Balancing Family and Career - a Guest Post by Brandon Freeman

My friend Brandon runs a screenshot blog with short synopses of games and review impressions. His writing resonated with me, and he was gracious enough to share it here. If you have any thoughts or insights on balancing family, career, hobbies, and all the elements of adult life, you can send yours to ryan@gamerparent.net

My career started the day my wife and I found out we were expecting. Life as a server, living on tips and getting home at two in the morning, wasn't a long term solution.

My first stop was water heater sales, then water heater tech support. Trust me, you've never lived until you've argued with a plumber who insists that fire doesn't need air. That's about the time I realized water heaters were also not the way to go.

I had a brief run of entrepreneurial endeavors that included copywriting, book sales, and web design. There were other dreams in there but I guess they were so brief as to be forgotten. All the while I'm working 6-3, arguing with plumbers about air. My takeaway from this brief time was that it's really hard to start a career in what little free time you have in between work and family. I was regularly up until 1 or 2am trying to figure out why my CSS box wasn't working in IE6 (spoiler: because it was IE6) or searching A.B.E. for books I thought I could flip.

I lucked up. The web design led to delving into geekery and a friend asked me if I was Interested in a desktop support position he had open. Um, YES!

Finally, I had a career. I'd be at that company over five years and move in a whirlwind from desktops to system administration to project management. Along the way I had my second and third children. When that company relocated, I jumped into the consulting world where I remain currently. I added a fourth child and a daughter I didn't get to meet due to miscarriage.

So here I am, 34 and a father of 4. Dang, it's hard. And wonderful.

Balancing these two worlds, Family and Career, has been a ginormous challenge. What do you when you have a meeting at 2 and your wife texts you that she is sick at 1? What about at your son's party when you get an emergency call from work?

After 13 years and 4 kids, with a marriage that is stronger today than ever, here are my thoughts:

1 - Family is ALWAYS number one

Start with that truth. When the chips are down, family will always trump career. If my wife is sick and tells me she needs me, being a full time Mom to a homeschooled family, I'm heading home. For me, this was always my ideal, but the practical implementation left me wracked with anxiety for years. However, I found one thing that makes every employer I've had okay with this paradigm: Work your butt off the rest of the time.

2 - Providing financial security is a crucial part of my family contribution

This truth is the checks and balances to #1. Family comes first, but neglecting my career is neglecting my duty to provide for my wife and children. Even more so as we have a one income household, though I think it applies just the same in a multi-income family (it's probably just more complicated). My children would love to have Daddy home every day (or so they tell me. I think they'd be begging me to leave after a week :) ), but I can't. On a hard day at work where nothing has gone right, I have to continue doing my best because that's my responsibility to my family. I've made an agreement that to the best of my ability they will have food, shelter, clothing, and Nintendo and by gerd that's what they're gonna get.

3 - Accept that the first and second items are going to cause a consistent tension

You will be pulled in two directions everyday. It's not a bad thing, it's just reality. Accept that. Don't fight it, work with it.

4 - Communicate with your partner and children about this tension

Communication. The balm that heals all ails. It's critically important that all participants in your family experiment understand that balancing the needs of the family with the needs of a career is a hard, necessary, sometimes ugly process. I included children in this because it's important IMO to help them understand that the reason Daddy and/or Mommy are leaving every day is largely because you love them, and more materialistically because the things around them have a cost. This is my example of how to be an adult. (CAVEAT: See item #1 and remember, Family trumps Career.)

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That's it for the big picture. The minutiae is a world unto itself. Handling getting 6 people to regularly visit a dentist, for example (Hint: find someone that deals with kids a lot, get appointments as close to the end of your day to minimize time off, and get them back to back to minimize visits). Or when there's a long term illness to your partner and this tension gets really imbalanced (My strategy was to turn up communications with bosses and to work half of each day from home. Side note, presenting in conference calls while trying to keep children quiet is not easy.).

