The curious case of the Xbox Series X

This has possibly been the weirdest Christmas ever. Here in the south-east of the UK, we were moved into tier 4 lockdown restrictions with only five days’ notice and this meant we were no longer allowed to see family and friends during the festive period.

There was a range of emotion as my other-half and I listened to the announcement. On one hand we were pleased that action was being taken to keep everyone safe; but on the other, we weren’t looking forward to dealing with the reaction of certain difficult family-members when we told them we were no longer coming to visit. And then there was the fact we’d have to tell my stepson Ethan that we now wouldn’t be able to see him at Christmas – the first time we’d been allowed to have him on the day for five years.

The small relief was that Pete and I had taken the decision to give him his present the night before. We knew Ethan wouldn’t get much time to use it the following weekend as we were due to spend Christmas and Boxing Day with family, so it had seemed fair to let him have it early. Although we now wouldn’t be able to have him stay with us for a few weeks thanks to the increased risk of COVID-19, at least he’d be able to get some enjoyment from his gift before we had to say goodbye.

You see, my stepson had been hinting that he wanted an Xbox Series X since the reveal of the consoles last summer. We told him that we’d give him money for Christmas to put towards the console but he’d need to take on the responsibility of saving up the rest himself. After keeping his birthday and pocket-money safe for six months, he talked about nothing else during the lead-up to the holidays and constantly nagged us for updates on whether we’d been able to get one whenever he heard news about limited stock.

We’d sat Ethan down after dinner on the evening before the tier 4 announcement and explained he could choose to have his gift early – but he needed to be aware that the offer came with several caveats. First, he must give us his payment towards the cost of the console before the end of the weekend. Second, he would need to spend ‘proper’ time with family-members over Christmas instead of talking at them constantly about his Xbox or whichever game he was playing (something he’s very prone to doing).

Finally, a new three-strike rule would be imposed regarding noise. He’d gradually been getting louder while playing online with friends in recent weeks and we found ourselves going up to his room to tell him to keep it down more frequently. If this happened too many times, the console would now be taken away for the rest of the day. (We were aware Ethan would agree to anything just to get his hands on the Xbox and had one of the most peaceful nights we’d had in ages.)

My stepson’s eyes lit up the moment the box was placed down on the table. The look on his face was one of genuine amazement: he couldn’t believe we’d managed to get our hands on a console and it was sitting there right in front of him. We had to urge him to actually touch it after he sat staring at it for a few minutes, and he snatched his hand away quickly because he was so nervous. He couldn’t even bring himself to open the box and eventually Pete had to do it for him.

Ethan spent that weekend playing the same games he would have done if he were still using his Xbox One and saw no major graphical improvements thanks to his old television. I struggled to wrap my brain around the extent of his excitement; I can’t bring myself to see the new consoles as anything other than just another piece of hardware nowadays and, if my current hardware can still run the titles I want to play, then owning the latest equipment doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

I understand my stepkid’s enthusiasm if there were more new releases for the Xbox Series and PlayStation 5, but currently most of them are either available on the older consoles too or are just remakes and remasters of existing games. The only upcoming titles Ethan has asked about were ones we told him he was too young to play. Personally, it’s only Horizon Forbidden West and Fable IV which have caught my attention so far – but with no release dates announced yet, who knows when we’ll get the chance to experience them.

Watching the kid’s reaction to his Christmas present that evening made me realise that I’ve not been excited about anything gaming-wise for a long time. This isn’t just to do with the lack of new titles, delays to games I was looking forward to or the now-common unrealistic level of hype. 2020 has been a tough year for everybody and we’re still feeling its effects going into 2021; months of lockdown and fear have brought on a lack of motivation and enthusiasm, and sometimes it takes all your effort just to stay on an even emotional keel.

I want to be that eager again though. To look forward to trying the bargains I managed to pick up during the latest Steam sale, to find a game I’m totally hooked on, to experience a story I can’t stop thinking about long after I’ve completed it. Perhaps finding Yakuza 0 after becoming curious about it during a stream last month by Nathan of Gaming Omnivore is the start; I’ve already completed over 25 hours at the time of writing and I’m having a lot of fun mashing buttons around the streets of Kamurocho so far.

I guess the only thing we can do is try to be more like my stepson was that night, to look for the joy in small events and then use those feelings to push us forward to more positive times. It’s difficult and we’re all struggling, but we will get there. I wish you all the best for 2021 and hope you find some brightness in the coming months.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


Competition and curses: a parents’ responsibility

Video games have been a positive force during the COVID-19 lockdown here in the UK. As well as being entertainment during additional free hours, they’ve given me the chance to keep in touch with friends and hang out with them online.

