The Most Difficult Game To Play As A Parent

In my first year as a parent, I've shunned VR games, sat out Destiny 2 and surprised myself by playing through Nioh. Despite all that, no game has been as tough to play in my new parenting life as Dishonored 2. I did not expect this.

Your available gaming time plummets when you have kids. I knew that would happen, and I don't mind, considering how damn fun my little twins are. I can still play when they're asleep. Over the last year, I've been able to chip through epics like Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn, two hours a night, while still getting to bed in time to wake up.

A year into this parenting thing, I thought I'd figured out what to play and what to avoid. My findings:

  • Open-world games work well, because you can usually dive in, do a few things in them, have a good time and not mind if you have to cut things off suddenly.
  • Switch versions of games are ideal, because, I can take them to any room or subway car or office and pick back up where I had to leave off.
  • VR gaming is a no-no because cutting one's self visually and aurally off from a baby who might need your attention is about the most rotten thing a parent could do.
  • Super-difficult Souls-like games are actually ok, because these games usually have some sort of safe zone that, if you play conservatively, you can access before your kid is likely to wake up from a nap or before you need to retire for the night. I learned this as I played through Nioh, using each shrine as a potential resting point.
  • There's no rush to play the newest games, because everything gets patched and parenting doesn't give you time to play buggy, flawed, pre-Bungie-apology supposed 1.0 releases.
  • I don't know how multiplayer games fit into parenting, because I don't really play them.

All of the above being the case, I recently found myself in the mood to finish some shorter games. I'm still in the midst of the sprawling and still-expanding Assassin's Creed Origins, still idling somewhere in Breath of the Wild's second expansion, and was just starting the apparently gargantuan Monster Hunter World.

No, I thought, let me give myself a break, pick up a short game, preferably one I started and just hadn't finished, get through it and feel some closure. I chose Dishonored 2, a game I'd last played in late 2016, two days before my kids were born.

Must not get caught. Must not put myself in a spot where I am going to want to reload yet again!

I thought Dishonored 2 would be a good pick. I'd liked the first game. I'd already played through the sequel's first level. It'd been out for a while and has probably had any of its launch edges smoothed. HowLongToBeat.com made it seem like I'd be able to knock it out in a week of nightly two-hour gaming sessions. It's a linear, level-based game that empowers the player with new abilities the further you go. All good.

Wrong.

No game has been harder for me to play as a parent as this one, because the way I want to play it -- and the way it feels like it was meant to be played -- are at odds with the time and focus I can actually give the game.

Dishonored 2's levels are full of secrets. The secrets you find help you become more powerful. Level layouts are complex. There's no mini-map or even a map screen that regularly shows you your position in the game world (plus: you have to find a level's map).

The game does not hold your hand and expects you to creatively find your way through its spaces, preferably avoiding combat by sneaking up to or past guards while using magic to teleport across rooftops. It's all really cool, but it's also all best played really carefully and really slowly.

Initially, I was able to play Dishonored 2's levels with the right amount of caution. I'd start a level, creep through it for 90 minutes, reach a satisfying conclusion and move to the next level. That worked for the game's second chapter and third chapter, though the latter pushed against my two-hour window to play.

By the fourth chapter, one set outside and then within a clockwork mansion, I became overwhelmed. I saw the minutes slip away as I crept through the neighbourhoods outside the mansion. I accidentally alerted guards and found myself outnumbered in melees that forced a restart. Eventually, inside the mansion I was intimidated by the coolest feature: that each room of the mansion can shift and transform. The childless version of me would have loved this. The parent version of me became incredibly stressed.

It took me three sessions to play through the level, my play clock nearly reaching five hours just for this level. I spent a lot of that time lost, confused, or re-loading the game to try to nail a stealth sequence without raising the alarm too many times. Several times, I held off from advancing in the level or finishing it because I was busy hunting for secrets I knew I'd otherwise never had time to go back and get.

A game like Nioh is incredibly difficult but is constantly dropping better weapons and letting you unlock new abilities. Dishonored 2's progression is much slower. There's no easy way to simply get better at it by farming experience points and levelling up. Instead, you need to actually get better at the game. You need to play smart and unpanicked. You need to map the game's levels out in your mind and not forget that mental map because you had to put the game down for day while you were halfway through figuring out how a clockwork mansion works.

There's not a thing I'd suggest Dishonored 2's developers do differently. I don't expect game creators to customise their games for people playing with limited hours. In fact, the game is so full of lore that reminds you what has happened in earlier chapters that I'd say it already demonstrates reasonable hospitality.

But I now can add a bullet point to my list, one that won't keep me from finishing Dishonored 2 but will make me wary of starting another game like it:

  • Level-based, secret-filled stealth games you can't backtrack in are going to frustrate you a lot if you want to play them the "right" way. Proceed with caution!

