It's a Young Man's Game

Music wafts through the room. My Zune Software is on randomize, and every 4 minutes delivers a buffet of eclectic harmonies. The high schoolers milling about my tutoring room could use some auditory stimulation to lift them from the doldrums of classwork. Those that are unfortunate enough to lack iPods are at the mercy of my playlist.

The adolescent at the desk across from me hardly notices. Dressed in black, hair smartly moussed into place, he's too concerned with the essay sitting in front of him. His attention wavers as I propose that the meager 200 words used to describe his academic hardships aren't making full use of the 700 word limit that his college of choice has allotted. The furrowed brow suggests that he believes it's good enough. As we try to find a fertile place to cultivate some valuable Me-Voice, the computer clicks to the next track.

A dozen notes play through tinny speakers. The young man's face changes. Determination melts away, revealing a sudden snap of curious attention. “Ocarina of Time?” he asks hesitantly. “Good ear,” comes the response. I whistle along to the music, an impromptu concert of geek cred, and we spend a moment chatting about the game. He recalls it was one of the first games he purchased for the N64. A thought flashes through my head as I quickly crunch some numbers. "Wait a minute. Exactly how old were you when you bought the game?"

Another kid steps in before I get an answer. Across the room sits a boy with a Sonic the Hedgehog shirt, something that looks like it escaped a hamper from roughly 1992. It's an ivory white, with irregular neon-yellow shapes, and a hedgehog that is a few measures too cool for his own good. It's a stark contrast to his owner, whose curly hair puffs out in a tangle of disorder. The boy's been chipping away at a geometry project for the past two hours. Head cocked, eyes incredulously narrowed, he asks, “You Game, mister?”

I hold back the urge grunt dismissively, pausing instead to consider my options. Do I tell him that I was there when Solid Snake first set foot on Shadow Moses Island? Do I describe the joy of first playing Super Mario World at a Toys 'R Us? Would he understand the significance of approaching a greasy Street Fighter II machine in sepia tinted 1993? I feel the need to inundate him with the lifelong minutia of gaming that coats the folds of my brain. To perhaps shame him into realizing that I possess not only memories, but actual physical carts older than his own meager lifespan.

I play it cool.

“Oh, yeah.” As if it were the most natural thing in the world. Sonic Shirt raises a curious eyebrow. “So what do you play?” he challenges, voice cracking ever so slightly as a flush of red coats his face. I've proven my mettle to the first lad through my warbling rendition of the Song of Storms, but I have yet to stumble upon the secret handshake that convinces the other that I know what the hell I'm talking about. The curious lad's just encountered his personal equivalent of watching Bigfoot walk into a mall to try on some Khaki's. It's utterly fantastical.

I can't say I blame him. Two months ago I was stopped dead in my tracks by Guitar Hero II's familiar gem-laden fretboard projected inside of a classroom. “The game ... it's yours?” I asked the teacher, a woman scarcely 3 years my elder. Just last week, when two other coworkers mentioned they had Wii's, I was doubly astonished by the console's infectious popularity and by their possession of game machines. They were older than me. They were professionals, grown-ups with real jobs. They were teachers! And they played video games.

Golly!

The irony of the situation was not lost on me. Obviously, the same short circuits of thought raced through Sonic Shirt's head. If our mutual suspicions revealed anything about the hobby, it's that it is still regarded as the domain of the young. Nevermind that the burgeoning professionals of today grew up in the cultural shadow of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Forget that they were the guttersnipes that helped fuel the late arcade culture that saw coin-op machines installed in movie theatres, convenience stores and all manner of shops in between. Excuse also the fact that there were consoles that predated our current crop (consoles that ran on the fictitious souls of past gamermarchen). All this is apocryphal, the musings of deranged conspiracy theorists bent on reshaping the natural order of things. After all, the only gamers he's seen in the wild are, oddly enough, kids his own age.

His lingering doubt was a sober reminder that, in gamer-years, I qualify for assisted-living benefits, retirement, and a shiny monogrammed pocketwatch. It's the teens, tweens and kids of today that stake a claim on the gaming hobby. They're the ones that hold it as their own, as I did during my own childhood. Maybe that's why it feels as though the hobby lacks a certain sense of scope, an inability to look back further than a generation.