Because of this, any negative aspects hadn’t crossed my mind and so receiving an email with the subject THESE Gamers Are The Most Antagonistic recently was something of a comedown. Commissioned by a resource for fans of online slot machines (I have absolutely no idea how I ended up on that random distribution list), the report tried to discover which gamers were the most aggressive and unfriendly according to their platform of choice and preferred multiplayer title.

I’m going to point out here that I’m not entirely comfortable with this company’s business or how they collected their data and so I’ve chosen not to link to them. They utilised Google search volume tools to find the number of people looking to report users in connection with the 42 most popular online games over the past 12 months, before asking almost 2,000 gamers around the world a series of somewhat leading questions: for example, ‘Have you had your day ruined by other online gamers?’

Despite my reservations and the fact the findings should be taken with a pinch of salt, they’re interesting. It appears Xbox users are more hostile than PlayStation owners as there are 1,080 more searches annually from them looking to report others for bad behaviour. To quote the report: “There are hundreds of online complaints about users who seek to anger others through Xbox Live chats. On average, each year there are 166,920 searches from players looking to complain or report other Xbox Live accounts.”

The thing that caught my attention though was the list of top-ten titles with the most antagonistic players. Somewhat unsurprisingly thanks to it being free and attracting huge fan-base, in first place was Fortnite: “There are countless stories from innocent users who claim that fellow Fortnite players ruin the game by citing abusive and toxic language. Each month there are 3,750 searches from players looking to report one another for hostile behaviour – that’s equivalent to 45,000 each year!”

Other releases that made the list included Roblox, Overwatch, Minecraft and Rocket League. These are all games either previously or currently played by my teenaged stepson and, according to Ethan, most of the boys in his year at school spend their free time hanging out with each other in them online. Regardless of whether these kids are the ones doing the reporting or contributing to the vitriol, I wonder how involved the parents are in their gaming lives and to what extent they’re aware of what’s going on.

We had a recent experience ourselves, which some people may already know about after we shared the story during a stream. Ethan doesn’t realise how loud he gets when he’s on his Xbox but the bonus of this is that Pete and I can hear everything going on without having to snoop on him. One evening while playing Overwatch with his friends, we caught him using the term ‘slut’ to refer to who he believed to be a female player on the opposite team – and he was busted for it over dinner.

He mentioned their handle when we asked why he thought this other player was female, so we explained to him that judging someone on their name was wrong and could lead to discrimination. Ethan’s excuse for his conduct was that he ‘only said it so his team could hear’ and ‘everyone else was saying it’ but we told him this wasn’t any sort of justification. Saying derogatory things like that wouldn’t only cause others to look at him in a certain light but could also encourage them to adopt or continue the same inappropriate behaviour.

It was when I asked him how he’d feel if someone online called me a slut that the point really hit home and he apologised. We then went on to discuss how trash-talking is often a part of online gaming, but you can be competitive and still be respective of the people you’re playing with. Personal attacks are just a nasty reflection of your own poor skills and, if you see a player struggling with the game, isn’t it better to offer them some friendly advice to help them improve?

Duane from Bar Harikuya published a great post last month which, while being about a different subject, contains a point which is very relevant here. He said: “It only becomes a problem because of poor education, and by that, I don’t mean at school (though there’s still room for improvement there), I mean the education that they receive from the environment they live in… You might say kids will be kids, but if I’d have ever heard any of my kids use homophonic, sexist or racist slurs I would be sure to educate them on why that’s not acceptable.”

If you have young children and decide to let them play video games, it’s your responsibility to educate them on how to use them responsibly. This includes teaching your kids that games don’t always have to be about violence and explosions; that it isn’t necessary to be a ‘perfect gamer’ in terms of skill if you’re having fun; and why inclusivity in gaming can only be a good thing. And it most certainly covers how to behave respectfully towards others in online multiplayer games.

I can’t in good conscience say that the findings of the report above are accurate, but they do show that an awful lot of people have tried to find out how to report others for toxic behaviour over the past year. Whether that’s because they’ve been the subject of hostility themselves or they’re considering making a fake report out of aggression, it doesn’t really matter: what’s important here is that none of us need that kind of negativity in our lives right now.

