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.

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