The 8 Best Games for a Mush-Brained Parent Holding a Baby

The author and his daughter Maeve playing The Binding of Isaac.
The author and his daughter Maeve play The Binding of Isaac.

As a new dad, I’ve found my priorities suddenly shifted away from gaming. I work long hours at an insane job. I take care of my now-17-week-old daughter. I try to be a good partner to my wife. If I’m lucky, I steal some time to eat, shower, and brush my teeth.

No one can smell me over Zoom, so what’s the difference?

Once in a while though — between burpings, diaper changes, and bath time — the dad gods bless me with thirty minutes of idle time. Do I do the reasonable thing and nap? No. I grab a controller and settle in with my old, now-frivolous-seeming first love: Gaming. 

My pathetic, frustrated yawps at the “You Died” screen, which might as well be burned into my TV, woke up my tentatively sleeping tot every time.

I’ve discovered a few things during these blissful little interludes. I should not be launching into a Destiny 2 raid with my infant hypothetically dreaming in the bassinet or drooling on my shoulder. Nor is it the time for a round of Overwatch. Feats of gaming such as these require focus, some level of team communication, and a not-insignificant time commitment. 

Nor can I recommend diving into that 80-hour JRPG like Octopath Traveler. I tried playing it on Xbox Game Pass, but found it was a challenge. I couldn’t stay focused on the details of Therion’s quest. What’s a Dragonstone? My daughter’s doused me in spit-up. I need a wet washcloth, not a Dragonstone.  

Ditto for any Souls-likes. My pathetic, frustrated yawps at the “You Died” screen, which might as well be burned into my TV, woke up my tentatively sleeping tot every time.

Octodad, ironically, presented a significant physical challenge for this infant-toting dad. The 2014 seafood sitcom simulator’s flicky, one-handed mouse controls were spastic. Thirty minutes with the game left my wrist cramped in agony.

That said, I’ll always be a gamer at heart. Here are my favorite 8 games that I’ve enjoyed since becoming a distracted dad gamer. Consider it a Father’s Day gift from one me to you. 


A screenshot of the video game Griftlands (Klei Entertainment)
Griftlands (Klei Entertainment)

1. Griftlands (2019)

Play it on Windows, Linux, macOS, Switch, and Xbox One

  • Little one asleep on your shoulder? No problem! Griftlands’s card-based combat, set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, isn’t tied to twitchy reaction speed, but instead strategic and thoughtful choices. One-handed gameplay is simple and intuitive.
  • There’s no battle clock, so if you walk away to change a diaper your character won’t be dead when you return.
  • You can save anywhere, anytime outside of battle; something you’ll see in many of the games on this list. The whims and worries of modern parenting strike unexpectedly so this is a great feature.
  • Dad brain is real and you’ll forget your own name often. Griftlands helps fight this by implementing an encyclopedic lore reference system right into the game’s dialogue boxes. A simple feature I never knew I wanted, this helps me tell my Spark Barons from my Grout Bogs.
  • You and your non-verbal offspring can bond over the game’s art style, which has a vibrant Saturday morning cartoon with radiation scars vibe.

A screenshot of the video game Binding of Isaac: Repentance (Nicalis, Inc., Edmund McMillen)
Binding of Isaac: Repentance (Nicalis, Inc., Edmund McMillen)

2. Binding of Isaac: Repentance (2021)

Play it on Windows, macOS and Switch

  • The twitchiest game on this list, Binding of Isaac was originally released in 2011 but received a major DLC in March. Repentance rebalances the game and adds new characters, levels, more than 130 items, and a treasure chest full of content.
  • It’s about a baby! As a parent, you’ll relate to items such as “Used Diaper,” “C Section,” and “Mom’s Bra.” Some of these items (“Meconium” comes to mind) I couldn’t fully appreciate until I was a father.
  • On Isaac’s most basic level, gameplay cycles occur from room to room and each room typically takes a minute or two to complete. You can save between rooms and come back later once parenting releases you from its milky grip or, if you’re lucky, play an entire floor or two while the baby sleeps.
  • You’re definitely a better parent than Isaac’s mom who, in the game’s precipitating events, attempts to murder our young protagonist with a knife and chases him into the basement.

A screenshot of the video game Disco Elysium: Final Cut (ZA/UM)
Disco Elysium: Final Cut (ZA/UM)

3. Disco Elysium: Final Cut (2021)

Play it on Windows, MacOS, PS4, PS5, and Google Stadia

  • This iterative update of the 2019 point-and-click RPG includes superb new voice acting and some additional features.
  • By far the best game I played in 2020, Disco Elysium is allegorical, fantasy storytelling at its finest. The player embodies the dark and vibrant world of a down-on-his-luck cop in Revachol, the “disgraced former capital of the world”. The game presents an imaginary foreign land that comments on our own with a rich, philosophical, and entertaining script, an unforgettable cast of characters, and masterful pacing.
  • This one requires a little more headspace from the player as the story, which demands your attention, involves a world of deceit and political and psychological manipulation. Disco Elysium — at its core — is about the choices we make that determine who we are over the course of one’s life. And, while the game certainly has nothing to do with parenting, its story is a deeply human tale about empathy, relationships, and change — themes that should resonate with new parents.