***

The boy with the Sonic shirt gathers his papers, getting ready to leave. His friends have come by just in time. They stand just outside my door, DSes in hand. I catch a mention of Pokemon. Kids still play that?

“It's pretty cool that you still play, mister. I mean, I would have thought that you people give it up when you get to college or whatever. Like, you know, outgrow it or something.” I ask him to think if he'd ever just outgrow the habit. He ponders it for a second, and soonafter a grin shakes across his face.

“Nah. Not ever.”

Turns out we're a lot alike. At the very least, he's resisted the fashion-pressure to wear tight girl-pants. That earns some respect in my book. I can't resist throwing a jab his way, though: “You know, the last time Sonic had a good game, you were probably in diapers.”

“Oh. I haven't really played any Sonic games. I just watch the anime.” And with that he disappears, leaving me an empty room, some half-forgotten tunes, and the gimble and gyre of this crazy world.

Comments

Very nice article.

After all, the only gamers he's seen in the wild are, oddly enough, kids his own age.

I don't have this same bias against older gamers. I think a large part of that is because most of my earliest video game memories are of me sitting next to the computer, watching my dad play. For me, it's always been something adults do.

Beautifully written. I look forward to the day when video games are taken for as fodder for the masses as much as music and movies are.

Great article. Unfortunately, I've seen this from the other side of the coin too much lately; all my friends think it's "cute" or silly that I still game, as they've all given it up for the most part (age range around 27-32).

At the very least, he's resisted the fashion-pressure to wear tight girl-pants. That earns some respect in my book.

As an aside, this really needs to die. In the record label at which I work (about 100 employees), with the exception of one really fat guy I am the only male who isn't wearing these. They rarely look good on women but they never look good on men, especially greasy rocker boys who have a sunken chest and a little too much gut than is good for them.

I had a similar experience. I have a friend who has a 17 year old son. I'm nearly twice his age, but during a recent snowboarding trip, we were chatting about games, and sharing experiences. Some of his first gaming memories are N64 based, and the fact that I bought myself an N64 as I was about to graduate college drove home the fact that yes, I'm old now.

Sure, I may be balding, developing a paunch and lacking the twitch reflexes to compete on an even playing field with the teenage denizens of Xbox Live, but there's one aspect of gaming in which I'll take on all comers... Passion for the hobby.

Jonman wrote:

and lacking the twitch reflexes to compete on an even playing field with the teenage denizens of Xbox Live

As I approach 30, it's become one of my missions in life to not let this happen to me.

10-20 years from now, I have to still be able to pwn young whippersnappers.

I intend to find out just what it takes to combat the reflex decline of age.

That is nice. Gaming is something I'm always cautious to discuss, even in light of its popularity, because I enjoy it with a zeal that might seem unhealthy to others. I also wouldn't want to come off like the guy in the trailer park who thinks he still rocks with the teenagers because he listened to Metallica before they got popular.

I will say that the jealousy in the underage neighbor kids' eyes when they saw me playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was gratifying in a way I should be embarrassed about. I might be cooler now than I was in junior high, when those kids probably would have beat me up. Bittersweet, that.

The way you ended the article is absolutely fantastic, by the way!

*Legion* wrote:

I intend to find out just what it takes to combat the reflex decline of age. :)

Meth. Lots and lots of meth.

*Legion* wrote:

I intend to find out just what it takes to combat the reflex decline of age. :)

Meth?

edit: beaten by Minarchist!

I can't resist throwing a jab his way, though: “You know, the last time Sonic had a good game, you were probably in diapers.”

“Oh. I haven't really played any Sonic games. I just watch the anime.”

Ouch, this kicks my inner twelve year old right in the teeth.

Great article! Where I work, gaming among the faculty is only rarely owned up to, but I suspect many more people do so than talk about it openly.

