A father risks slipping into the shadows of his child’s life after a divorce but gaming technology can keep him in the light. And maybe, hopefully, ease some grief and feelings of abandonment.
In this article
- Why gaming, intro to this blog, its purpose and mission
- Who I am
- What is an “offworld dad”
- How much time I spend gaming with my son
- The best gaming system for our purpose
- My assessment criteria
- More… why it’s the best
- What to buy: Hardware and accessories
- What to buy: Video Games
- Tips for the dads: Playing online games with your child
- Tips for the dads: Dealing with your ex-wife, ex-girlfriend
- The Future of 2-Player virtual reality
- 2-Player VR: Here and Now
- VR: What to Buy
Virtual reality and video games can open a portal for children of divorce and their offworld parent. The new gaming systems on the market today have fantastic virtual environments where father and son can go on epic quests or play their favorite sports game together. And at the same time they are also seeing and talking and video chatting with each other. It’s super easy to setup, even for children as young as seven or eight.
The father son (father daughter) relationship will suffer after a divorce. However I want you to know there are some great ways to stay connected to your kid. The good news… if you have to be a long distance parent then you can be glad gaming technology keeps getting better. Offworld Gifts is a technology and gaming guide for all the noncustodial parents out there that, for whatever reason, are no longer living with their young child or teen. I will share my experience, game reviews and related news here at Offworld Gifts and on social media. Follow on Facebook or Twitter.
Who and where am I? I’m in Los Angeles and I am the long distance, noncustodial father to my second son who lives in Florida with his very cool single mother. I am the custodial parent to my first son. And I grew up without my father, raised by my amazing single mother.
There is a great article on WebMD called “Coping with Grief” and it identifies “separation from a loved one” as a natural cause of grief. And I can tell you first-hand there is a lot of truth in how it makes you feel. Here is the article if you are interested. However, here is a little extra kick-in-the head to my point about this kind of grief. You don’t just say goodbye once to your child but for weeks, or months or maybe longer. Every time you say goodbye (on the phone or in-person) you feel the same intense grief all over again. The loss of partner, child and a life you were living. And not all men can get past this period of recurring pain. And they start calling less often, visiting less often and some men give up and stop contact all together. Women have a role to play here. She can support and encourage the father and child relationship, she can be apathetic about her child having contact with the father, or she can be so angry that she actively sabotages any chance for father and child to have a healthy relationship.
My advice to the men, or any noncustodial parent, is to stick with it. Keep calling, keep with the visits, keep video gaming with your kid like I do… if you can grind past the first few months then you end up creating a “new normal” and the goodbyes lose most of their sting. As long as you are not dealing with a woman actively interfering with you and your child’s relationship then it’s going to be ok. 10 Tips for being a father after a divorce.
What is an “offworld dad”? It’s not complicated. Basically an “offworld dad” is a guy not living with his young or teen child. Why create a new term you ask? Well, let’s take a look at the options: divorced dad, part-time dad, weekend dad, deadbeat dad, long distance dad, biological dad, noncustodial parent. To be blunt, these all suck. I don’t want to be called any of them and that’s not what I am to my son. The term “single mom” has near heroic status in society (as it should) but most of the terms for the father are very negative. It’s not healthy and with today’s technology it’s not true. If you want, you can be in your child’s life after a divorce in a fun and meaningful way. Even if you live 1,000 miles apart. So maybe the second part of being an “offworld dad” is a man using technology to be there for his child. The technology is not cheap and you have to buy two of everything. It can easily cost over $1000 to setup both father and child. In my opinion, if you know guy going through a divorce and money is tight for him then consider setting up a crowdfunding campaign. I believe it’s a worthy cause and should be supported by his friends and family. Do it for him and the child.
How much time am I spending with my son? In January, I think I got about 25% of my son’s free time and I’m 2,500 miles away. I tracked our time together. The full post is here.
The XBOX ONE is the killer app for long distance parents. It’s the best overall system on the market right now. And I am not being paid to say that. It’s my opinion. There is not even a close second option that hits all the things an offworld parent would want in a system that opens a portal right into their kid’s home.
Why is the XBOX ONE the best? What is my criteria? Easy to use. Can it be setup so a young child can play without help from the custodial parent? Online Multiplayer Content. Is there lots of really cool and fun and age appropriate content? Price. Cost is very important because in order to open this “window” into your kid’s home you must buy two of everything.
Don’t get me wrong, multiplayer virtual reality is going to be awesome for offworld parents some day. Here is a great article about how it creates real feelings of “presence”. I can’t wait for the tech to improve. I would love to meet my son in a VR room where we can work on a 1965 Mustang and I can show him how to change the oil or replace the transmission. But it’s not there yet.
