Too Young To Be This Old

Those who say that fear is the mind killer are wrong my friends. It's age. Age, which is relentless as a foul tempered badger and more tenacious than Elliot Ness holding an envelope of bank receipts with 'Money Al Capone Laundered' written in the margins. Age which makes the language of young people, apparently cobbled together from JayZ, reality TV and marathon sessions of huffing aerosol cans, seem like a puzzle of poorly phrased phonemes missing all the edge pieces. Age which cripples my already inconsiderable dexterity, and age which makes me vaguely excited that Matchbox Twenty has new songs coming out and completely incapable of flying a Warhawk.

I realize that my description of aging might suggest that I'm some kind of infirmed septuagenarian with bad taste and mild dementia, but subtle evidence suggests that the wiring between my brain and hands apparently now bears some comparison to corroded spark plugs on an early seventies Dodge Dart. When playing Warhawk and games of its ilk I'm increasingly surprised no one's put me on blocks in front of some ramshackle Appalachian home with a poorly written For Sale By Owner tag permanently duct-taped to my nose.

The problem may be that I'm very set in my ways, and the introduction of the motion steering component of a game like Warhawk manages to finally flummox my already questionable hand-eye coordination. It's taken me three decades to hardwire my neurons into believing that pushing forward on a tiny nub of plastic under my thumb should equate into a digital nose dive on my television, and the hubris of a developer asking me to scrap that concept and instead tilt my entire controller forward so that now my thumb can target foes during black-out inducing high-g maneuvers is staggering. While trying to force my motor controls into the paradigm of this new piloting, I imagine my brain in revolution wandering the confines of my skull carrying a picket sign reading "Down With Tilt Controls!"

I would suggest that perhaps it's less a problem with myself and more a problem with poor control design were I reasonably competent at any console game requiring fine motor control of the thumb stick. I watch people wander the streets these days thumbing their cell phones in rapid-fire text sessions, and I wonder what evolutionary leap of dexterity our opposable thumbs have undergone in the thirty-four years since I was shoved unceremoniously into this world. I can barely text message a misspelled greeting to my wife under the five minute mark, and by the end I feel exhausted and inferior, so I fail to see how I can expect to match thumb-based combat with these people. I end up feeling as though the fluid lubricating my Carpometacarpal Joint must be a substance not unlike Elmer's Glue.

So, is it true? Are gamers at a disadvantage as they age?

The answer is probably a conciliatory yes followed by an emphatic no, because the question lacks a crucial component. While it does seem to be true that gaming skill degrades with age, the assumption is that the problem is physiological, as though the trigger-twitching impulses firing between neurons are somehow distracted in the no-mans-land between synapses, perhaps by thoughts of paying the mortgage or illicit pictures of Vanessa Hudgens. There's probably little doubt that eventually motor reflexes degrade, and I only wish that I could play Halo 3 against a 75 year-old version of myself, because I'm certain I'd thoroughly kick my own ass up and down the street, but most of us long-term gamers are in our thirties and forties, so I doubt that the problem is entirely physical.

Honestly, we probably just don't have the time or desire anymore to indulge in regular eight hour sessions of Gears of War, and if we tried we'd likely find our time the following week taken up by divorce proceedings and custody battles. The fact that I'm at an immediate disadvantage when playing a new game against a foe ten years my junior despite our both having just picked up the title might be as much because he just plays more games for longer in general than I do anymore, and while I may harbor some small kernel of jade-colored jealousy, I probably won't have much time to think on the point as invariably my toddler will appear and insist he can't sleep until I get him one more glass of water.

And, besides, where else in the world is a thirty-four year-old man held to competitive standards against sixteen year-olds. Let me disabuse you all of any assumption but that a physically fit teenager would beat me in a test of any other kind of physical endurance like Oscar De La Hoya in a title match against Stephen Hawking, so why in the world do I try to compare and compete against them in the virtual arena? Were there some option within Xbox Live or other such matchmaking systems to set my social setting permanently to some kind of Codger Mode where thritysomethings slowly tried to manage weapon radial menus while crashing virtual machines of the future into virtual mountains of the future, then I'd be all over it.

