How Parenting Is Like Playing Old-School Video Games

by Kim Bongiorno
Originally Published: 

© Mr._Z/flickr

This might be why now, as a parent, I feel like everything I do puts me back in the days when I’m on some epic 8-bit quest. I don’t see offspring around me: I see antagonists. I don’t have days to survive: I have levels to beat. I have countless hours behind a joystick to thank for being pretty much a pro at this parenting gig. Here are just some of the games I played back then, and how they prepared me for the variety of parenting scenarios that eventually came my way:


Trying to walk from one side of the living room to the other without stepping on something dangerous or getting run over? NAILED IT.

Donkey Kong

Lots of climbing on things, and the tossing of stuff everywhere.

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Space Invaders

An endless loop of small creatures trying to crush you—which move faster and faster the more tired you are? Welcome to hosting a kid’s birthday party!

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Sonic the Hedgehog

A destructive narcissist thinks he should be in charge of the world, so a lone protagonist runs around fixing everything in his wake, while also trying to keep an evil genius under control? Golly. Doesn’t sound familiar at all.

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Pole Position

Getting the best spot at the carpool line at school, then getting to your other kid’s school before the bell rings, all while making you eat my dust.


Jumping, hopping, bouncing, leaping, bopping, and dramatic collisions: Yep, that sounds like bedtime to me.

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Like little ghosts hell-bent on attacking you, your children will follow you everywhere.

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Ms. Pac-Man

Leave me alone, I just want to eat a healthy snack in peace, damnit!

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Practice for packing your diaper bag, the trunk of your car before a family road trip, and the fridge when they’re teenagers.



Company is coming! You have 20 minutes to collect 32 treasures—I mean clear up 32 piles of toys, magazines, homework, discarded art projects, hampers of unfolded towels and blanket forts, while navigating countless hazards, animal attacks and, quite possibly, fire before they arrive.

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Back and forth, back and forth you go, always knocking away whatever gets thrown at you (and things will get thrown at you).

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Your not-quite-potty-trained toddler is running around the house without a pull-up on. You better hope you catch those bombs in time.


Partners must battle their way through guerrilla warfare in order to stop their biggest enemy, who has head lice. That sums up the logistics of classroom politics in a nutshell.

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Kid Icarus

A kid escapes Time Out and tries to bribe his way into “angel” status. Again.

River Raid

Lots of looking down, dodging stuff, trying to finish a task without running out of fuel and crashing.

Super Mario Bros.

Stuck with your brother searching for the Princess with only a vague idea of where to look while eating mushrooms and collecting loose change along the way? Don’t tell your wives when they get home from their spa day!

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Bubble Bobble

All you need to understand is the importance of bubbles and snacks.

The Legend of Zelda

A quest that consists of unfinished puzzles, lost keys, collecting random stuff, swordplay, broken hearts and other aspects of a typical Saturday afternoon in suburbia.

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