In the fall we hired a new German adjunct, a really nice guy that I'd only gotten to know superficially over the course of the year, since we all stay really busy. That is, until he & I went to Germany a few weeks ago to iron out a new exchange agreement in Dusseldorf. We met up with a friend of his, and over the course of many, many altbiers, it was revealed that he was a gamer, and a recovering WoW addict. I only recently had to stop playing MMO's due to lack of time, but when I told him that I'd been heavy into EQ, DAoC & EQ2--guild leader or officer in each one--he couldn't believe it, especially the stories of leading all the awful, grinding 8-hour, 40-man raids in Trials of Atlantis & the huge RvR runs. He said he'd never have picked me out as a gamer, much less a hardcore one.

Some of his perceptions are surely related to our work roles--he's fresh out of grad school & this is one of his first jobs, and I'm tenured & am his boss. But I think most of it is just the age difference (about 10 years). He just doesn't think of people my age (40 next year) as gamers, though video games have been a regular part of my life since before he was born.

*Legion* wrote:
Jonman wrote:

and lacking the twitch reflexes to compete on an even playing field with the teenage denizens of Xbox Live

As I approach 30, it's become one of my missions in life to not let this happen to me.

10-20 years from now, I have to still be able to pwn young whippersnappers.

I intend to find out just what it takes to combat the reflex decline of age. :)

Lack of free time mostly, I think. I'd like to think that, if I still put in as much time as I used to in Counterstrike or Tribes, I'd still be really good. I would, damn it! I would also still be thin and have lots of hot chicks.

Minarchist wrote:
*Legion* wrote:

I intend to find out just what it takes to combat the reflex decline of age. :)

Meth. Lots and lots of meth.

More Meth? Also daily CS practice.

Yon Rabbit wrote:

Great article! Where I work, gaming among the faculty is only rarely owned up to, but I suspect many more people do so than talk about it openly.

The Wii Fit has helped a bit here. Seems to have legitimized console ownership a little. I work at a University though (Go Gators!), and I didn't have much trouble getting a group of coworkers interested in L4D. I can imagine this would be more difficult if I worked for something along the lines of a law firm or a bank.
See ya,
Tom

I love being at a stuffy "adult" gathering, like a wedding or a potluck or something and seeing the 12-16 year old, sitting there and looking completely bored out of his gourd and asking him (cause I think it would be creepy if I did it to 12-16 year old girls, I guess) if he's played Killzone 2. Seeing his eyes light up as he says yes or no, but counters with what he does play or stuff like that. It's a great way to connect with a younger generation. Inevitably, they warm up and we have a decent conversation.

Also, I have lately started becoming MUCH more open about my gaming. I used to never mention it to family or co-workers. Friends were okay, but they were gamers. But, in the last week or so, I've mentioned to a few folks that I play games with friends onling on Wednesday nights. While I do this with pretty open minded folks who know me pretty well, so it's not particularly risky, it felt REALLY REALLY good. I also can't wait until gaming can receive the popular attention that it deserves. With games like Flower and the stuff coming out of IGF this year, I think it's WAY past time that the general public recognize that gaming is an incredible mode of expression and exploration. Books, movies, music, all of them are incredible. But gaming has something none of them do (just like they each have something the others don't) and I dream of the day that they stop being a "toy" to play with, and are recognized as an intellectual pursuit used to explore themes of importance.

Everybody wrote:

Meth

So I guess I need to move back to Fresno?

This article is really awesome. I'm 20 now and remember fondly discussing Age of Empires with a couple of my teachers from high school. I also remember my art teacher being hopelessly addicted to WoW.

I was giving a presentation to the other Academic Directors where I work on the subject of the degrees I'm in charge of (Game Art and Design, and Visual and Game Programming) and one of the statistics that blew them away was this:

The average age of a gamer is 35.

This is because we all grew up. We still play. Some may have given it up, but the AVERAGE age is still 35. Now think about the target demographic for most games. Now think that a staggering 40% of gamers are women. Even more amazing is that there are MORE women over the age of 18 that play games then young men under the age of 17.

This blew there minds. I find that most people dismiss gaming as a passtime/hobby. They don't realize or admit that so many people game om a regular basis.

35? Sweet, I am finally the target demographic for something other than pron.

Excellent article. You have to be careful with the Zune references, though. We are a persecuted minority here at GWJ.

trichy wrote:

Excellent article. You have to be careful with the Zune references, though. We are a persecuted minority here at GWJ.