I suppose I'm being a little bit starry-eyed here about the supposed superiority of youth, and I imagine when I'm fifty I'll look back on this article and think I'm exemplifying the typical self-absorbed belly-aching characterized by most mid-thirty kids. But, that guy better watch out because if they do invent a time machine, I'm coming forward in the future to totally kick his ass at Halo 7.

Comments

#1: Fear is the mind killer - death to the heretic!

#2: It's spelled "Jay-Z", you oldster!

(31 years old and feeling the rheumatism kicking up myself)

Ok, so I guess you guys aren't buying my theory. Fair enough; it came to mind, so I decided to throw it out there and see what reactions it would get. Just to clarify, I was specifically thinking of twitch-oriented games, mainly FPSes and other action titles. RTSes require a different skill set, and they change the analysis quite a bit.

While I'm aware of the Wing Commander, Mechwarrior, and franchises of their ilk (I even played some of them too), the point I was trying to make was, people who are now in their 30s and up weren't playing those games when they were in elementary school. By the time those games came out, they had already built up expectations about how one is supposed to play a game, expectations that can restrict one's ability to adapt to new game mechanics. Consequently, they might not do as well with those games as some kid who is open to experimenting and finding the optimal strategy, as opposed to relying on what worked in the past. Of course, experience is often a boon, but it can also prejudice us against exploring potentially better playing styles.

Let me try a slightly different theory: If you master the skills for a particular genre at a young age, you will generally outperform someone who masters those skills at an older age. Thus, since this generation's gamers have been playing (for example) FPSes practically since they learned how to trash talk, they'll generally do better than someone who was first exposed to the FPS genre as a teenager or older. Anyone buying this? If not, I can go back to my snake oil vendor and find some other theories to sell you...

I'd suggest you find the guy who sold you the first one and beat him with a sock full of oranges first.

I think the "expectations" thing is also a dead end. For one thing, if youth and that biological ability to adapt was the factor, that would be over at about age 5. That's when that super-learning thing caused by the initial development of the brain is pretty much over. So I guess if you're going to be using that as your model, then we all better never play Dora the Explorer because they're always going to kick our ass. And those elementary school kids are in the same boat as us when it comes to that adaptation thing, biologically speaking. The tweeners/smackmonkeys are definately so.

And my examples are NOT RTS's; they're action/adventure/sims. If I wanted to go there I'd have used Mechcommander and Civilization and Starcraft. This is on purpose. I chose my examples because of the parallels between stomping around the landscape in a Mech and dealing discipline and rollin' in my Warthog and dealing discipline. The physical targeting and spatial awareness skills are on a similar plane.

And if that "relying on the past" thing was how I actually played games, then maybe I'd buy this new one. If I played ONLY FPS, I might give that a second thought. But I don't. I'm the one in my house that the kids come and ask to figure out how to do things in the games. I'm the one that does the experimentation and figures out the new mechanics and teaches them. But they still kick my butt if I don't have as much time in on the game as they do.

This is not just a function of chronology, but also of priority. If it's not something that I am extremely motivated to play the odds are I'm not going to invest that needed time. And to be honest, once I got the story unlocked in Halo/Halo2 I didn't have that motivation until I got in with the Zombie Skate group in this forum.

My penchant for playing many different genres may be a factor here. Today I played a DS game called "Drawn to Life", a PC game called "Sam and Max Episode 4", and a fighting game called "Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles 2" on the PS2. Not more than a few minutes of each, but I'll get in some more Sam and Max or maybe Blue Dragon when I get home from work. And I'm not exactly alone. I know many people who play this way. You don't have to take my word for it. Look at the threads that talk about various games and you'll notice familiar faces in all of them. And if you cross-reference with this thread they're all reporting the same problems as the guys who seem to only play Gears of War and Halo.

That said, the plural of anecdote is not data. I recognize that. And the solidarity of the response might have something to do with the way this group self-selects for people who have limited time to play and the most constraints on that time that must be prioritized over gaming (families, jobs, etc). If you brought this topic up on the IGN or Penny Arcade forums or RedvsBlue you might get some different responses.

There is probably a group of factors here, weighted via a complex set of interactions between the person and their environment both growing up and now.

