Valanice by Chemicalalia

On being Gamermom

So about a year ago, before my kid’s first birthday, I wrote a post about raiding with a baby. Raiding with a toddler proved to be slightly different (and, ultimately, so hard as to be basically impossible), but even without the classification of “hardcore” or even, really, “raider,” I still strongly identify as “gamer” — but also, now, as “mom.”

There’s an interesting cultural thing with motherhood here in the southern US (it may be like this in other places too, but since I’ve only done the mom thing here this is my only frame of reference): once you have a kid, you basically cease to exist as your own person. It’s very strange, but the people with whom I interact both professionally and even sometimes socially in meatspace don’t tend to treat me as Aro; instead, I’m Gup’s Mom, and my life is expected to be full of Gup Things — and only Gup Things.

The funny thing is that Mr. Aro does not have this problem.

Please don’t misunderstand; Mr. Aro is a terrific dad, and identifies just as strongly with “dad” as I do with “mom,” but never once has he been subject to the implication that his entire life should revolve around his kid to the exclusion of all else. When Mr. Aro joins a social scene, he can talk about both game-related hobbies and family-related goings-on and no one will bat an eye. However, if I’m the one in that conversation, things are a little different.

Here’s how it goes when I try to talk about gaming while parenting with people who are not also gaming while parenting: first, people go reaaaaaally quiet. Then someone will laugh, like they do when someone tells an uncomfortable joke. Finally, the subject is changed. Every time, with only extremely rare exceptions. Every time.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this, and the one that comes to mind first is that when people (who probably don’t know any gaming moms) think the phrase “gamer mom,” the mental picture they come up with is a CNN headline: KID STARVES TO DEATH WHILE MOM GAMES. These horror stories do exist, even though they’re rare, and are so horrible that they tend to stick indelibly in our collective memory; a woman who raids for fifteen hours straight while her toddler tries to stave off a slow starvation death by eating cat food should be a Clive Barker plot, not a real news story. That creeping horror also makes them seem more prevalent and definitive than they really are — even though this level of extreme neglect is a handful of cases world-wide, the scope of them individually (who lets tiny children die I mean oh my god really) creates this specter of horrible things that video games do to you and make you do.

So first I have to contend with that, the general distrust of video games and people who play them. This isn’t really news; we all, every one of us who has ever identified as a gamer, have had to put up with this at some point or another in our lives.

But then I get a special extra helping, the flavor that is only ever offered to we moms of the gaming world: but moms can’t DO that.

This is the part that Mr. Aro doesn’t get, doesn’t have to deal with: it is, in this society, the mother’s job to take care of children. Period. That is the expected norm, that is what you are supposed to adhere to in this culture. If you, as a mom, have your own hobby on which you spend your free time, that is time not spent mothering your child, you selfish neglectful bitch. It doesn’t matter that Mr. Aro and I worked out schedules for raids, and only ever scheduled uninterrupted game time for when the kidlet was asleep; it doesn’t matter that he never liked hardcore raiding and will roshambo me to see who gets to read her to sleep at night. No, that doesn’t matter because it’s the mother’s place to parent, and the father’s to just go off and do whatever the fuckall he wants (nope, still not going to stop talking about how the patriarchy sucks for dudes too).

This is why knowledge (and rejection) of gender roles is so personally important to me. I love my kid, and I love being her mom — but I’m also still pretty fond of being me, and knowing how to balance those things takes a lot of time and work and effort. I know that the wider world out there thinks I’m supposed to put my childish things aside in favor of my daughter’s, but I would much rather learn how to manage my time effectively and share the things I love with her rather than give them up all together, and regardless of what the undercurrents of GRR WOMENS ARE FOR BABIES culture would have folks think, I do believe it’s possible to be a good mom WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY also being a good gamer.

We’ve moved on some from the days of “GTA made Little Timmy shoot all those people,” but not as far as we think; we’ve moved on some from the days of June Cleaver’s housekeeping skills, but not as far as we think. When those two roads meet, for me it’s not so much getting chocolate in my peanut butter as it is HOLY SHIT DID YOU GET THE NUMBER ON THAT TRUCK.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here teaching my kid to shoot geth one M-300 Claymore at a time.