We’ve been in and out of lockdown for almost nine months in the UK, and our nerves are frayed due to how tired we are with the situation. We’re all looking for ways to pick ourselves back up by bringing positive moments into our lives and for many of us, that involves gaming. Video games should always be a source of entertainment, relaxation, joy and friendship – not an online world someone is afraid to enter because they’re worried about the sort of treatment they’ll find there.

The next time you or your kid pick up the controller for a match, remind them and yourself that it’s within your power to put a smile on the face of someone else online through your behaviour. And if we can all achieve that, then these current times will be a little bit easier for everyone.

We’re taking part in GameBlast21 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)


Off-topic: child-free by choice

For anyone visiting Later Levels today and expecting a new post about video games, please accept my apologies. This one is off-topic and more personal than my usual ramblings. If you’d prefer to read about gaming, please come back on Monday when normal service will resume.

•••

An article appeared on my news feed in mid-July which stood out among all headlines declaring COVID-19 doom. Written by Emma Gannon and published on the Grazia website, I’m Child-Free By Choice – And Not Everyone Accepts That was her account of the reactions towards her decision.

The anecdotes shared in her post sounded all too familiar. In one paragraph, she wrote: “I’ve known from a young age that I don’t see myself having children, at least not as a biological mother. And yet, even in 2020, I have felt pushback from society and acquaintances about this. Comments describing child-free women as ‘selfish’; telling me I’ll ‘have regrets’ and ‘never experience true love’. I’ve even been told, ‘You’ll be miserable when you’re old and grey’.”

Similar things have come my way. Some people are unable to wrap their heads around the fact I don’t want my own children and reactions have ranged from disbelief to mild anger whenever the subject has come up in conversation. We might be told we’re free to be who we want to be and that we can live our lives however we choose, but society as a whole still seems largely unsure what to make of women who don’t feel the need or desire to be mothers.

This is something I’ve known about myself for a long time. I distinctly remember walking home from secondary school one afternoon after a discussion in a Personal & Social Education class and realising that being a mother would never be for me. That feeling has barely wavered in all the 30-plus years since and I don’t expect it to ever change. The only thing that’s different now is that I’ve got a better vocabulary to explain my reasons and a higher probability of being offended when told my choice is wrong.

Trust me, I’ve heard all the counter-arguments before and none of them come as a shock any longer. Apparently, not wanting children and depriving my partner of the joy of them is selfish; one day I’ll wake up and realise I do actually want to be a mother; the reason for me not wanting kids must be because I can’t have them. If I’m to believe what I’ve been told in the past, my life will ultimately feel unfulfilling without children in it and I’ll never know what it’s like to love a child the way a mother does.

It’s that last comment which stung the most because it related to my stepson and was said by two so-called friends who have seen how I behave towards Ethan (I rarely speak to them nowadays for obvious reasons). I’ve always refused to believe you can only develop a bond with a child if you’ve given birth to them. Science has shown that maternal instincts are caused by spikes in oxytocin and anyone – including grandparents, men and adoptive parents – can experience those feelings when they’re around children.

It still surprises me how many people think all stepmothers secretly wish they were the kid’s biological parent though. This isn’t true: I’ve never asked Ethan to call me ‘Mum’ and he has never expressed a desire to do so. I chose to take him into my life and be the best role-model I can be, to teach him all those annoying life skills like how to swim and tie shoelaces, to spend my Saturday mornings going over algebra at the dining-room table. I don’t want to be his mother and I don’t just take on those responsibilities because he popped out of my womb.

That’s not an easy concept for everyone to grasp though. Although things are slowly changing, society on the whole still casts women in the role of the family-orientated carer and many individuals believe you must want children ‘because you’re female and that’s what you do’. When you try to explain to them that you don’t feel this need, they immediately assume there must be something wrong with you either mentally or physically.

For the record: there’s nothing wrong with me (if you ignore the insane amount of ice-cream I’ve eaten during lockdown and my strange love for Eurovision). I’ve simply made the decision to not have my own children, for personal reasons I don’t require anyone else to live by but myself. The world is so overpopulated and messed up that I don’t feel it’s right for me to bring another child into it, and I don’t believe I have to be a mother in order to live my life in a way which is happy and fulfilling.

It doesn’t mean I’m incapable of caring for others. Pete and Ethan have my heart and a family isn’t formed by blood or sharing the same names – it’s a group who choose to love each other, even on the days when it’s a struggle to like each other. And just like other families, I’ve thought about the kind of legacy I’ll be leaving behind after I’m gone. It might not take the form of my own biological children but I can make a mark on the world by supporting the causes I feel passionate about.

wedding, Kim, Pete, Ethan

I’ll continue volunteering and raising awareness for SpecialEffect, showing people the positive effect of video games and helping everyone to play them regardless of their physical ability. I’ll continue encouraging everyone to talk about their mental wellbeing for Mind and take on the responsibilities of being a mental-health first-aider. I’ll continue being the best role-model I can be for my stepson and, if I manage to do all these things, I’ll know that my decision to be child-free by choice was the right one for me.

