As much as I hate to admit it, I’m getting old. My knees and back remind me every day. I can’t run like I used to, can’t eat the foods I used to pig out on with abandon… and most of all, I can’t stay up until 4 or 5 A.M. playing shooters online and then hope to be any kind of functioning human being before noon.
“Wait”, I hear someone who knows me from my ‘real’ life say.
“You play shooters online? Aren’t you a little old for that?”
I’ve heard this type of rhetoric a bunch in my now three solid decades of videogaming. Starting back in the digital Stone Age, when I wanted a Super Nintendo and was met with “that’s for little kids” from my parents. Progressing through the 32-bit and 64-bit eras, when I had to hide the contraband consoles and carts I had purchased secretly through saving up household chore money and various tips I received for odd jobs around my neighborhood. Continuing past high school, college and into adulthood proper, where still not a week goes by without someone commenting on my age and what it must have to do with my favorite hobby.
Yes, I’m getting older. If this were the Middle Ages, I’d be elderly.
But it’s not; it’s 2021, gamers are sticking around long past adolescence, and every creaky bone in my body is certain that I will never ‘grow out’ of gaming. Here’s why:
It Keeps Getting Better
Those of us who have been around since the beginnings of the home videogame invasion of the ‘80s can attest to two facts about those early blockbusters: 1.) they were (and are) great, and 2.) the graphics and sound sucked.
We look back with rose-tinted nostalgia now, but good Lord, did we give games a lot of leeway back then – and we had to, because technology took a while to even begin to catch up with our imaginations. In retrospect, this was probably incredibly helpful to the game industry’s growth in later years, as the innovation born out of necessity propelled game developers forward as they endeavored to craft better and better representations of our heroes, villains and quests. Working with what they had at their disposal and building upon each earlier foundation brought us from a few beeps and boops and simple sprites to the orchestral scores and near photo-realism of today’s offerings.
Why in the world would anyone who has borne witness to such an astoundingly rapid evolution suddenly pack up the joysticks and call it a day? Undoubtedly, some people do – life and other commitments take precedence as one gets older, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t. But as someone who remembers the first time I stomped on a Goomba, faced the Umbrella Corporation’s creatures, defended Reach and hurled the Leviathan Axe when those experiences were all new to the world, I personally would like to stay on this ride for as long as I can.
Connection Through Competition
Take it from me, young’uns; life just isn’t the same after your twenties. You get more serious about your work, maybe get married, maybe have a kid or a dog or something else that needs feeding and attention, and suddenly your world becomes a lot more laser focused. Gone are the carefree days of having nothing to do and no one to answer to – the vast majority of people in the modern world have their lives pretty rigorously scheduled out for them by the time the candles are blown out on their 30th birthday cake.
Again, I’m not saying that these shifts in scheduling and priorities are intrinsically ‘bad’ in any way – in fact, I think they’re healthy and natural. But what it can and often does mean for a large number of people is that, as we grow past young adulthood and into full-on, serious-job-and-maybe-kids adulthood, we frequently lose our connections to activities and people that used to be a part of our life’s enjoyment.
For gamers, however, there is a way to reconnect as close as our nearest console or PC – and as someone who has had many of the same people on my Steam, Xbox and Playstation friends’ lists for more than 15 years now, I couldn’t be more thankful to gaming for allowing me a way to keep in touch with people I value, but whom I just would not normally have had the time to ever go and see in-person or even talk to on the phone during ‘normal’ hours. The fact that we can all get online at 2 A.M. in our pajamas from our respective homes all across the country and the world to play some Halo or Counter Strike or whatever is a gift that keeps on giving, and one I hope I never take for granted.
When Life’s a Grind, Grind Back
Forget just ‘old’ gamers; something that the craziness and uncertainty brought on by our world’s situation this past year and change has reminded ALL gamers of is just how helpful having something clearly definable to fight against can be. As we’ve all been locked away from our regular ways of living and working, gaming has been there as not only entertainment, but also a crucial form of tension relief.
These benefits don’t only apply to years in which the world’s turned upside down, however. For adult gamers juggling work, home life, bills and responsibilities, games offer achievable goals in shorter time frames than, say, getting out from under your student debt bills. Have a jerky boss at work you can’t yet escape from? While you’re looking for alternate employment by day, imagine his face on every alien you slay by night.
Far from simply serving as a ‘distraction’, gaming can instead be a way to process, reflect on and refresh our perspectives towards our ‘real lives’. While it certainly can be abused, in moderation and in balance with everything else in life I think more ‘elderly gaming’ would make the world a calmer, happier place, and I intend to do my part to make it so.
Get Off My Lawn, n00bs
I will never be an eSports pro. A cursory glance at my KDA in any of the competitive titles I dabble in when my schedule allows proves that, but I’ve known it regardless for several years. The truth is, hand-eye coordination starts to go once you’re out of G-Fuel’s target demographic, and there are 15-year-olds out there who can headshot me before I realize the match has started.
I’m OK with that, because for me, gaming’s not just about being the best of the best all the time – I have real life to compete in. I have a mortgage to headshot every month.
For me, gaming’s about having the opportunity to live in other worlds for a few hours here and there; to explore places I’ve never been, or could never go. Gaming is about blowing off the steam that’s been bubbling up all day on Steam, or talking to a friend from high school who I haven’t seen physically since high school ended. It’s not about ignoring my life – it’s about adding to it, and I don’t think that should come with an expiration date. So yes, I’m old. Yes, I play games. And no, I’m not stopping anytime soon.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw