I’ve written a couple of times here about being a grumpy old man who’s on the wrong end of the gaming demographic, usually with a healthy dose of cynical bitterness and wistful nostalgia.
Frequently I’ve spoken about how games were back in the “good old days”, stroking my beard and wobbling on my cane as I lower myself shakily into an old armchair. The points I’ve made before aren’t exactly wrong – I’d still stand by them – but recently I’ve been considering that perhaps the biggest change to how I experience gaming hasn’t been in the games themselves – it’s been in me.
I’m a little too busy being an adult
Remember when parents told you that school and University are the best times of your life? Remember how when they said it their eyes would turn glassy and a single tear would form in their left eye? Turns out they were speaking with the voice of bitter regret and irreconcilable longing. Adulthood comes with perks like no bedtime, ice-cream for breakfast and high-speed internet, but unfortunately hitching a ride with those delights are soul-crushing burdens like waking up for work before sunrise and spending most of your money on surviving.
A lot of fun in games today are hidden behind a grind-wall of hours and hours of gaming that works to keep you playing towards some or other benchmark that will eventually unlock what you actually wanted to be doing in the first place. How many times have you heard someone say, “Diablo III only really starts at level 70,” or “League of Legends kind of sucks until you have all the runes and masteries unlocked”?
This is great if you skip all your varsity lectures and spend 10 hours gaming every day, with your meals and disposable income taken care of by the beings that spawned you (only to be consistently disappointed by you).
That used to be me – one of my favourite games growing up was Diablo II, and my friends and I would spend hours every afternoon grinding levels and searching for loot. This is what kids my age called “fun” before the golden age of internet pornography.
Things are different now. I no longer want to have to work my way to third base with a video game – I’m looking for fourth on the first date. When you only have an hour or two for gaming in a day, you want that hour to be meaningful. Hell, if I wanted to have an hour of entertainment stretched into ten I’d just watch The Hobbit trilogy. What a lot of this comes down to is…
I don’t want the same things I used to
If I’m honest with myself, for a game to grab my attention today it needs to have one of two things – strategic complexity or an engrossing story. Disposable action is just something I’ve outgrown – like Pokémon or FHM.
When the new Doom was announced, I was excited. Doom is one of my fondest gaming memories, and a game I often like to hold aloft as the poster child for the so-called golden era. But when I remember Doom, I’m doing it through an eight-year-old’s eyes. An eight-year-old who was scared as hell, and thrilled by every second of exploring dark corridors and chainsawing a two-legged pigface.
Twenty-eight year old me isn’t. The newest Doom has the same approach to gameplay as the original, and as excited as I was to hear the name, I haven’t bought the game. I’m left with the uncomfortable acknowledgement that it’s just not really what I want to be playing anymore. So where do I turn? Well, this brings me to the next problem:
Projects that excite me have been sidelined
Game development, to a large extent, has left me behind. If I’m after complex strategy and deep storylines, I’m not going to find it in Call of Duty and Destiny.
Consoles continue to drive game development, which promotes more arcade-style gameplay and completely sidelines genres such as RTS. The complexity or difficulty is more often than not embedded in the gameplay, rather than the context. After all you don’t need to be that smart to know where to aim the pointy end of your sword, but you do need to be pretty good at avoiding severe head trauma.
As much as gaming statistics constantly show the higher age brackets as being well represented in gaming, that’s not where studios are pitching their games. Blockbusters like Call of Duty tend to make their big bucks off people sitting somewhere between the 12 – 25 age range.
There is hope, however, in the indie market. Some of my stand-out gaming experiences from the last few years have been games like Firewatch and The Stanley Parable, which play more like interactive movies than they do games. As much as Doom doesn’t excite me like it used to, if Half-Life 3 was announced tomorrow I’d probably have to invest in adult diapers. As a story-driven game it fascinates me as much now as it did when I was 10 years old.
The trouble is these games are hard to find unless you go looking for them, or, as is usually the case for me, they happen to generate a lot of buzz. This isn’t an angry old man rant either – innovative, story-driven games don’t often sell all that well. The games I don’t care to play are the games that the kids will be spending all their pocket money on – they can afford to.
If I buy a game it’s knowing that I’m spending money that I could be saving, using on the house, paying off debts with etc. As an adult every cent you spend has an opportunity cost attached to it, in a way it doesn’t when you’re young and money isn’t something you really need to worry about all that much. Running out of money when I was 20 meant eating dining hall food and drinking cheap wine for a week. Running out of money when I’m 28 means finding a nice sturdy piece of cardboard to write a funny joke on.
So what do I plan on doing about it? Well…
I’m too lazy to do anything about it
The sum total of how I plan to make gaming about me again is this column you’re reading now. I’m not really talking about it this week because I want to change it – I just think it’s an interesting topic for discussion.
I don’t spend a ton of money on gaming anymore, and I don’t expect publishers and developers to cater to me. I don’t have time to complain on the internet or create a new hashtag or bombard social media – I’m using that time to play the games I actually do like. The loudest voices are the ones executives hear, and the loudest voices want Call of Duty, not Evolve.
I’ve recently become mildly obsessed with hobby boardgaming, and I’ve noticed that the age demographic skews far higher than it does for videogames. I seldom see anyone at boardgame meetups under the age of 21, and those that are are usually young kids brought by their parents.
I’ve begun to wonder if a lot of us are refugees cast out from the videogame world, who prioritise social engagement, strategy and puzzle-solving over Transformers movies and gunning down zombies by the truckload. That sounds like something someone would say while adjusting their fedora and drinking green tea, but it’s not intended to. I don’t think my tastes are “better” or more evolved, they’re just different.
I don’t have the time or even the inclination to fight for videogames. There are enough games out there that still appeal to me, and these days I’m just far more selective. In between, I spend my time on other things instead. So even though I have been left behind, I don’t really find myself missing the herd all that much.