Balancing career and family isn't easy. I know I've done it poorly at times, but I believe that I've learned a lot about how to make it work for us. I hope this helps you. Good luck!

P.S. When in doubt, wait until your child is sleeping and just stare at their face. This always helps me.

Posted on January 29, 2017 .

Been There, Run That ...Mario Run, Not Actual Physical Activity

It’s been three weeks since Mario Run released on iOS. In that time, I’ve cleared 6 worlds, 24 levels, saved a princess, and built a mobile representation of the Mushroom Kingdom. I’ve earned a score of roughly 1,500 in Mario Run, and… I think I’m done.

I’d estimate I put about 10 hours in Mario Run, spread out over bathroom breaks and couch sessions since its iOS launch December 15, 2016. That’s a dollar an hour, or fifty-cents if you count the double unlock of the game for my wife and I on a shared iTunes account. I can’t argue that paying for a full game shocks the mobile ecosystem many gamers in that space are used to, but I can argue that it was worth it.

My two-year old joyously played the first levels of Mario Run, excitedly running up to me, demonstrating “how he plays it.” True to advertisement, it can be played with one hand. Seeing my toddler use his little finger to make Mario jump and clear through a level (with Goombas, even!) on his own warmed my gamer heart. I sat on the couch with my wife, playing side by side, learning the most efficient paths through levels. Randomly, I’d hear the bright “wa-hoos” of Charles Martinet, and the pleasant jingling of coins as my wife ran through levels in another room, or while we watched a television show, mixing up her usual play of various Disney match-3 titles. This mobile title was, for almost a month, a shared experience throughout our house.

It was very pleasant to play a game on my phone that has no ad bars obscuring the screen or in-game currency to pay for. Indeed, coins and rally tickets - used for building structures in Kingdom Builder mode and running Toad Rally matches - can not be purchased with money. Nothing beyond the initial game unlock costs money. Twitter user @johnnyebs06 mentioned this, and I was curious. What happens when you run out? I was pleased to find that tickets and coins can be earned quickly by playing bonus games, which are themselves unlocked by using coins and toads unlocked in Toad Rally. In just one round of three bonus games, I earned 8 rally tickets and a few hundred coins. The bonuses can be played every 8 hours. Players can also acquire tickets with My Nintendo points earned through playing the game. As of this writing, I’m still trying to use up all my rally tickets. I’m down to 75 from the maximum of 99, and have not collected any new tickets since 2017 began.

I’m sure that I’ll occasionally play a toad run again here and there, or share the title with others. I’ll happily give my phone to my children, letting them run Mario through levels I’ve already cleared. Who knows, maybe they’ll collect some of the special coins hiding within the levels. Mario Run was worth the $10, and I look forward to what Nintendo offers next on mobile. Though it no longer sits on my phone’s home screen, it's earned a proper place in my gaming memory banks.

 

Posted on January 9, 2017 .

Extra Life Game 3: Chroma Squad

Donate to Extra Life HERE. Thank you for your time visiting and your support of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

I somehow put 11 hours into Chroma Squad between Midnight Friday and Noon Sunday, at least that's what my Steam playtime suggests. I'm about 80 percent finished with the Power Rangers inspired SRPG and am enjoying it enough that those hours flew by.

Chroma Squad is developed by Behold Studios and doesn't hide its inspiration at all. You, the player, are in charge of a Power Rangers-esque television show, manipulating the events on set as they unfold (with the lines of in-game reality vs. TV fantasy frequently blurred). The main team consists of 5 actor-rangers with skills unlocking as the game progresses and a variety of equipment to craft and buy. You're also responsible for managing contracts, marketing deals and upgrading the studio where filming of the "show" takes place.

Combat is stellar, and puts emphasis on teamwork. Colorful combo moves and finishers deal great damage when your team executes them together. Much combat is top-down classic SRPG style. When enemies become larger than life, Mecha combat is flat 2-D and takes on a simple timing-based mechanic. Click at the optimal time to deal optimal damage, and unleash some powerful Mecha skills on your enemy. Strategizing my "MechaZord" battles has become one of my favorite parts of the game because the upgrades that can be crafted for your giant robot have dramatic impact on how these battle segments play out.