More… why XBOX ONE is the best
- Heartbreaking. This feature removed in early 2017. In-game video chatting. Two open windows on the TV screen. One where you and your child are playing the same game together and the other is a video chat window where you can see and talk to each other in real-time. This is its best feature. So cool. And easy to use.
- Lots of great games and content for children and teenagers. Join the Patient Gamers subreddit for great prices on video games (if you can wait, no impulse shopping here).
- Even for younger children the XB1 is easy to setup and use (with little to no help needed from the custodial parent). Something both parents can appreciate.
- Price. Cheaper than computers. Much cheaper than VR. You can find used and refurbished systems and the games are always going on sale.
Here is a very homemade video of Jonah (in Florida) and me (in Los Angeles) gaming together.
What to buy. The XBOX ONE setup. Remember. Take each price and double it. You need two of everything for setting this up. It can get expensive (especially VR) so some families may want to give this as a social gift. All this tech is expensive but very much worth it. And maybe it’s something families want to encourage and support.
- XBOX ONE Console ($250 to $400)
- Kinect ($75 to $100)
- XBOX LIVE Gold – 12 Month Membership ($60)
- Online Multiplayer Video Games (Free to $100)
Console. Both the Xbox One and the Xbox One S will work perfectly for our purpose. Upgrade the headset to something more durable, better quality. The ones that come with the console are a decent backup at best. They are very fragile and will be broken by your kid. Headsets are really a must. Most gaming forums will warn you about voice-chatting through the Kinect. There is a lot of feedback noise and it will get you booted.
Starter list of online multiplayer video games! My advice is to buy them on the console’s XBOX store so you won’t worry about losing or scratching the dvd disc. Or if you are buying a game as a gift then buy the XBOX Giftcard. They can be spent in the XBOX store.
EVERYONE Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language. FIFA 17 (Sports Game), Just Dance 2017, Forza Horizon 3 or Dirt Rally (Racing Games), Trackmania is another racing game but you also get to build the tracks.
EVERYONE 10+ Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes. Plants Vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2 (3rd Person Shooter), Minecraft (Action Block-Building Game)
TEEN Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language. Overwatch (PVP Shooter), Destiny (PVE Campaigns and PVP), Rocket League (Arena PVP), Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil (It’s great Dungeons & Dragons game. It is rated M but should be T for Teen, it’s really pretty tame).
Kids are kids. Some tips I have learned while spending time with my son on the XBOX ONE. For example, apparently somewhere around the age of 10 the mute button is a lot of fun… in the sense that “I just realized I can mute my father”. And then I get to repeat, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me? Can you hear me?”. Ugh.
- Expect boundaries to pushed. I can’t parent the fun out of this time we have together. I tend to let things go more than if I were there with him everyday.
- Try to start new games together. You get to experience all the stuff about the new game together. It’s more fun than at level 50 escorting a new player through the whole game.
- Frequent but shorter calls are best. But sometimes on Saturdays we play together for more than two hours.
- Get a good headset with mic. The mic in the Kinect is a last resort and the headset that comes with the console is cheap and fragile. It will be sat on, stepped on and destroyed.
- Hide profile. If you are on the XBOX but can’t chat with your kid at the moment then click “Appear Offline” in the profile settings.
- Don’t jump right into gaming. Catch up first, with homework, friends, etc.
One more thing… about your ex-spouse, ex-partner, mother of your child, the custodial parent. Unfortunately, I have gone through the custody thing twice. One was a brutal and expensive legal battle that hurt everyone. The other didn’t even go to court. I can tell you based on my experience that the woman (custodial parent) has an inherent advantage in how you and your child will get along. She has a lot control over the outcome. If you are really interested in having a fun and healthy relationship with your child then don’t be a dick to your ex.
Ok. The Future of 2-Player Virtual Reality
2-Player (or multiplayer) VR: Here and Now
I’ll be the first to admit it. VR needs to improve and needs more content and needs to drop in price. My overall opinion for long distance parents… Here’s the deal, the actual technology is pretty damn cool. The only problem, there’s not much content. But if your kid is a teenager and you are both early tech adopters that enjoy playing the latest games but can also handle the glitches and bugs then Virtual Reality gaming is an option for the both of you. Keep in mind that if Virtual Reality is in its infancy then 2-player VR is even younger. Most of the best content right now is for a single player experience
One of the cool features of VR besides playing games is watching movies. And I have to admit that sitting in a virtual room throwing virtual popcorn at my son’s avatar while watching an Adam Sandler movie sounds like fun.
What to buy. The Virtual Reality setup.