The lights are on
Having a child is like playing life on the hardest difficulty. It’s the most rewarding and fulfilling way to play the game, but it makes everything just a little bit more difficult to pull off.
Playing video games on the hardest difficulties offers the truest representation of how a game was intended to be played by the developer. It’s a much more intense and emotional experience when a single shot can cause you to restart your progress, but it makes the reward of completing a level much more fulfilling. Each encounter becomes a trial of endurance and skill, where on the lesser difficulties, it is a more casual and relaxing experience. Taking a few hits isn’t a problem when it only eliminates a sliver of your health bar and you’ve got a plethora of health packs to keep you going. It allows you to be reckless, something you absolutely cannot do on the harder difficulties.
It may seem like an odd analogy to connect, but having a child offers
the same difficult to achieve rewards of playing a game on hard. On the
normal difficulty, you only have to hit the enemy twice with your sword
in order to move on, but on hard, the enemy gains agility, and can take
nearly twice as many attacks. Before adopting fatherhood, or as I like
to call, saving my daughter from non-existence, things like doing the
dishes were simple and required only a little bit of my time. Now, the
dishes take much longer to complete, and I have to make sure that a
toddler isn’t going behind my back and pulling out forks from the
utensil rack. It takes more time, but completing the dishes is more
fulfilling is a strange way.
Having a child, for me, offered a similar change of upping the difficulty, but on a broader life-affecting scale. Life is more challenging now, but it is also much more rewarding. The emotional payoff of watching my daughter take her first step is a difficult thing to describe. The small life achievements seem to have more weight, and the setbacks hurt much more. The strangest things will set me off. I was embarrassed to find myself crying over a Google Chrome commercial where a father and daughter are separated by college. Just the idea that one day my daughter wouldn't be the tiny creature living in my house was enough to flip some kind of switch that wasn't there when I was playing on the normal difficulty.
Then, of course, there are the bragging rights. Even before the era of Achievements and Trophies, finishing a game on the hardest difficulty was a badge of honor. I remember my friend Jim detailing his summer-long chronicle of defeating Devil May Cry on the “Dante must die" mode. He told me how every boss encounter was a miracle of endurance for him, and he would spend whole days tackling the most difficult ones. To this day I am in awe of his technical prowess, impressed with his abilities. He deserves to brag about his achievement, and whenever anyone would even make a casual reference to Devil May Cry, he would eagerly recount his own experience.
I find myself bragging about Achievements, too, whenever anyone brings up Dead Space 2. Even though my experience with the game ended almost two years ago, I still look for any excuse to mention that I beat the game on hard to anyone who will listen. Now, I do the exact same thing, except I want to talk about my child. Eavesdropping on even the most minor reference to someone having a child, or getting ready to have a child, will cause me to perk up and shoulder my way into the conversation. “Are you guys talking about kids? I have one of those too!” I want to make sure everyone knows that I bumped up the difficulty on my own game of life, and it has been a better experience because of it.
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