Comments

    Some things are better alone. I watched Blade Runner 2049 in a virtually empty cinema, on my own, which allowed me to focus uninterrupted, unimpeded by any external stimuli and drink in everything that film had to offer. It was an amazing experience that my partner would never have appreciated and would have actively impeded simply by being present.

    Dishonored 2 is similar. One of the first things I do in Dishonored is listen to what the 'heart' has to say about every NPC and locale, exhausting all the hidden secrets of the world. Dishonored's world-building is incredible. Its environmental storytelling is deep, rich, and detailed. Playing the game, for me, is just as much about taking the time to soak up and appreciate the thick, pervasive atmosphere as it is about health bars and loot counters.

    And you just can't do as well with someone sitting next to you, with one ear open, with one eye on the periphery, with one foot out the door of total immersion, grounded in the real world. It's just not fair to the game and the experience that was so lovingly crafted.

    I WILL return to Dishonored 2, one day. In the rare moments of time alone, with headphones and shuttered blinds, when I can actually play the game as intended, and not as 'just another video game with objects in a map and objectives to achieve'.

      Damnit guys, now I want to buy and play Dishonored 2, and my Pile of Shame still isn't getting any smaller....

      Yep this is how I played Dishonored 2 a couple of months ago and also the same with Prey now (which is awesome too).

      Also, I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old. Quick save & load, pause helps a lot.
      I hate games now without a proper quick save or pause option during cut scenes.

    I now have a 10 month old. And in that 10 months I've got from 40 hours per week to maybe 4 hours per week. Most of those 4 hours are playing switch in my lunch break at work. Mario Odyssey and BotW have been my gaming saviors. So much so that I'm now looking for a portable rig for my XBox One so I can take it and play something not so portable during lunch. Will it happen - unlikely - but I can dream.

      That'll be me in 6 months.

      Going to try and transition to iPhone games (FFIX, DQ8 etc) just before the babies due.

      Have you considered laptop gaming? I've already given up on desktop rigs. There are an awful lot of games you can play on a decent 13" laptop with an MX150 inside.

        I have a surface and a huge Steam backlog including a lot of indies. But it's just not the same.

        I think I'll be sticking with the Switch for now and try and fit in at least 1 or 2 nights a week for serious gaming.

        EDIT - Oh and good luck.

        Last edited 14/02/18 9:16 pm

    VR gaming is a no-no because cutting one's self visually and aurally off from a baby who might need your attention is about the most rotten thing a parent could do.
    Are you a single parent?
    If I wanted a couple of hours of gaming time, all I had to do was ask and reciprocate. I don't think that's rotten.

      Some of the VR headsets have adjustable headphones. I find I can hear my 2 and 4 year old better with my VR headset than my normal headphones

    With older kids it becomes a lot easier as you can start to rely on the fact that once they are in bed they will generally stay there until morning. I find that games without the ability to pause are the most incompatible with family life, it seems whenever i put on a game like Dark Souls that every issue starts to require immediate attention no matter what hour of the day i play

      At least all current gen consoles let you just press a "home" button that effectively pauses the game (I assume. Haven't connected with the souls games, yet)

        One of the unfortunate "features" of Dark Souls is that, no, you can't just hit the home button. It's a potentially multi-player world, so the game just keeps on going. However, if you're playing in completely offline mode, there are plenty of places you will find that are safe from enemies, so you can just leave your character there for a while.

    I will agree with the sentiment that older kids are easier over time, but I'm still amazed you can get 2 hours PER DAY with babies. Of course, as they get older, you can play IN FRONT of kids, as long as you aren't decapitating people. I've also found a new respect for games which are non-violent but still fun, many of which my single self would have scoffed at..

      I stalled out on the same level in Dishonored 2.
      I played through The Tomb Raider remake recently and had to stop when my 2 year old started pointing out the "bunny" that I was trying to hunt with the bow. Got to be more careful with what they see in future.

    Man, I don't even have kids and I only ever made it to the 7th level I think, and that's because as u say if u want to play it all stealthy and thorough it freaking takes ages, it can be very plodding, even if you enforce that pace on yourself. Still a great atmosphere and level design but my mentality ruins it for myself haha

    Good article, going through the same thing; 3 year old and 5 month old. Adjusting to game time availability.

    Still haven't done the destiny 2 raid, don't have the uninterrupted spare time.

    Currently working my shame pile, enjoying shadow of war at the moment.

    on the flip side... Once your kids get a bit older you can have some fantastic gaming experiences together. My son is 12 and we play Rainbow Six Siege together. He was Montaigne and I was Sledge, he was shielding us in a corridor. Out pops the enemy and I instinctively go to shoot and my son gets a bullet to the back of the head. Down he went and I could hear the screams from his room. Loving it...

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