As Gannon wrote in her article: “If there’s one thing lockdown has given us, it’s the space to confirm a lot of the things we want or don’t want. No path is better or worse – it’s just ours.”

Coming of age: gaming with my stepson

Anyone who regularly visits Later Levels or watches our streams will know my stepson. Ethan’s observations on video games have resulted in several posts, a few of which are my favourites, and he occasionally appears on camera when he decides to come down from his bedroom.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe I first met him not long after he’d turned seven because it feels as though he’s grown up so quickly. He’s no longer the shy kid who always carried a cuddly giraffe toy and a 2DS with him wherever he went; he’s now a teenager who’s starting to find their way in the world. To celebrate his birthday and the person he’s becoming, here’s a selection of the games we’ve bonded over during our time as a family and the memories we’ve made over the years together.

The LEGO Movie Videogame

GEEK, expo, convention, video games, Nintendo DS, Mario Kart, EthanEthan played The LEGO Movie Videogame constantly when I was first introduced to him, so much so that I ended up learning the words to the annoying theme tune off by heart. He used to wake me up early on Saturday mornings while Pete was still sleeping so I could he could teach me about it, and it was during these times he said several enlightening things which inspired a post for an earlier blog. It changed the way I felt about writing and the subjects I wanted to cover, setting the future direction for Later Levels.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

GEEK, expo, convention, video games, Mario, costume, Ethan, cosplayMy young stepkid was slightly shocked to realise that ‘girls play video games’ when he met me and I had to prove my credentials during our first few times together. He ended up loving watching me play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and used to stand behind me, waving his arms about while pretending to be a knight with a sword and shield. One evening Phil came over to my apartment to hang out with us and showed Ethan the bucket trick – and I remember him giggling so hard that he almost wet himself. Good times.

Journey

Rezzed, video games, gaming, expo, EthanJourney taught my stepson that video games don’t always have to be destruction, explosions and a hero who saves the world. After climbing the snowy mountain and reaching the final cutscene, he said: “So I’m the star and the next person playing right now will see me in the sky at the start of their game. That’s cool.” Yet again he came out with something which inspired one of my favourite posts. Even though shared-parenting can still be tough, I think we’re doing ok when it comes to showing Ethan how to use games responsibly.

Minecraft

Bits & Bytes, expo, event, video games, Minecraft, EthanIt’s Phil we have to blame for Ethan’s Minecraft obsession after he gave him a copy as a present. It was lovely to see my stepson become so interested in a game but it brought out a few negative behaviours in him, so it taught Pete and I a lot about responsible parenting and the importance of limiting the amount of playtime. It wasn’t all bad though: Ethan came up with an idea to use Minecraft to raise money for SpecialEffect a few years ago, placing a block of TNT in a tower for every £1 donated and blowing it up on stream.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time


If it’s Phil we must blame for Minecraft-obsession, it’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time we must thank for starting to bring about an end to it. We downloaded the title onto his Wii U as a surprise one weekend and despite us being a little worried that the retro-style may put him off, my stepkid ended up loving it. He forgot about bashing things in a world made of blocks and became more interested in helping the citizens of Hyrule. He even wanted to do a Link cosplay for Comic Con (until we told him he’d have to wear tights).

Fallout 4

Comic Con, London, Pete, Ethan, cosplayers, Bill & TedEthan’s obsession with Minecraft may have been bad but it was nowhere near as huge as his fixation with Fallout 4. He found out about it after catching Pete playing on his laptop one weekend in late 2015 and it’s only now that he’s starting to gradually lose interest. He read every book on the series that he can get his hands on; bought so many Funko Pop! Vinyl figures with his pocket-money; and purchased a Pip Boy we found at the London Gaming Market with his birthday money. His bedroom remains a shrine to the Sole Survivor even now.

Job Simulator

Ethan, Pete, Christmas, PlayStation VRFor Christmas 2018, everyone in the family clubbed together to gift Ethan a PlayStation VR and I’ll never forget the look of excitement on his face when he unwrapped the box. It’s now something we take to family gatherings and everyone gets involved. My stepson’s favourite game back then was Job Simulator thanks to his favourite YouTuber at the time and, although it was great to find a virtual-reality title suitable for his age, it turned out to be one of the most mind-numbing to watch. Everyone now groans whenever he asks to put it on.

