Playing the game

We all have nagging fears, don’t we? Niggly little voices at the back of our respective minds, asking difficult questions, lobbing great big stones of doubt into once tranquil ponds of certainty?

If you’re answering No, you’re probably the author of a popular but ultimately vacuous self-help book. Fuck off. Your kind aren’t welcome here.

The threshold of fatherhood is a rich soil in which nagging fears are prone to thrive. A quick google search will confirm this: men on the cusp of baby-ville regularly report the same central concerns to all manner of surveys and studies:

  • I won’t be able to provide for my family
  • I’m not really the father
  • I’m going to die one day
  • Something terrible will happen to my partner/baby
  • I’m never going to have sex again

Casting an eye over this list, we see some heavyweight dread staring back at us: death, cuckolding, bankruptcy. As the gravity of that triumvirate hits home, it makes me terribly self-conscious about the embarrassing and selfish addition I’m about to make to the roster:

  • I won’t be able to stay up until 3am gaming anymore

Yes, yes, I know. How trivial. Stop your tutting at the back.

I, ladies and gentleman, am a geek. More than that, I am a loud, proud geek. It defines, to a great extent, who I am. My geekery takes many forms, from Star Wars to Spiderman, but the most dominant of these is a fundamental devotion to gaming: I live and breathe games.

I’m not talking Sonic the Hedgehog here, although that blue rodent and I have had some pretty intense flings (Emerald Hill Zone 1, 00:24, boo-yah!). I’m talking tabletop wargames, like Warhammer 40k; I’m talking PC strategy epics like Sid Meier’s Civilisation series; I’m talking an enduring and unshakeable love affair with the empress of trading card games, Magic: the Gathering.

I’ve frequently been asked what on earth I see in such pursuits. I struggle to answer such questions, not because I lack justifications, but because I fear overwhelming the questioner.

I love the sci-fi and fantasy flavour of the games, which has so much overlap with favourite novels and treasured comic-books.

I love the community they generate, the strength of connection that can be achieved with a complete stranger as they ‘click’ that you also like to play with toy soldiers.

But most of all, I love the challenge.

I love facing off against other players, trying to outwit, misdirect and just plain beat them in a complex and interesting arena. I have an extremely competitive edge, one which can only be sated by breaking out a deck and flicking cards back and forward in my hand like a maniac.

(An aside, for those who find the idea of competitive instincts driving a man to trading card games ridiculous: one of my great friends would regularly accompany me to tournaments on one weekend, then focus on his other pastime the next… being a racing driver. If a guy who puts his life on the line every other week can still get his kicks gaming, I don’t feel so daft.)

At any rate, I’ve been a happy geek for many years, making a huge number of friends through the lifestyle and even managing to secure a lady who tolerates my devotion to dice et al. But now, things are poised to change.

The feelings I’m starting to experience, while highly indicative of my geekiness, are actually parallels of the fears that many other men from the ranks of the great un-geeked will face. Yes, I might be afraid of not being able to play Magic into the small hours with my friends anymore, but that isn’t so different from worrying that I might have to give up Sundays in the pub watching Premiership games. I’m concerned that I won’t have enough time to attend 40k tournaments; is that so far removed from wondering if I’ll still be able to play in my local pool or darts league?

Like any man faced with an upcoming seismic shift in his social life, I don’t know how things will ultimately be rebalanced. I don’t know if I’ll be waving goodbye to my hobbies entirely, or if I’ll be carrying on almost as normal, or anything in-between.

What I do know, however, is that I don’t want my baby to be cast as the person who made me give up the things I’m passionate about. I’d much rather they were someone I could share my enthusiasm with, someone I could teach about the joys of having hobbies… and for myself, I want to be a person who models the benefits of being socially and mentally active in life, so that my kid can see first-hand that diverse and engaging interests make life a more fulfilling journey than it might otherwise be.

…yes, yes, I may also want to have someone in the house who’s always up for a game of Magic. Sue me.

One thought on “Playing the game

  1. I know exactly how you’re feeling. I’ve always been an avid gamer – D&D, 40k, Hero Quest, and my beloved XBox – were all great loves in my life. They still are.

    My participation declined for a while after the kids were born, but didn’t disappear entirely. Now that they’re a wee bit older (my youngest just turned 3, my oldest is nearly 5) I’m playing more again and getting back to it. Yes, you’ll play less for a while, and yes, you’ll miss it.

    But you know what? It’s totally worth it. After a while you won’t mind; took me maybe 4 months, that instant adoration thing is bullcrap. You don’t just love your kids, you fall in love with them, but it takes time.

    My boy is starting pay attention to what I’m playing. He watches me on the XBox, watches me paint my Dark Angels and he tries to steal the skeletons from my Hero Quest. I’m passing on my passion, you probably will too.

    We game for excitement, a sense of adventure, accomplishment and pride in those accomplishments. Looked at like that, fatherhood is the best RPG adventure of all. One life, one campaign, tonnes of side-quests and LOADS of XP for the taking. And they don’t even give you a sword!

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