I'll echo previous comments posted here: I really do not think that age has anything to do with your gaming performance "slowing down", rather as we get older we just do not have the time to devote to improve our skills at a game. I love video games; always have, always will, but they do not rule my life. I have a job, an apartment to maintain, and commitments outside of all that which results in most days me leaving at 8am and not getting back home until 9-10pm at night. I would love to spend more time gaming, but like many others here I know there are other commitments that have to come first. As a result, I do not have the time to sit down and learn where every weapon is located on every map in Gears, or learn the tricks and subtle nuances of an RTS game so I can become better than the competition. I only have a small amount of time to play games these days and I play for enjoyment, not to learn tips, tricks, and hacks so I can dominate some unknown 13 year old squeaker on XBOX live.

Ok, I'll admit that I'm totally in agreement that older people devote less time to playing games (or one particular genre of games) than younger people. I know that's why I'm better at FPSs than the other genres; I simply play FPSs more often, because I can get in and get out of them fairly quickly. I still think the age at which one begins playing games is a factor, but it probably is less influential than the amount of time one regularly spends playing games.

And momgamer, technically, you refuted my ramblings, but not the theory I stated at the end, so is it possible there's some truth in it after all? Please? I'm trying so hard to pretend that I'm a psychology major; give me this one point.

I'm 33 and don't feel like I'm slowing down yet. Still getting Silent Assassin ratings on every level in Hitman, still getting the occasional gold star playing BF2142 even though I only go a couple of hours once a week.

rabbit wrote:

This post has been up over four hours and nobody's made a joke at my expense?

I'm shocked.

But he didn't mention the Japanese at all!

Being 32, with a couple of no mortgage paying kids in the house, I've had time to reflect on this topic a bit. There are many very good points being brought-up here. I agree with the previous mention of time and desire.

My ego took a hit when I walked into Halo 2 online about six months after it was released. I was feeling pretty good about myself after finishing the game and thought to flex my dual-wielding muscle with the H2 Live Crew. I quickly had my a** waxed several times by some ten year old bouncing around with a sword swearing all the way into my headset. I then realized that I was getting-in game play between two and four am (my shift) while bottle feeding my son.

I made a comeback with another online game that I had time to take seriously. Lack of sleep, time and that fregging FFXI soundtrack repeating itself in my head had a lot to do with my Halo experience. I'm not ready to admit that my age and reaction times are to blame. There's still plenty of Mt. Dew in my fridge.

7inchsplit wrote:
araczynski wrote:

i'm 34 as well, perhaps due to the fact that i don't do any multiplayer

Multiplayer is a fountain of youth!

don't know about that, but its definitely a fountain of wannabe's and miscreants

Desram wrote:

Too old? That's a bunch of crazy. Ely is vicious at HLDM Night. Vicious.

Well, yeah. Most rocket whores are. Ba-zing!

I will note that when everyone jumped onto DM Monday night when the TF2 beta didn't come out, we weren't on Lockdown for more than a minute before Ely had the rocket launcher. Who bothers to get the f'ing rocket launcher on Lockdown?

Actually I killed someone else and took his rocket launcher. He wasn't using it right.

You win this round.

wordsmythe wrote:

Now I leave you with evidence of how scary my present existence is: lines from a song I enjoy singing far too much.

And the white line's getting longer,
and the saddle's getting cold...

I thought of the exact same line when I saw the thread title.

Wasn't Xbox Live Trueskill supposed to save us from the savaging attacks of those half our age with four times the amount of practice? That's what I feel it eventually comes down to, people spending massive amounts of time in a single game that I only tend to have the freedom to dip my toes into from time to time. It's extremely frustrating knowing how good you can be at a given game (based on your performance in other games) only to be utterly destroyed by someone that has dediated every waking moment to master the controls/maps/weapons/ and glitches of a given game.

That's one of the reasons I don't envision playing much non-cooperative multiplayer Halo3. It's just not fun losing all the time, and having 5-6 other games competing for my multiplayer time makes me not want to come back to it. Thus, I end up finding myself in the middle to lower end of the bell curve of any game that doesn't allow for using their brain as opposed to the mathematically calculated optimal weapons combination on any given map in order to even stay alive for longer than 10 seconds.

I guess that's the price I pay for attempting to keep up with all major game releases on most of the systems; jack of all games, master of none.

Johnvanjim wrote:

That's one of the reasons I don't envision playing much non-cooperative multiplayer Halo3. It's just not fun losing all the time, and having 5-6 other games competing for my multiplayer time makes me not want to come back to it. Thus, I end up finding myself in the middle to lower end of the bell curve of any game that doesn't allow for using their brain as opposed to the mathematically calculated optimal weapons combination on any given map in order to even stay alive for longer than 10 seconds.

