Oh Sh*t, I've Grown Up

I’ve been staring at this screenshot from the original Everquest for what feels like hours. The graphics are dated, of course, since the game has been out for a decade, but that’s not what has me so transfixed. This screenshot is like looking through a wormhole into my past and seeing a younger, less hairy me slumped in his dingy computer chair and trying to retrieve his corpse before sunup.

It was a time when I was still single and jobless. Aside from phoning it in on some computer classes, I didn’t have a whole lot going on in my life. I was 18 years old, living in the big city in a house full of crazy people, and my only real concerns were leveling-up my Wizard and whether I was going to eat Subway or McDonald's for lunch. It was an existence devoid of any lasting meaning or direction.

It sucked, but it was awesome.

If I wasn’t playing Everquest, I was reading about playing Everquest and connecting with the community at large. I knew everything a man could know about the game in an age where most of the information was gleaned from the official forums and the Everquest Vault website—there was a Vault page for nearly every major MMORPG at the time. I didn't know what lead designer Brad McQuaid had for lunch every day, but I was so naive back then I didn’t even realize I wanted to know that yet. Thanks Twitter!

Deeply immersing myself was the only luxury a young and dumb kid like me could afford. I found a great deal of satisfaction in becoming an expert Everquest player and scholar, because there was nothing else I’d rather have been doing, given my lack of funds and access to the first DSL service in the city. My entire life up until then had revolved around school, and that was always more about getting by than becoming an expert at anything. I spent those days playing games alone, and listening to girls I wanted to date complain about their boyfriends on the phone.

Once I got online and out of my home town, I found my relationships in games were less fraught with drama and personal baggage, too. We were just a bunch of people playing together with a common goal of discovery and having a good time—it was like camp without worrying about getting a date for dance night. Finding out some dude in your Rainbow Six clan was old enough to be your dad was like sneaking out to the woods to smoke with a group of the cool, teenaged counselor. The old guys always spoke jealously about my relative freedom to play as much as I wanted and not having to worry about raising kids or even finding a real job anytime soon.

Being told I had it so good made it so for a year of my life, but eventually Subway lost its appeal and I realized the pot of gold at the end of the gaming-every-spare-moment rainbow was just the high regard of the rainbow makers and a few peers who shared my perspective on the importance of proper room-clearing techniques in Rainbow Six. I also started dating the woman who would eventually be my wife. In other words, I found more to live for than new spells and corpse runs.

Starting a website during my seven years of self-employment was a way to carry forward the feeling of being a master while acknowledging that the days of being an expert in any one game were over. Everquest taught me that playing one thing to the exclusion of most everything else didn’t really pay the dividends I was looking for, aside from the friendships I’d made. With a little more money in my pocket, I discovered that I'm an experience-hound when given the choice, forever snuffling through the underbrush, trying to scare up the next new thing to surprise and delight me.

But even that’s changing now. I’m dangerously close to turning 30 and losing my “make fun of old people” card. I own part of the business I started working for nearly three years ago, and my days are just packed with responsibilities and Things I Should Be Thinking About™ every day. The thought of visiting a McDonalds on a daily basis, let alone once a year, turns my once-invincible bowels to jelly. Where I used to dig into every game and scrape every bit of flavor out of it like a dog with his head in an ice cream bucket, now I mine them for the good bits with a surgical spoon. Once all the chocolate pieces are thoroughly rooted out, I toss it aside and look for the next one. It’s the most efficient way to experience the medium and all it has to offer without letting it take over more of my busy life than I can afford to give.

So why do I feel like I’ve lost something in my mad rush for adult legitimacy? Staring at that Everquest image didn’t bring to mind playing the game so much as it reminded me of the friends I made and the experiences we shared together. Mining a game for the good bits and then tossing it aside ignores perhaps the most compelling reasons to play anything—the chance to be skilled and get to know people. For all that I run a successful website filled with thousands of awesome game playing adults, I rarely linger on a game long enough to really reconnect with anyone who I don’t touch base with every day on an IM program during work or at the occasional gathering.

Maybe that’s just what it means to be a grownup: convincing yourself that all the relationships and pleasures you’ve sacrificed are the chaff in an otherwise rich harvest. As I look back on the last ten years, I think that, for the sake of playing, I’ve sometimes let the small variations in gameplay take precedence over the gamers who play them. Maybe it’s time I remember who my friends are.

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This really hit home Certis...

Oh Certis, when I grow up I want to be you!

Change the number to 40 and the by-line to me, and I might as well have written about 2/3 of this.

