It’s pretty safe to say that I’ve been playing a role-playing game of some sort since I was at least four, if not earlier. The journey began with a game called “King’s Quest” that I found utterly fascinating because it always asked you something like, “What’s the X word in paragraph N under Section Z, second line?” at the beginning of each launch as a way of verifying that you’re not playing a pirated/burned copy. It was a mini-quest before the game even started! But I digress… The game involved filling the shoes of some main character, doing noble tasks and searching for some pearl. Or maybe it was contending with the peril of some princess. Regardless, you had to get into the character’s head in order to play and play well. Otherwise, if you just took quests without really knowing what you needed to do, you’d be lost and probably get nowhere.
In the video gaming industry, there’s a term that has good connotations (usually to developers and gamers) and bad connotations (usually to anyone else): immersion. A game’s immersion factor is seen as a double-edged sword. To those playing the game, it’s a wonderful thing that makes the game fascinating and interesting. Imagine that playing a game is like a conversation. If you’re the only one talking or giving input, it’s a bit boring (unless you really like to hear yourself talk). But when the other person engages you, the conversation becomes lively and entertaining. You become immersed in it. Unfortunately, to those on the outside looking in, the immersion factor of a game translates to things like addiction, especially if the enthusiasm for the game greatly supersedes everything else.
In the twenty-odd years that I’ve been playing video games, I’ve always had to find something that immersed me in the story and world in order for me to completely fulfill my role in it. I had to engage the game and feel like I was a part of the very programming itself. I’m not just a detached spectator but an active participant.
Parenting is no different, except the little detail where you get zero extra lives. In order for a parent to be successful in the role, one must be fully immersed and engaged in the situation. Now, I can guess what you’re thinking: “Parenting is a role just like anything else in life. Big deal.” That’s not quite all to it. For anyone who’s ever said playing video games will result in no good, prepare to have your mind blown.
Starcraft and Starcraft II: A Lesson in Micromanagement
I like being called “Commander.” It makes me feel… well, commanding. There’s something about RTS (real-time strategy) games that require you to not just fulfill a role (e.g. telling your minions what to do) but to juggle many things at once all while keeping your army under control. Admittedly, I was never really that good at RTS. Too many things going on at once: I’d focus on gathering resources when I should have been expanding my base; or I’d be expanding my base when I should have been building up siege vehicles to back up my infantry. When I sat down to play SCII, which had a “RTS for Dummies” mode that the original didn’t have, I figured I’d do enough to get through the campaign and see what happens in the story.
Then I realized, lo and behold, I can tell multiple structures to do things at the same time! What a novel concept! While the barracks was training marines, my factory could be building tanks and my starport could be cranking out battlecruisers! What I ultimately learned was that some things could be started off and then let alone to do do their thing, while others required more attention. When you add the constraints of resources to the equation, you have to factor in what you can accomplish with what you currently have, much like setting up a budget for your household. You have to look at short-term goals and how they factor in with the long-term goals: that upgrade to your infantry pales in comparison to the research needed for your sentry towers when you’re supposed to be defending a key node. Of course, the caveat lies in the fact that if you forget something– like, your factory is done making tanks and you just let it sit there– you will fall behind and you have to play catch-up all over again, though it may cost you the game.
Welcome to my new model of home management.
For the longest time, I felt like all I could do was tend to the baby’s needs. I got frustrated when I saw the house in a veritable mess– clothes needing to be washed, dishes to be put away, floors to be vacuumed or mopped, food to be cooked. Of course, the longer I put everything off, the larger the task became and, of course, the more daunting the task seemed. It was a never-ending game of catch-up, like I was chasing after . When I finally faced each set of tasks individually, much like building up each part of my Terran army in Starcraft, none of it seemed that bad. I started to get ahead where I commanded the sequence of tasks.
“Everything in its own time,” I told myself. I can run the clothes washer after the baby’s next feeding and nap; then I’ll pop them into the dryer after the subsequent feeding. If I feel up to it, I’ll take them all out and fold them; if not, it can wait till the following morning. I also told myself that certain things can be done at the same time. For example, I could run the washer and dishwasher together, but only if no one’s in need of a bath or shower in the next hour or two. Couple that thought with the baby’s current schedule, and I can figure out when I can fit in a shower or the baby’s bathtime while still accomplishing some chores around the house!
The biggest breakthrough, however, I think happened in the kitchen. For whatever reason, I was under the impression that everything related to dinner had to happen within an hour or two of eating. Life became a lot easier when I realized I could have the pork chops or chicken marinating in the morning and set it to bake while I cooked everything else later that evening. And in between all of the cooking, I could clean up the things that no longer needed to be used, which meant more free time after dinner. The first time that happened flawlessly, I imagined myself standing victoriously atop my mission objective with a massive army at my command, daring the enemy to take the objective from me.
My dishwasher still doesn’t say, “Yes, commander?” when I open it, but I like to imagine it does. All in due time…