There aren’t any games that can give you the authentic experience of what it’s like to be a parent. But I am willing to reckon free game Jostle Parent is one of the best attempts at it.
Jostle Parent is a little browser based game made by Pippin Barr, a developer whose work I am familiar with covering on Rock Paper Shotgun and reading on Unwinnable (my first writing gig). The idea is that you control a parent, and you have a number of duties concerning your three small children who have minds of their own. As Pippin writes in his development notes:
I’ve got the basic idea – a game in which you are a parent taking care of your kids for the day, but in which the only action you can take is to “jostle”. It’s now called Jostle Mom/Dad (where the title for any given instantiation will choose one of those randomly), because it was dumb making it man-only. The game is very loosely meant to play on Octodad: Dadliest Catch, perhaps not in an actual satire way, but in working with similar concepts. I am taking it to a darker place I wish Octodad had gone with its story and interactions – it feels like an inherently tragic game to me. Thus, Jostle Mom/Dad will be a more explicit version of that tragedy – you’re a similarly limited person with similarly limited communication skills, but you still have to do this important job of protecting your family.
These green, red and orange little bastards are going to irritate the heck out of you in a number of rooms throughout your house, and you will come to fear for their lives.
It’s sort of like a herding cats simulator: One of the first things you realise is that your mobility is slightly impaired, and when you accidentally brush a wall you bounce off it, shuddering for a few seconds before you can carry on, so it becomes a problem of delicacy of control and small, swift key touches towards your destination.
Your destination in Jostle Parent is nearly always towards a child who is doing something they are not supposed to. Which, although I have never been a parent, seems a familiar situation that gives me a grim outlook on the prospect of ever becoming a parent. Who ever knew that kids could be so inconsiderate?
There are a number of tasks you have to complete throughout the game - wake the children, take them to the kitchen, make them breakfast, and so on. The only problem is that in every room there are hazards - a broken electrical socket, for example, is in the kitchen, and you have to stop your kids choking on their breakfast. In the garden there’s a box of poison you have to jostle your kids away from whilst you mow the lawn (as much as you can).
Your kids are always moving, very slightly, at a jostling and steady speed, towards a place you explicitly don’t want them to go. It gives you anxiety.
Any time you jostle one kid into the place you want it the other one is getting electrocuted or eating poison. At one point I accidentally shoved a kid outside of the house by accident and when I went to see where it had gone I discovered there was an open road with cars out there. I almost tutted at my computer. What on earth do you think you are doing?! I wanted to yell at the kid. Not since Shelter have I been so fearful for a fake computer mammal’s life.
The very worst thing, I tell you, at the end of my exhausting day parenting some small pixels, are the bloody doors. Getting three children through a door without one of them wedging themselves on it and blocking progress to the school bus is one of the most irritating things about doors. And parenting. And everything.
All I have to say is: well done Pippin Barr. You made an autobiographical game that has confirmed to me that I will never have children. At least, not three of them. I don’t envy parents at all. What an amazing job you all do with so much poison and buses around!