of hours at best, is often spent with my wife.

    Not saying I don't get any gaming in, because I still do. My wife is awesome and understands that I often need that outlet. But I can't spend many hours on weekends gaming anymore, it just doesn't happen as my daughter commands a lot of my attention. Weirdly enough on weekends I often find myself watching pro Starcraft games, usually because I can just get up and spend time with my family whenever I need to, whereas if I was actually playing games, especially a multiplayer game like Starcraft 2, it's harder to just drop it for a while.

    So I don't get as much gaming in as I used to, but you know what? I'm okay with that.

    Last edited 30/01/13 2:27 pm

      Hehe.. definitely can't play a game like DayZ :) hehe.. my wife called me away for literally 5 seconds and I was dead by the time I returned :)

    Welcome to my world. Since the birth of my 6mo boy I'm searching for games I can play one handed and pause easily. Interruptions and little, grasping hands are now a way of life. Civ, Diablo/Torchlight, FTL, SimCity are my new friends.

    Congratulations Mark! I didn't have any paternity leave except for a few days for both my first and second child. I found that I couldn't really do any more gaming during the day on weekends, and I had to do all my gaming after the kids went to bed. I'd say you are probably just going through a period of mental adjustment and you'll soon be back gaming. Just go with the flow.

    I took 4 weeks holidays and barely played a thing.

    Sometimes it's just nice to stay away from the screen.

    I'm expecting a baby in a couple of months, and I keep hearing the opposite - that all of my free time will disappear, and I won't be able to do as much gaming any more. I'm kind of prepared for this, obviously raising a child is more important, but I expect I'll still be able to squeeze in the occasional game every now and then.

    Besides, I've already kind of had that massive reduction in available gaming time back when I started full time work and got married. Most of my best gaming memories are from my childhood when I was on school holidays, or from when I was at university. Back when I was a kid, I wasn't as obsessed with games as I am now, so I did other things too, but when I played games, I would have massive chunks of time to do so. I also had far less games on my radar - if it wasn't a big Nintendo game I didn't care - so I could pay attention to one game for far longer. And when I was at university, I had so much free time (far more than I realised at the time), so again I could spend hundreds of hours on a single game.

    These days, I have other priorities, and I never seem to have time to invest some serious time in a game and get to know every single inch of it before responsibility comes knocking, or the next big title gets me in its hyped-up grip and I lose interest in what I'm currently playing. I think if I am to continue to enjoy my gaming time in the future, I might have to become a little bit more picky about what I play so I can really get the best out of each experience without ruining it with a lack of attention.

    Also welcome back and congrats Serrels. I quite enjoyed Junglist's posts while you were away (not to say I don't like your posts too), is there any chance he'll be staying on as a regular reporter?

      It depends on the kid, really, and the arrangements you've got at home. If your wife decides to do attachment parenting, and bounces back quickly enough after the birth, there'll be surprisingly little for you to do, especially while they're napping. Babies, when not aggravated, are able to sleep for 16 hours a day. You'll cook the food and do the laundry, rub your wife's shoulders, and then the day is yours. If you're sharing the parenting duties a bit more evenly, then you'll be busier, but even so, babies do can sleep a LOT (especially in the first few months).

      But you might find that your favourite place is being with them, watching them rest. SAPPY.

      PS: Congrats!

      Last edited 30/01/13 3:10 pm

    Welcome back, Mark! Good health to you and your ever-growing tribe, and may the gaming gods renew your obsession!

    My wife and I can't have kids (sniff), at least not until certain health options are eradicated and other options are explored. You're all SUPER lucky.

    I'd imagine, though, that caring for a child would simply gel into my already cluttered "spare" time outside of work, completing the first draft of my book and starting my second screenplay. It's not always easy to justify gaming when something else in your life means SO MUCH to you.

    You'll get your groove back :)

      That's tough news. I hope you guys get lucky and find something that works. It can be very hard when it seems like EVERYONE in the world is having babies and you aren't. Hugs to both of you!

        Thanks, that means a lot :) As Roland from The Dark Tower says, there'll be water if Ka wills it :)

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