Overwatch

Ethan, Spencer, ice-cream, boysWhen my stepson asked us if he could spend his pocket-money on a copy of Overwatch last year, we were very surprised and a little apprehensive because he’d always shown an aversion to any kind of competitive team-play in video games. Our fears were abated though when he told us it was his best friend who’d introduced him to the title. You’ll now find them playing together online every weekend, and it’s Spencer who’s responsible for encouraging Ethan to move on from Fallout 4 so they can have shared interests (including ice-cream).

Dungeons & Dragons

wedding, Kim, Pete, EthanAnother recent surprise for us was when Ethan told us he’d always wanted to try a Dungeons & Dragons game, because it was something we’d never mentioned before. We hired the skills of Kevin from The Lawful Geek to run a trial session for him last month and it went so well: we all made it out of the crypt alive, were able to prevent a town from sinking into a swamp, broke a curse and were transformed into knights. It made my stepson’s day and he asked if it’s something we can do again, so it might become a regular family thing.

It hasn’t always been easy: moving into your teenage years is tough for anyone and living in a shared-parenting situation can sometimes make it even more difficult. But I think we’re doing ok so far and we’re finding our way forward together. It’s been a privilege be a part of my stepkid’s life during the past six years and it’s lovely to see him starting to grow into the person he’s going to become. Hopefully there’ll be many more gaming experiences in our future and I’m sure his comments will continue being the inspiration for blog posts.

Happy birthday, Ethan. Have a good one.

Insomnia65: Over(watch) the Fallout obsession?

Earlier this year, I wrote about my stepson’s obsession with Fallout. He first found out about the series when he caught my other-half playing Fallout 4 on his laptop in 2015 and has been infatuated by Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic world ever since.

In that article I talked about some frustrations that have occurred over the past year as a result of his obsession. He doesn’t understand why nobody else at his school is interested in the franchise and is beginning to believe he doesn’t fit in. On one hand I’m kind of proud that Ethan doesn’t like Fortnite and would prefer to devote his time to a video game that’s detailed, atmospheric and story-rich; but on the other, I get that the preference makes it more difficult for him at this stage in his life.

I said that maybe one day he’ll find something to replace his Fallout infatuation, the same way The Legend of Zelda eventually did with Minecraft, or a friend who shares his interests would come along. Perhaps that time has finally arrived. A game that was free for a weekend on the Xbox One last month and an attraction at Insomnia65 recently could hold the answer. As mentioned on Friday, this gaming event is never going to be the favourite in my calendar but I might now have to show it some appreciation.

On a Saturday when his best friend Spencer came over, Ethan came downstairs to ask if he could download something on his console. We were apprehensive for several reasons when we were told it was Overwatch, the first being whether it was going to be suitable for him in terms of age-rating and multiplayer. We had nothing to worry about however: a quick internet search revealed a PEGI 12 rating and his headset had been having issues so he couldn’t communicate with anyone online.

We told him it was ok to go ahead but still felt wary. You see, my stepson has shown an aversion to any kind of competitive team-play and has been known to get incredibly frustrated when he feels as though he’s not mastering something quickly enough. Star Wars Battlefront went down a treat because he likes Star Wars but he quickly resorted to running around the training maps on his own and making up stories in his head. And Splatoon was fun at first – until he felt the other players were far better and would always win.

We hoped that having Spencer around would mean he wouldn’t show the extent of his frustration but listened out for any raised voices just in case. The boys seemed to have a good time though and when his friend had to go home, Ethan quickly retreated to his bedroom in the way most 12-year olds do. Pete went to visit him a little later to see what he was up to and when he came back down to the kitchen, the look on his face made me think something was horribly wrong.

“You’ll never guess what’s going on up there,” he said. “Ethan is actually good at Overwatch.” I honestly thought he was trying to prank me initially but no: my stepson’s team were winning rounds, he was getting kills and was even awarded Play of the Game a couple of times. Needless to say, my other-half and I were surprised. The kid had never shown much interest in, enjoyment from or – dare I say it – talent for competitive multiplayers before so this was all new to us.

A few weeks after the free trial had ended, that episode had almost been forgotten. We were only reminded of it during the car-journey to Insomnia65 when Ethan told us he’d heard that an Overwatch tournament would begin shortly after we were due to arrive at the NEC and it was the first area he wanted to visit. Pete and I threw a couple of confused sideways glances at each other in the front-seats but told him it sounded like a good plan – this day out was all about him, after all.

