Parenting game – how one woman used her gaming brain to master the ultimate challenge

Helen Woodey explains how years of playing games prepared her for one of life’s biggest challenges: motherhood.

Six years ago my biggest challenge was 100%ing Bark At The Moon on Guitar Hero. Or memorising every answer on Buzz Junior: Jungle Party. Or winning a FIFA Street match without button-mashing. Then I had two kids. My gaming days were far from over, but life took on a different (very much more real) challenge.

Two kids, school runs, shopping, poo in the pants (not my poo… or pants), sick, housework and a job on a games mag. It’s fun. And when the chips are all over the floor I more often than not survive with a smile. And I put that down to having a mind that’s institutionalised and conditioned by the rules of games. A brain that competes with itself.

My days at home with the kids are brilliant, but not easy. With a little ‘personal challenge’ though, it’s surprising how much more enthusiasm I can summon to ace my tasks. I call my imaginary game ‘Mummy’s Lost Her Mind’. The tutorial to which goes as follows…

Level 1: get everybody washed and dressed before lunch. Simple, right? Reward: one cup of tea.

Level 2: complete a meal, with all members of the family eating at least one basic food group. Reward: a meal.

Level 3: answer question about how the first dinosaur was born – “the dinosaur who wasn’t born to a dinosaur but was on the Earth first.” Reward: having provided an answer.

Level 4: find the appropriate appreciation for five-year-old’s playdough sculpture of ‘cake with candle’ that’s more accurately described as ‘cock and balls’. Reward: priceless memory. And so it builds.

Level 5: explain that five-year-old has misunderstood the phrase, ‘you can chose your friends but not your elephants’. Reward: realising that the word ‘relative’ in its place actually makes it more confusing to explain.

Level 6: help children become rounded, happy members of society. Reward: an incomparable sense of achievement.

It’s the ultimate challenge. And while no one can disagree that parenting is the most important job in the world, likening it to the world of videogames isn’t as ridiculous as it might sound. In my head, the two are actually very similar. It’s the effort/reward ratio: what you put in very much determines what you get out. Invest time, effort, your very best common sense, some sound research, puzzle-solving skills, an ability to predict what’s likely to happen next… and suddenly gaming and parenting start sounding like compatible endeavours.

It’s not so much about coping with the responsibilities of looking after kids and keeping house at the same time: it’s about making it fun. For me, as well as the kids. A challenge inside my head, split up into individual boss battles for me to overcome. Because if I’ve learned just one thing from games over the years, it’s that fun rubs off. Set yourself a challenge, give yourself a framework in which to achieve it, then give it absolutely everything you’ve got.

Give yourself a little review at the end of it – a mark out of ten, if you like. Whatever works. Whatever spurs you on for just one more go. Whatever makes you want to improve your score. Because it seems every time I play Mummy’s Lost Her Mind with the ultimate aim of self-improvement, everyone wins. Cheesy, I know. But true.