The story is told in episodes over multiple seasons (seems like there are 5 seasons, with 4 - 5 episodes each). As the series progresses, the stakes get higher, new friends and enemies are discovered, and our team learns that friendship is where true power lies.

I've had a lot of fun with Chroma Squad this weekend, and look forward to finishing up my first playthrough very soon. Now, if you'll excuse me, it's morphin' time! ...I mean, non-copyrighted changing form time!

 

Posted on November 6, 2016 .

Extra Life Game 2: Broforce

Donate to Extra Life HERE. Thank you for your time visiting and your support of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

On episode 43 of the Magic Hour Show, Bromikey described Broforce in a manner that immediately resulted in a high ranking placement on the Steam Wishlist. “Contra with destructible environments,” he said. Tonight, I played it for the first time.

My hour with the game was brotastic, bro-riffic, broMAZING, BRO-okay, that’s enough of the bro stuff, bro. It’s a lot of fun. The over the top pop-culture references to American action heroes is absolutely hilarious. Each hero possesses unique weapons related to the character they’re based on (Bro in Black has the crazy mini-laser pistol from Men in Black, for example).

At least in single player, which was what I played tonight, the characters instantly switch every time the player dies. This makes for varied gameplay, even when the session is short.

I think my favorite bit of “bro-tacular,” as Mikey put it, action in my first hour with Broforce was launching a bad guy into a propane tank, which then ignited and propelled through the environment. The ROCKET TANK destroyed the ground under a truck and killed men near the truck, in addition to the truck falling through the ground and squashing even more baddies below. I think I unlocked an achievement for at least one part of that.

Posted on November 5, 2016 and filed under extralife.

Extra Life Game 1: Yoshi’s Wooly World

Extra Life is a charitable organization that inspires gamers to play games for 24 hours, and raise money for children’s hospitals while doing so. Many participants stream their gameplay. I am not set up for streaming this year, so I’ll post some ramblings here about the games I play. Please consider donating to me and the Gamer Parent Extra Life Team, or to any of the many gamers participating.

First game up is Yoshi’s Wooly World on the Nintendo WiiU. The last production model of this system rolled off the production line today. My wife and I purchased a WiiU at launch, the November before we had any children. It’s been very good to us, providing family family co-op experiences and enough single player (and not as kid friendly) opportunities to keep my occupied.

It’s my goal to finish every physical game I own for the WiiU before the Nintendo Switch releases in March of 2017. Alex, my wife, and I have played Wooly World co-op through World 5, and the remainder will be played that way as well. It’s not easy with two players. Much like the multiplayer Mario games, one finds themselves bouncing wildly with other players. This leads to moments of frustration and hilarity, but mostly frustration. Our play sessions have been in short bursts, with long stretches in between. The stability of our marriage is at stake here, which is more important than the fate of all those adorable wooly Yoshis.

I’ve played a bit with our kids in mellow mode. In mellow mode, the players’ Yoshis can float through the levels. It’s been fun with the kids; I don’t have to worry about them falling down too many pits, but it reduces the challenge to an embarrassing level for us HARDCORE gamers. I’m totally using mellow mode to find hidden items we missed in our playthrough.

Nintendo has released a string of games that fully embrace an aesthetic on the WiiU. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, Yoshi’s Wooly World, and Paper Mario Color Splash commit entirely to the art style and the materials the objects in the game are based on. The yarn in wooly world looks, moves and interacts with the environment in at least what seems like a very realistic way. For the looks alone, we will finish this game. (It’s a competent platformer, too – with some fun bonus levels and areas. YOSHI ON A MOTORCYCLE IS FUN)!

Posted on November 5, 2016 and filed under extralife.