He surprised us once again by absolutely loving it. By the end of the tournament he was cheering on the teams and even commentating on their actions, telling us what he thought their strategies were. We on the other-hand could barely keep up with what was happening onscreen; the gameplay was too fast and bright, and the fact it kept switching between each characters’ perspective made it difficult to follow what was going on. Maybe that’s a sign I’m getting on a bit.

Ethan, Spencer, ice-cream, boys

The following day, Ethan asked if he could spend his pocket-money on the full version of Overwatch and he happily spent the morning playing until it was time to take him back to his mum and stepdad. On the way there we asked him how he’d found out about the game and why he’d wanted to try it originally, and we received probably the best answer possible: Spencer. It was something his friend had introduced him to and he’d only given it a go because he’d been asked to. But then he realised it was something he actually enjoyed.

So maybe now Ethan has found a friend who shares the same interests, and is ready to leave his Fallout obsession behind. I’m pleased for him. I’m also a little relieved too; moving on from the franchise is going to be good for all of us.

Insomnia65: a round-up

I‘ve been going to the Insomnia Gaming Festival since 2017 and have never an entirely positive experience at the event. Insomnia61 felt like nothing more than a merch-fest, with YouTubers’ branded items being constantly pushed to an audience of mainly under-tens. And there wasn’t a lot to do at Insomnia63 if you weren’t interested in playing Fortnite.

We drew the line at going to Insomnia64 in April after seeing the organiser’s line-up announcement: all of the special guests were 20-something males and predominantly white British. For an event which promotes itself as ‘diverse and community-led’ and ‘containing content that is relevant to gamers, millennials and fans of popular culture’, this seemed remarkably shortsighted. What a way to enforce the incorrect idea that gaming is a male-dominated community and you have to conform to make it big in the industry.

So why did my other-half and I bother to make the trip to Birmingham for Insomnia65 last month? The main reason why we do anything video-game-related that we’re not completely enthusiastic about: Ethan. My 12-year old stepson loves the event and we wanted to do something to surprise him. As the school summer-holidays this year hadn’t been a great time for him, we wanted to do something to cheer up our kid and knew he’d be excited when we revealed what we’d be doing the following day.

That’s how we found ourselves on the road at an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning. I’m sure Ethan spent most of three-hour journey chanting ‘Insomnia, Insomnia, Insomnia’ in between naps in the back of the car. An Overwatch tournament had just started by the time we arrived so after a quick stop by the SpecialEffect to say hello and a visit to the café for a round of tea, we made our way to the eSports area. Pete and I were surprised at just how much my stepson got into it – come back on Monday for more about that.

Next we headed to the indie section where there were some very family-friendly titles and much to catch Ethan’s eye. He picked two as his favourites of the day. The first was RPG Pandora: Chains of Chaos by Party Llama Games because of its art-style and the fact your mount was a pig. Then there was puzzle-platformer Bubbles the Cat by Team Cats & Bears which was surprisingly addictive. The kid did his best to convince developer Johnny Wallbank to employ him as a voice-actor with meows throughout the demo (I’m so proud).

With a trip to the Insomnia merchandise stand, a ride on a jet simulator courtesy, a stop by the Just Dance tournament (not as participants thankfully) and a few more cups of tea, that was our Insomnia65 experience done. And I have to admit that both my other-half and I were pleasantly surprised. The organisers seemed to have paid much more attention to the atmosphere of the event this time and it felt different, not so ‘promotional’ and more enjoyable.

I think this had something to do with its new layout. It had felt somewhat haphazard during our previous visits but now seemed more organised, with similar attractions placed in adjacent sections which certainly helped with the flow of the crowd. There was also the fact that there appeared to be less focus on YouTubers this time. Instead of huge meet-and-greet areas where special guests plugged their tacky merchandise at every opportunity, this was much reduced and the number of people in the queues was far fewer.

Saying that though, Insomnia still has a very long way to go before its crowned top event in my calendar. They really do need to do something about its lack of diversity; having mainly white males YouTubers and female cosplayers just enforce horrible gender stereotypes. I’ve been told in the past that it’s much more fun if you do the whole BYOC thing and spend the weekend playing video games, so it’s something Pete and I are now seriously considering doing. Four-days of The Elder Scrolls Online? Yes please.

Did you go to Insomnia65? If so, what did you think and what was your highlight? Check out our gallery below to see what we got up to.

Insomnia65 photo gallery

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