Heh, indeed In fact Spaz, when I saw that I pulled your profile with the intent of friending you up on Zune, but some of the recent plays in your profile made me lose my nerve. I can't criticize anyone's taste in music--my wife and I think much of each other's music is terrible--but....let's just say that I think you're a really good writer, and maybe one day I'll fight with or against you in some online game, but damn, dude.

If you can't tell, the above is a joke. Sort of. I won't name the offending band. If you're interested in lots of wussy indie rock/pop getting loaded to your player from my Recents list, my handle is conejote.

Yon Rabbit wrote:

Heh, indeed In fact Spaz, when I saw that I pulled your profile with the intent of friending you up on Zune, but some of the recent plays in your profile made me lose my nerve. I can't criticize anyone's taste in music--my wife and I think much of each other's music is terrible--but....let's just say that I think you're a really good writer, and maybe one day I'll fight with or against you in some online game, but damn, dude.

I had to look. Backstreet Boys. Hmm.

Honestly, sometimes when I'm listening to music on my Zune I think, "oh, what if someone looks at my profile and sees I'm listening to this?" Usually I just get over it -- I like what I like, and people will just have to accept me for that.

Back to the article -- I do find that gaming is (slowly) becoming more acceptable, even among the lawyers I work with. I think that there are just so many of us who grew up playing games that we are bound to start showing up in larger numbers even in professional circles.

I've had a similar experience, but with being a woman. My friend (who is a guy) and I were walking by an EB Games, and I suggested we go in and browse. He starting playing the demo of Burnout and I was watching him. This tall gangly kid was playing the Wii demo beside him and said, "Wow, I can't believe you got a girl in here. Girls only care about makeup and clothing." I kid you not. He actually said that.

If adults are quiet about playing video games, I find that women are even more so.

Ha, I think about it too occasionally...but it never keeps me from listening to my secret shame pop music. But I did have to buy my wife a Zune & make separate account for her; when all our music was on together, the whole Social thing was useless, as it was always making recommendations to me based on my apparent manlove for Kenny Rogers.

Not that I don't have manlove for Kenny Rogers, it's just not based on his music.

Wait a second - all you old fogeys on this website play video games?! And here I thought it was just me all along!

You'd be surprised. I'm nigh 46, and have a library of around 850 games, but I'm not the oldest serious gamer at my workplace. One of the fellows who works in IT holds LAN parties - in his house - 3 or 4 times a year, with 10 - 20 or more participants, and he's in his 50s (or prematurely gray). Typical gameplay includes Team Fortress 2.

Hans

Apparently age 35 is also the target demo for Zune users! We should start our own forum!
Here's another stat for you: The average age of someone who purchases games is 40.

Sephirotic wrote:

Here's another stat for you: The average age of someone who purchases games is 40.

It makes perfect sense that it would higher than the average age of a person who plays games, when you take out all the young kids who don't have their own money to buy their own games, or parents who buy rated M games for their kids who aren't old enough to buy them.

MeatMan wrote:
Sephirotic wrote:

Here's another stat for you: The average age of someone who purchases games is 40.

It makes perfect sense that it would higher than the average age of a person who plays games, when you take out all the young kids who don't have their own money to buy their own games, or parents who buy rated M games for their kids who aren't old enough to buy them.

Also, in this case the median age would be much more accurate. With the advent of the Wii and Brain Training on the DS you have some octogenarians out there playing games...but you can't have -25 year olds, so the mean can get a little wonky.

I remember a kid on a plane last year completely amazed that I knew what Fire Emblem was when he was playing on the GBA. He explained to me what every unit was, their backstory as far as he knew it, and his strategies for each encounter with unbridled enthusiasm.

It was kind of cool, but at the same time, I felt really creepy. Does that every happen to you guys? I get the feeling when I go into an EB Games and I'm twice the age of everyone else there.

MeatMan wrote:
Sephirotic wrote:

Here's another stat for you: The average age of someone who purchases games is 40.

It makes perfect sense that it would higher than the average age of a person who plays games, when you take out all the young kids who don't have their own money to buy their own games, or parents who buy rated M games for their kids who aren't old enough to buy them.

Or it means everyone younger is a pirate.

True though, it totally makes sense.