The Pandemic Let Me Game Again (And How Interests Can Connect Relationships)

I’ve never been an “avid” gamer, but I grew up on video games, and I know enough. My first console was the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), which I still have but not sure if I’d be able to get work with the TVs I have (and also because it’s from Australia and I’m living in the US now, though I was able to get my SNES and N64 from Australia to work here—yeah, I still have those consoles from my childhood too). I was a Nintendo girl until my family got a PlayStation 2 so we could play video games and watch DVDs (it was our only DVD player).

I didn’t get much into the PS2 until I watched a demo of Final Fantasy X. Then I borrowed that game from a video rental place (Blockbuster or Video Ezy, I don’t remember which) and played the heck out of that game the way some people bingewatch TV, until I had to return it and I hadn’t completed it. My brother got super into the game, too. I was so sad when I couldn’t play it any more because I didn’t own it, but then one day my dad bought it for me as a random gift for no special occasion. Final Fantasy X became the first game I ever completed (at least, in terms of story—I never finished all the sidequests in the over 100+ hours I played on it, and when the console was stolen from our house, I lost my saved game data. The system and games were replaced with insurance, but you can’t easily replace all that time spent playing a game).

The Final Fantasy series then became my sort of thing—the graphics, characters, and storytelling were really compelling for me. I worked my way through Final Fantasy X-2 when that came out. When Final Fantasy XII came out, my eldest child was a baby. I would play that game whilst breastfeeding. That child was a little older when Final Fantasy XIII came out, so my child basically grew up watching me play those games, and then came to play them as well. I’d teach my eldest child the strategies for the XIII series, and now they’ve gone on to get better at the games than I am, and play through the stories multiple times.

My ex-husband knew how much I enjoyed these games, and was actually the person who bought some of them for me as gifts. But we reached a point where he came to resent how much time I spent playing video games, and I came to feel guilty spending time doing fun things for myself like that, because I knew he judged how I spent my time, so I… just stopped playing. It started with Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns (the first ‘3’ game in a Final Fantasy series). Although with that game, it was also partly due to anxiety I felt playing it, because of the limited timeframe the game gives you to complete it. I liked having unlimited time to complete things before. Being scared I wouldn’t complete the game in the time allowed made me set it aside for a long time. I didn’t want to let my kid play it until I’d played it, because I didn’t want spoilers, but because I took so long to get back to it, they ended up playing it multiple times when I wasn’t around to watch.

Turned out that ended up being an advantage for me. At my kid’s insistence, I’m finally playing Lightning Returns again! And because my kid has already played the game a few times, I actually have someone who can help me through it so I don’t experience that debilitating anxiety I had when I’d tried to play it the first time. I actually had to re-start the game because we’d had to get a replacement PS3 (donated to us by a friend, thankfully, about a year ago), which was fine because I hadn’t gotten too far into it and had forgotten all the controls anyway. On the few times I got stuck in a battle, I just called my kid over, who happily defeated the enemy for me.

A head shot of the character Lightning from the video game Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns looking at another character with blond hair
A scene from Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns on my TV

Lightning Returns wasn’t the first game I went back to during the pandemic, however. My ex-husband’s birthday present to me 3 years ago was a PS4. I went all out on buying games for it during Black Friday sales that year. I started one of those games, Final Fantasy XV shortly thereafter, but like Lightning Returns, got frustrated with the game (I try to be a side quest completionist, so I was doing so much of that and getting frustrated that I wasn’t able to move on with the story), and felt guilty for wanting to play… so I went over 2 years with not playing it, or any other game I got for the PS4. Lord knows why my ex bought me a PS4 when he resented the time I spent gaming anyway.

Meanwhile, like Lightning Returns, I didn’t want my kid to play XV before I did. So it was played in secret behind my back, and I didn’t discover it until the game had been completed. I wasn’t upset when I found out, however. I couldn’t blame them for it—after all, I was the one taking so long to get back to the game and preventing them from playing it. Instead, my kid encouraged me to get back to the game once I’d finished the first game I actually played from start to finish during the pandemic—Kingdom Hearts 3. I got KH3 for free in early 2020, pre-pandemic, due to discounts and gift certificates. I never finished the original Kingdom Hearts (I gave up when I couldn’t defeat Maleficent), never played Kingdom Hearts 2, but the Frozen and Pirates of the Caribbean levels in 3 made me really want to give it a go, as the game to bring me back to gaming.

A funny thing happens when dealing with a divorce while still living with your ex in the midst of a pandemic and you’ve lost your job. Somehow, it’s much easier to shed that fear of judgement about how they’ll feel knowing how much time you’re spending gaming. I worked my way through Kingdom Hearts 3 while he still lived with us, and my kids would come watch me play every now and then. My eldest kid watching me with the Pirates of the Caribbean world is what led to us watching all 5 movies together during the pandemic, too. They also started playing the game themselves, but didn’t get as far into it because they were more into playing more of the Final Fantasy XIII series again.

It’s honestly a very interesting experience to have my kids encourage me to play video games, compared to being married to someone who wasn’t really into video games at all, and didn’t really support me spending my time playing them, apart from buying the games and systems for me. It’s an interesting thing to look back on after the fact.