Has nobody informed this man of our private matches?

You speak sooth, smythe.

Johnvanjim, you should join the Goodjer gang at Zombie Skateapocalypse. Every Thursday night the gang bands together, regardless of skill level, and has fun in online Halo with a bunch of custom game types and some people who may engage in tomfoolery, but never asshatery. zeroKFE also started us a group on Bungie here.

Yeah, the asshattery is in Gears n' Beers.

Oh how i wish i had a 360, lived in the US and owned a copy of Halo 2/3 so i could join you... but frankly you'd hate me for my skill.... and lag.

Duoae wrote:

Oh how i wish i had a 360, lived in the US and owned a copy of Halo 2/3 so i could join you... but frankly you'd hate me for my skill.... and lag.

Shouldn't you be trying to differentiate yourself from 1Dgaf anyway?

wordsmythe wrote:

Shouldn't you be trying to differentiate yourself from 1Dgaf anyway?

He's a good-natured Mii and i'm a crotchey ancient alien... I need to be more different?

momgamer wrote:

You speak sooth, smythe.

Johnvanjim, you should join the Goodjer gang at Zombie Skateapocalypse. Every Thursday night the gang bands together, regardless of skill level, and has fun in online Halo with a bunch of custom game types and some people who may engage in tomfoolery, but never asshatery. zeroKFE also started us a group on Bungie here.

Actually I do try and join in on any and all GWJ events possible, (TF2 being the great time-eater of the moment) but my free time tends to come at unscheduled times thus leaving me to choose between Xbox live and/or some offline component of a game. In recent days, I tend to lean towards the latter, assuming I don't have a friends match I can join.

It's more of a general statement to the quality (or lack thereof) of non-community oriented online gaming. Also, the "lack of practice" argument is the real issue at work here, and one reason why i don't play Gears of War anymore. I like playing, but don't play enough to keep up with those who spend every Friday night chainsawing anything that moves. It's still fun, but less so when you're spending the first 30 minutes just remembering all the intricacies of a given control structure.

Duoae wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Shouldn't you be trying to differentiate yourself from 1Dgaf anyway?

He's a good-natured Mii and i'm a crotchey ancient alien... I need to be more different?

Yes. I suggest growing your bangs out and wearing eyeliner. It'll make you different! Otherwise, you're just another good-natured Brit who sounds smarter than us.

wordsmythe wrote:

Yes. I suggest growing your bangs out and wearing eyeliner. It'll make you different! Otherwise, you're just another good-natured Brit who is smarter than us. :D

You know i'm balding right? You just gravely insulted me.....

*Slaps Wordsmythe in the face with his leather riding glove*

You sir, are challenged to a duel!

[edit]You just made me picture search for what bangs looked like

Duoae wrote:

You just made me picture search for what bangs looked like :)

Man, I can only imagine what a picture search for "Bangs" must have returned..:shock:

I think balding emo is probably going to be the next big trend. I say go for it, and start hanging out in Kent.

Johnvanjim wrote:
Duoae wrote:

You just made me picture search for what bangs looked like :)

Man, I can only imagine what a picture search for "Bangs" must have returned..:shock:

William Hung?

Or a lot of bad bishie anime pinups.

Johnvanjim wrote:
Duoae wrote:

You just made me picture search for what bangs looked like :)

Man, I can only imagine what a picture search for "Bangs" must have returned..:shock:

Models mostly. I have safe search off and all the results are perfectly within normal parameters.

wordsmythe wrote:

I think balding emo is probably going to be the next big trend. I say go for it, and start hanging out in Kent.

Yeah, see, i'm more of a natural emo - don't need no dye or "stylings". That's for all the wannabes.

Duoae, the original mope-ster.

He's been sulking since before it was cool!

wordsmythe wrote:

Duoae, the original mope-ster.

He's been sulking since before it was cool!

It's true. I've been moderately depressed since i was 13 or so.

Duoae wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Duoae, the original mope-ster.

He's been sulking since before it was cool!

It's true. I've been moderately depressed since i was 13 or so. :)

Nice that you're conservative that way. I've been moderately awesome since I was born.