I look forward to the next time you tell me you're not a good writer so I can punch you in the kidneys.

Hey Everquest! Just kidding.

Something feels wrong to me about your statement about mining all the good parts from a game. I was going to say that I disagree with you but that isn't quite right. Why are you looking for the most efficient way to experience medium? I understand that your free time is limited but is that a good way to look at things? I think taking the time to really immerse yourself in a game, even if it is inefficient, can be pretty rewarding. I love the L4D and LoL communities, and had I not taken the time to spend a lot of time there I wouldn't have made those friends, not to mention form my close, personal bond with Zoey. (Far closer and more meaningful than the one she has with Grenn)

I realize that you already talked about how glad you were to make some of those friends, and I wonder if for me it was just that it took me until now to make those online friends, and that I am single and jobless.

Hear, hear!

"I’m dangerously close to turning 30 and losing my “make fun of old people” card."

You dang kids, get offa my lawn.

Shudder... so eerily familiar!

I found out I was getting old in a really "in your face" way the other day. All my life I've had great vision. But lately (past 2-3 years) its been getting worse AND I've been getting horrible headaches.

So, got my eyes checked and yup, gotta get glasses.

That's not the thing that caused me to realize that I was getting old though.

The @#$@$$ doctor was YOUNGER than me!!!! WTF! Doctors are supposed to be old people who are wise and many many years my senior.

Sigh...

PAR

Fantastic piece Certis.

I'm often amazed at how the conference call crew go through so many games, and how you can enjoy them while consuming at such a rapid pace. I love games, but I love losing myself in games even more sometimes. When life, "the pile" or the next new release exert enough pressure to keep me moving on to the next experience, I feel like I lose something.

BTW - Based on the title and the tone of the piece, I read through to the end expecting this to be a imminent-fatherhood announcement. If and when that does happen, I'd love to hear a follow up piece on how your perspective changed.

Wow. I turned 30 4 days ago and your article just said the words I've been searching within myself to find since then, and I'd imagine it hits home for a majority of the people here. Thank you.

My wife, 2 girls, and the life we've built together are meaningful to me at a level I can't describe in words. Yet from time-to-time I find myself wishing it was 20 years ago and all I had to worry about was making it through the school day, catching the bus home, and gaming the night away in the ImagiNation Network.

Here's to the chaff.

My older son is 9. I had an interesting, maybe illuminating, conversation with him a week ago. We were just having a bit of playful banter and he says "Well Dad, Mom is the General and you, you are... a geek."

I said, "What? How can you call me a geek?" I got a bit defensive inside, like some echo of being labelled in highschool or something. "I mean, I work on the house all the time. You saw me build those 4 patios/walkways over the past two summers. I install doors, paint, refinish floors etc etc with most of my free time. I do all kinds of stuff. I run. I lift. We do all kinds of things together. I work on the computer, but that's my job. What do you mean I'm a geek?"

"Dad, your favorite hobby is videogames. Geeks like videogames. Don't worry, you are not a bad geek. You don't sit in front of the computer all day with a hamburger in your hand or anything. You just like videogames. We have fun together. You are a fun geek."

(hmmm. At least I'm a fun geek.)

Hmm, seems a lot like my life...only in reverse.

This is why I find myself in L4D just about every night even though I haven't finished Bioshock 2 or Heavy Rain yet.

I'm totally not thinking about dropping a class to give me more free time for boozing, women and games.
No, Real Analysis 2 is so useful...I....eh screw it. I'll grow up later.

EpicMK wrote:

My wife, 2 girls, and the life we've built together are meaningful to me at a level I can't describe in words. Yet from time-to-time I find myself wishing it was 20 years ago and all I had to worry about was making it through the school day, catching the bus home, and gaming the night away in the ImagiNation Network.

Here's to the chaff. :)

I go through this pretty regularly. I'll be 40 in about five and a half weeks. I have a good job, a beautiful and incredibly capable wife, two wonderful children, and lots of other great things. A few times a year my wife takes the kids to Iowa for the weekend to visit her family, and I stay at home. I do stuff around the house, paint rooms, and other things to "buy" my free time, but, in reality, the weekends are vacations from reality for me. I play games constantly. One weekend late last summer I finally picked up Bioshock and did nothing else all weekend. She's going in a few weeks, and Mass Effect 2 is waiting for me. I love those weekends.

