Human Parts
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Human Parts

HUMANS 101

Space Invaders: Motherhood Edition

Let me explain parenting in a way people who grew up in the ‘80s may understand

Space Invaders was released the year I was born — 1978. By the time I was four it had cemented its place in history, grossing $3.8 billion to become the best selling video game of the time. That’s nothing however compared to its impact on pop culture — not just video games but film, advertising, music, fashion and even politics. So it makes sense to explain parenting through this lens.

I say parenting, but of course I mean motherhood. That’s why in my visual representation the [trouble] shooter is a pink blob. Of course I do not see mothers as pink blobs, but I think many, including most young children, do.

In traditional Space Invaders, the shooter must kill all of the aliens before they hit the bottom. In Space Invaders: Motherhood, Pink Blob must catch (solve) all of the problems that present themselves on her watch. As they get closer to her, some will fall faster, and get bigger. Some of the problems will disappear before they get to the bottom. It is inevitable that Pink Blob, through bad luck rather than bad judgement, will occasionally expend energy needlessly trying to catch those that would have disappeared, while missing the problems on the other side of the screen, as it is not always possible to predict which will do each of these things. When an icon hits the ground without being caught by Pink Blob, lives are lost (top left), just one life for a small icon, but several lives for a big one. I call it a life, but you may think of it as energy, ‘will to live’ or even ‘sunny disposition’.

In the above picture you can see a strong Pink Blob. She has 89 lives out of 100. Although two of her children will need a poo in the not too distant future, the most looming problem is the large yellow ‘hungry’ icon nearing the bottom that she must catch. She knows from much time spent playing this game, that while predicting which icons will disappear is a mug’s game, if she can catch the hungry icon the large red ‘fight’ icon on the left may shrink or disappear. This would give her time to get ahead of the game in terms of sorting out the TV channel and fixing the wifi, and possibly even to plan for the next snack, looming at the top of the screen, before the poos get bigger and faster. The small aliens may look sweet, and in many ways they are, but they too have the ability to take a life if they are not caught before they hit the bottom. They are the need for a hug; the hurty fingers; and the ‘look at me’s.

But take a look at this next picture:

Pink Blob has fewer lives — 66 — and has shrunk. In the immediate future she must catch the need for a hug, the small fight, the big fight, the huge shit and the need for a snack. But oh no, what’s that looming up there on the top left? It’s a big car falling quickly. That’s right, the car won’t start and the kids need to get to their activity. Or perhaps it means the car needs fuel, or air in its tires. Or someone has hidden the car keys. The precise meaning is immaterial really — all you need to know to play this game is that it will demand her attention and stop her doing other things at the same time. In fact sometimes dealing with the big thing is a mistake. She might spend so much time on the big thing that the small things take away all her lives while she is not looking. Small things do not stop falling just because big things appear.

It would be reasonable at this stage to wonder where the second parent or extended family and help network is. You may have noticed that none of the pictures so far are icons of laundry, or household maintenance, or cleaning the loo. He’s doing that.

Not really — he, or she, or they — is at work, or seeing their own sick parent, or having their own much needed night out. They too have a Space Invaders game of their own with their own icons and lives tally. Ideally both players won’t both be low on lives at once, although that of course does happen. There’s an add-on game you can play for that — it costs lots though, both financially and emotionally. It’s called Space Invaders: Utter Fucking Collapse.

Are you wondering how it ends? That’s the point: it doesn't. This game has the capacity to go on forever, it’s one of the reasons why it is so successful. Even if you find a way to pause it, you will have its four-note loop playing continuously in your head. As you progress through the levels, the icons do change, however. There are fewer poos once children can wipe their own arses. These are replaced by money icons for ‘I wants’, cigarette icons for anti-social behaviour, and phone icons for online bullying crises and nude picture requests. Don’t worry, no one has yet run out of levels — I have even heard of one player with grown up children, all of whom have children of their own. Their screen is full of question marks for existential doubts, documents for divorces and yes, poos again for the days they look after their grandchildren, alongside the wifi and the snacks and the aliens that never disappear.

Look, look will you. This poor Pink Blob has lost all of her lives:

But how can she regenerate? She must of course, there are looming emergencies that she needs to shoot down. It’s entirely possible to regain lives. The best way to do this is a sustained period of sleep. Other good ways include time alone, a chat with a friend, therapy sessions, gin, valium, cake, flirting with someone hot in the supermarket, exercise, date night, and even a spontaneous hug and ‘I love you’ from a small grubby child. You can buy lives too, using real life money, for services such as nannies, babysitters and holiday clubs. In app purchases of course can be addictive, and expensive.

Regaining lives does three things: a) you become bigger, b) your reactions become faster, and c) you have more enthusiasm for the game. You’ll still be a Pink Blob though, that does not change.

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Ellie Levenson

Ellie Levenson

I am a writer and lecturer based in the UK, writing for adults as Ellie Levenson and for children as Eleanor Levenson.

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