A screenshot of the video game Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer)
Kentucky Route Zero (Cardboard Computer)

4. Kentucky Route Zero (2013-2020)

Play it on Windows, Linux, and MacOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

  • Raising a child is at turns surprising, dispiriting, unprecedented, and quotidian. As such, nothing prepares you for the journey like an education in the classics of absurdity (I’m thinking especially of Beckett, but also Sartre, Kafka, and filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos.) Cardboard Computer’s episodic point-and-click adventure Kentucky Route Zero reminded me of this time and time again. Pandering to neither genre conventions of the point-and-click video game nor any one literary archetype, KR0’s story deserves a place in the pantheon of itself.
  • This one vibed hard for me during those quiet, late nights where sleeplessness takes hold, anything is possible, and your hands are not your own.
  • One of the slower-paced games on this list, KR0 offers players the opportunity to meander around existential and absurd set-pieces while contemplating broad themes that include the imagination, family, storytelling, pleasure, work, folk themes, and childhood. Its precisely crafted cast of characters will stick with you for a long time.

EVE Online (CCP Games)

5. EVE Online (2003)

Play it on Windows and MacOS

  • An unlikely pleasure for me, it takes a special kind of person to enjoy EVE Online.
  • Players will discover multiple gameplay types within this free-to-play space MMO.
  • Inexplicably to family and friends, I prefer to spend my limited time in EVE mining raw materials from asteroid belts in high-security space (a reasonably safe endeavour) and then sell these resources on the game’s player commodities markets. It’s an oddly satisfying gameplay loop that, as a new parent, doesn’t overcommit me.
  • Corporations, EVE’s version of an MMO clan, allow the player to make fast friends in-game. I highly suggest the clan EVE University, which specializes in teaching newbros (EVE-speak for new players) the ropes of this nuanced game.
  • For parents, corporations are especially great; because the game is played worldwide, you’ll find friendlies online any time of day.
  • Diapers are expensive. EVE Online is free to play. Sweet.

A screenshot of the video game Kind Words (Popcannibal)
Kind Words (Popcannibal)

6. Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to) (2019)

Play it on Windows, MacOS, and Linux

  • Logging into pen-pal simulator Kind Words is like going for an easy stroll through a forest you’ve hiked thousands of times since childhood. It’s likely to bring warm, familiar calm to your soul and offer up a few pleasant surprises.
  • No time pressure and no lose state, Kind Words encourages you to take your time and offer kindness — in the form of anonymous letters — to strangers on the internet.
  • Popcannibal designed Kind Words’ music, interface, and soft, neon aesthetic to deliver maximum chill. It’s like playing one of those lo-fi hip hop YouTube videos.  
  • Shoot your shot, dad! You’ve got a lot of kindness to offer the lost children of the internet.

A screenshot of the video game Into the Breach (Subset Games)
Into the Breach (Subset Games)

7. Into the Breach (2018)

Play it on Windows, MacOS, Switch, and Stadia

  • In the time-traveling-mech strategy roguelite Into the Breach by Subset Games, failure is inevitable. This is a lesson that has become familiar to me as a new parent. The progression one makes and the lessons one learns through every screw up are key in both scenarios. Unlike Into the Breach, however, I’ve been unable to reset a terrible, no good day and unscrew my parental snafus. And that’s okay.
  • I hadn’t played this one until it landed on Stadia earlier this year. Google’s cloud gaming platform lends itself well to the impromptu gaming sessions dads often find themselves delivered unto.
  • A basic concept: Strategy games are great for dad-gaming because they provide the time and space to put down the controller and slowly consider the implications of each move.

A screenshot of the video game Judgment (Ryu Ga Gotoku)
Judgment (Ryu Ga Gotoku)

8. Judgment (2019)

Play it on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, and Xbox Series X/S

  • I suspect it’s incredibly common for a new father to find themselves unexpectedly pinned under a sleeping baby on the couch. One minute you’re feeding her and half-watching TV, the next she’s snoring, mouth agape, in your lap. When you can’t stand up but want to play a game, Google’s Stadia, for all the bad press and typical Googlian fear of abandonment, has been invaluable to me during those times.
  • Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s 2019 detective noir beat-em-up Japanese arcade simulator has been at the top of my list since it released on the cloud platform earlier this year.
  • Judgment plays out like a narrative-heavy prestige TV drama with its action focused less on combat (though this is a Ryu Ga Gotoku beat-em-up and you will smash hundreds of Yakuza with bicycles) and more on your skills of observation, exploration, and deduction. And drone racing — have I mentioned you race drones through the skies of Tokyo?
  • In the best of times I imagine traveling with a baby is a challenge, it’s near impossible to consider it during a global pandemic. This game, with its gorgeous and precisely recreated city, quietly scratches my itch to return to Tokyo.
  • As with Into The Breach, playing this game on Stadia made booting, loading, saving, etcetera, a breeze. Plus you can take your game with you to any room in the house and play on TV, computer, tablet, or phone.

That’s all I’ve got, folks. There are like two or three hundred different video games out there, so please let me know in the comments if I missed your favorite title for gaming while parenting.

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