I’m looking back on my past with different eyes now. I remember back in 2007, the year my eldest kid was born and I slowly worked my way through playing Final Fantasy XII, not getting to play it as often as I wanted because I had new motherhood responsibilities. I had a stupid falling out with my best friend that year because, in my jealousy of her seeming ability to play video games more often than I could, I made some insensitive comments toward her about that. My ex-husband supported my side of it, whilst I tried to figure out how to fix things and eventually accept responsibility for my words and actions. We didn’t talk for about a year, until I started moving to Malaysia and I reached out to her, offering to send her an N64 video game I was otherwise probably going to get rid of. My ex-husband did not support us reviving our friendship, and held a grudge against her because of how he perceived that she had hurt me. I think it was also because he knew how much my friend actually meant to me, and he resented that I might have someone else in my life who could matter more to me than he did, and who I listened to and shared things with that I didn’t talk about with anyone else. She was my friend before I met him, and will continue to be so long after he’s gone.

When I lived in Malaysia, I don’t remember feeling as guilty playing video games then. After all, that was where I lived when I completed Final Fantasy XII, XIII, and XIII-2. I’m not sure what was different then. Was it my lack of friends and support network? Did I still pay enough attention to my ex-husband that he didn’t make comments that led to me feeling guilty for spending time on doing things I enjoyed? Or did I ignore such comments, because he hadn’t yet worn me down to that point? It certainly wasn’t better time management because I know I could play those games for hours on end. Perhaps it just didn’t bother my ex-husband as much back then.

I think once we moved to California, a lot changed. My kids grew up watching me play video games, and knowing I participated in hobbies, while my ex-husband… worked. And no longer had any hobbies he could share with his kids. I wanted to say he just didn’t have hobbies any more, but that’s not entirely true—he spent his “free time” on more “adult” activities, and dating other women. When we met, he had several hobbies that I adored him for—he could play a keyboard by ear (I loved when he would play “A Whole New World” from Aladdin for me), acted in plays and short films, was a member of a Doctor Who fanclub that had monthly meetings and screenings, was involved in IT meet-ups and contributed to open source projects. He also added hobbies I was into: namely, performing stand-up comedy and making short films. For some reason, after we moved to Malaysia, he just sort of… stopped having hobbies. I have no explanation as to why, but I do think it ended up contributing to an element of co-dependency in our relationship, because when you give up hobbies and friendships associated with them, you wind up losing part of yourself (when I noticed this happening to me, I desperately clawed at opportunities to revive my past hobbies—that was why I ended up in the stand-up comedy scene in Malaysia beginning in late 2009). I noticed, of course, but you can only encourage someone so many times to do something before accepting they are quite capable of making their own decisions about how they want to spend their time.

Why is this relevant? Because I think it contributed to how things changed in California. Over time, my ex-husband would’ve seen how our kids were interested in the same things I was interested in—like video games—and likely felt left out. Because the kids and I were doing things together that didn’t interest him. But without having his own hobbies any more, he wound up with very little he could share with them himself. I don’t think he intentionally tried to sabotage my enjoyment playing video games, or having fun with my kids, but I definitely felt some resentment and jealousy toward me that I had been able to achieve this mutual interest relationship with our children, whilst he hadn’t.

Fortunately things seem to have improved somewhat for him and his relationship with the kids now. Through our divorce, he started making more of an effort to reconnect with some of his old interests and introduce them to our children. Watching movies together that he liked, and he saves The Mandalorian to watch with them. I watch the show too, but my ex-husband is definitely a bigger Star Wars nerd than me (in general I’m kinda ‘meh’ about it all. I have seen the movies but don’t understand why it can be such a huge obsession for some people), so it’s only fair that The Mandalorian is something I accept him sharing with the kids.

I have recognised that this has been a concern, and have a desire to support the kids to have a positive relationship with their father, because it is in the children’s best interest. Having time and space apart from my ex-husband, and minimal communication between us, also makes it easier for me to support those relationships with a level-head. I can reflect back on my ex-husband’s interests and encourage our children to reach out to him when they ask me questions I know he would be either better at answering, or simply that I think he would like to be involved in answering. A recent example of this would be with our youngest kid’s recent video projects. He told me he wanted to put some copyright-free music on one of his videos. My ex-husband had previously referred me to a website when I had wanted to do the same. I still knew the website, but music has always been more of a thing my ex-husband could nerd out about, and he doesn’t get to share things with the kids as often as I do. So I told our kid to ask his dad for advice because I knew he’d be able to help, and it would be a good way of supporting that connection between them. His dad suggested the website I expected him to, and it all worked out well. Later on, when the website was down and our kid was looking for more music, I introduced him to GarageBand and showed him how to create his own music using Apple Loops. He’d created a ton of songs using loops on the PS4 game Dreams—which I’d bought for him earlier in the year because he likes building his own games—so I knew he’d enjoy being able to create music files on his computer as well. My ex-husband had sort of introduced me to GarageBand originally (and is better at using the program than I am), so I’ve encouraged this kid to share his music creations with his dad, too. As our kid gets more into music like this, I hope he is able to build that connection with his dad some more.

Who knew my introducing video games to my kids would help develop their creativity and interests in other areas? Certainly not the media’s portrayal of how video games are bad for children’s health and attention.

I didn’t expect to play (and complete) more video games this year than I had in the previous 5 years (I know, and I’ve only played 2.5 this year—the only game I completed in the previous 5 was Mini Ninjas). However, I love that it’s been a bonding experience for me and my eldest kid especially, and that it’s allowed me to reflect, and consider the thoughts I’m sharing with you here.

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