One way of looking at gaming is where it occurs. The mapping of gaming at our house at different times tells a story about our family, about roles and embedded rules and boundaries. It’s not a particularly unusual and even interesting story to any one other than me. But I find the effort to make the map and tell the story interesting.
I’ll assume a simple definition of gaming–places where we play computer, board or card games. I was tempted to look at it with Edward Soja’s work on spaces or Denis Wood’s work on maps, but I think that type of analysis works at a larger cultural level. But it’s at the back of my mind because 1] a family has its own micro-culture and 2] the larger culture is still in play in our homes. A home, even before we move into it, has its own map–a dining room, living room, bedrooms–and we have ideas what goes on in those rooms and who does it, ideas often formed by our culture. For example, when we were looking at houses, our agent constantly tried to direct my wife’s attention to the kitchen, even I do probably the majority of the cooking, especially then. Even though we explained that I’d have a much greater interest in the kitchen, the agent [a woman] continued to call my wife to the kitchen in each house.
Gaming Before kids
The first map shows the gaming spaces in our house before we had kids. Our computers were in separate rooms, and my wife played computer games though rarely. We played several board games between ourselves and with friends at the dining table. The significant point is that little of our common space was used for gaming, and the primary game spaces were separate from each other. These computers notably faced the wall so that the gamer’s back was to the rest of the room. We didn’t own a game console at this time.
The game spaces reflect our marriage at the time–having married in our mid 30s, we still needed and pursued our individual interests, but we made time to come together. You can almost see that in the map as the place where we played games together was between where we gamed separately.
Some parts of the house were undefined in that they had little or no purpose, except as maybe storage. The common game area was meaningful in that it’s one area where we developed our relationship as a couple. Even though I can’t say that we developed our roles through gaming significantly, I think our playing games together reinforced our relationship as one of equals.
Gaming In my childhood home
This is a map of gaming in the house where I grew up. [I grew up in several houses, but this one differs little from the others.] It’s similar to our pre-kids home in that there is little game space, and little of it in a common area. For the most part, we gamed in our rooms–on the bed, floor or desk. I didn’t have computer or video games growing up, although I graduated high school in 1982. Besides not being a wealthy family [I didn't dream of asking my parents for a video console], I was more into playing sports and reading. In later years, when I was in college and met the family for the holidays, we did play games at the dining table–card games mostly but also some traditional board games. Our kitchen, dining area, and living room were almost one room, broken up by visual dividers, such as a sofa splitting the areas.
The kitchen and dining area was always the focus of our houses growing up for many reasons, and our holiday gaming emphasized it all the more. It was loud and the center of activity. Players changed seats, new ones joining as other took breaks. Although my parents didn’t play much, they did come over and watch and talk with those who played. At that time, I developed a love for gaming because it felt good, a way to interact with family. In a sense, gaming removed the familial roles because in a game, everyone plays as equals. And as most adults find, it’s hard for their parents to allow them to grow up. For me, gaming was a way to do that. For example, my mother tends to ‘mother’ me because I’m the youngest, usually by telling me what to do although I know what needs to be done. It’s can be very irritating, as you might imagine. But when the family played games, she was no longer telling me what to do. The games wouldn’t allow her to do that.
So, although the game space here looks similar to what my wife and I had, it was much different because of how it changed roles among parents, siblings, and children.
What does our house look like now when mapped with gaming? Significantly different than before. Because my wife and I now work at home more frequently, I’ve included those spaces as well. I’ve also included the more common areas we play portable games–my wife on her iPhone, the kids and me on the DS.
Unlike pre-kids when my wife and I were more isolated in our individual gaming, no one really games alone, even if on the DS because someone is going to ask what you are doing or even sit beside you to watch or help. That doesn’t mean no has privacy because we believe that if you ask for it, you should be able to have it. It’s that no one really asks for the privacy or complains.
I rarely play PC games anymore for many reasons, but one is that when I played PC games, I was cut off from the family. My wife commented on it, feeling that I was literally and figuratively turning my back on the family. I gave up gaming for a while, but realized that I enjoyed it too much. I thought a console might be a compromise, so I purchased a PS2 and initially focused on games to play with my son, like Teen Titans. I eventually played my own games, but the difference was significant. My wife can now talk to me while I play, and I can easily pause the game and interact with others. Sometimes, my wife watches and even helps. For a while, she played console games with my son, too.
My first reaction to seeing this map was ‘wow, we play a lot.’ But maps don’t tell time or duration, just a perspective of space over time. I think the map has two significant stories.
- Our kids are important to my wife and me, and we spend a lot of time together. And we have so many more game spaces because of the children. The different platforms might seem an obvious reason for the variety, but I think that is secondary to the interests and to the children.
- Similarly, the spaces reflect the parenting approach that my wife and I take, which is to foster as much openness and sharing as possible. None of spend much time in our bedrooms. Instead, we play [and work] in open, public places. Not to be critical of other parents, I know that others have a very different approach where children are more encouraged to be alone or, at least, separate from the parents.
As a result, we have a shared interest in gaming, too, a context in which we create and share stories. For example, my son has recently thrown himself into Assassin’s Creed 2, and he has been telling his experiences, even though we have seen and heard them, even if only piecemeal. My son loathes timed quests in games . . . hates them with a passion. But, rather than give up, he persisted until he completed the task. He told the story about himself, how he kept trying different strategies to complete the task and then telling the game’s story as well. Games are a kind of water-color talk for the family.
Another effect is a kind of self-censorship, particularly on my part. Because I primarily play on consoles, I don’t play games that might inappropriate for my kids. Sometimes. I’m not particularly interested in violent games, but I’m interested in some horror games. But when I played Doom 3 on the 360, my son watched and was really unnerved. Now, I could have asked him to go to another room, but I choose to turn it off, to find something in which I could include rather than exclude him. Now, I play Silent Hill – Shattered Dreams only when the kids are not home. I don’t even play it late at night because I don’t want to turn down the sound.
The boundaries are fuzzy as well because so much of the house is public and open for gaming. The kids have their rooms, which my wife and I respect as their areas. But I don’t see a ‘mother’ room or ‘mancave.’ No one establishes a territory. The house space is not gendered [that I can tell], which is again something of a conscious effort. My daughter doesn’t feel excluded from any of these game spaces because games are not treated as a male hobby.
I know that we’re not unique. We know a couple of parents who have a similar home, where parents and children share. We don’t even call the rooms ‘the den’ or ‘living room.’ Instead, we jokingly call them now the ‘Wii room’ or ‘big tv room,’ even the ’360 room.’ But the truth is that it’s a changing map, and, now that I’m aware of it, I’m watching what we do where and how the space affects us.
And with that, I’m going to end here so that I can play some Rock Band with the family . . . wait for me!