That being said, a year or so ago she went for a weekend and got caught in a big ice storm. The weekend stretched to six days due to bad roads, and you know what? It rapidly began to suck. Sure, I could play as much as I wanted, but there are now other things in my life I want to do other than game. When I first got my Genesis I sat around and played Might and Magic constantly, because I didn't have anything better to do. Now? I've got lots of better things to do.

Whenever people talk about wanting to be young again I roll my eyes. Nowadays, I'm better off, more relaxed, less stressed, and generally more satisfied than I was when I was 20. I don't want to be again. Yeah, I'd love to visit 20 again for a long weekend or two, but things are much better now.

Whoa! This is exactly what I'm trying to avoid ATM - getting the cliff notes from each game I play. I'm reducing myself to my favourite genre (RTS), in order to keep my skill set fresh and updated, and going for games that favour skill and interaction over story, since I prefer my narratives written on a book.

I'm grateful that you're warning us about the wall you're hitting. Yeah, we don't get to ride the wave of "hot new stuff", but having a steady group of partners in fun is a decent tradeoff.

Then again, I don't do a podcast, much less one that has a segment of "Games I'm Playing Right Now". If I did, that would be a different pickle.

EDIT: is it me, or is there a lot of people missing the point?

Title is false! You're not yet 30 and do not have to actually make a choice in advance what game to spend your meager allowance of allocated gaming hours per week on.

You're a lawn-stomping, free-wheeling kid with too much time on his hands for gaming as far as this grownup is concerned.

Elysium wrote:

Change the number to 40 and the by-line to me, and I might as well have written about 2/3 of this.

Same goes for me (turning 40 later this month), except that I never played MMOs, unless you count Guild Wars.

Good article, Certis.

boogle wrote:

I'm totally not thinking about dropping a class to give me more free time for boozing, women and games.
No, Real Analysis 2 is so useful...I....eh screw it. I'll grow up later.

Hell yeah — that's what college is (partly) for.

Oh, and Certis: I'm turning 40 in a month. Thanks for making me feel OLD, you whippersnapper.

Ah, the days of no responsibilities.

30 is coming to claim me this year too. I've got the wife (2 years now) but no kids yet, but yeah, the gaming time is less and less. Back in the college dorm days there were mad amounts of Counter-Strike and Tribes online, and N64 up and down the halls. Far from that free time now.

Still, glad there's some people around here I can have fun with during the little time I do have to play.

Well done Certis, that was truly an enjoyable read. I think you've chronicled the lifeline of an aging gamer pretty well.

I'm staring at 44 in the next couple of months. I prefer to look not at what I've lost in gaming but rather at what I'm gaining. The arrival of children make you realize pretty quickly that your life is no longer about you. Real world responsibility is the ultimate boss fight!

I missed out on two generations worth of great console games due to my MMO habits. I chased the latest and greatest MMO like it was the holy grail. I have friends who stuck with the same game like EQ all that time and I can't help but feel they had a better experience than me. All my pursuit of new MMOs got me was a new skin on the same old fruit.

You and me are in remarkably similar frames of mind about this stuff, Certis. I just hit 29, may have a child in the next year or so, and have more money than time to spend on gaming and other pastimes, these days. Doesn't it suck? Oh for the days when I could waste... well, days at a time in Final Fantasy XI. I look back at that game now and it's the friends and expertise I had that I really miss.

I can roll like a stone from MAG to Bad Company 2 to TF2 and back again these days, but I never stay long enough to gather any moss, if you will.

The man finally came to his senses. I'm presuming this means we'll see more of you on TF2 servers?

I can't relate to this article at all. I was never a geeky student, was earning a living straight out of school, am single and have just passed 30.

Yet this is a great piece of writing, nice work Certis.

Is that East Commons?

Orc Camp 1 LF Healer!

You can add me to the Turning 40 Soon Club too.

Good article. Growing up sneaks right up on you, doesn't it? I am turning 30 in 5 months, and it is crazy.

Certis wrote:

"I’m dangerously close to turning 30 and losing my “make fun of old people” card."

I feel you on that one, but the "make fun of young people" card you're trading it in for is almost as fun. Think skinny jeans.

I spent those days playing games alone, and listening to girls I wanted to date complain about their boyfriends on the phone.

Oh God, you just summed up so much for so many of us.

You've cut us deep, sir. Even if many of us eventually ended up very lucky, the memories sting.

EDIT: As another so-close-to-thirty married gamer who podcasts and struggles to find time to actually PLAY the games he loves talking about, I relate. Well written.

Is the use of expletives in article title (a front-page one, no less) indicative of a new direction for GWJ in terms of tone and style?

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