Had you asked me in my mid-twenties whether I thought gaming would still be an integral part of my life when I turned the corner around forty, I have to admit that I would have said no. I think this probably says more about how little I understood at that age what being forty was going to feel like — in that as far as I can tell, I feel emotionally pretty much like I did in my twenties — than it does anything about how much I cared about gaming.
You have to understand, gaming still might have been a fad for me around age 25. I was a gamer during my childhood, but then for a variety of reasons I took a long hiatus from the pastime. During high school there were several years where I had neither a PC nor a console, and any games I did play found themselves along the fringes of my life. I might read the occasional PC Gamer or get in a game of Joe Montana Sports Talk Football at a friend’s house, but during a big chunk of what was arguably the golden age of PC gaming, I was fully invested in a social life that had no crossover and didn’t give video games much of a thought at all.
For five or six years, I left behind what I had perceived as a childish pursuit and a social albatross around my neck. Which is interesting because it’s only as I grew up and matured that I was comfortable letting video games back into my life. And even then, it was only slowly at first, and not really until 1997 or so that I would think to self-identify as a gamer.
So, rounding the corner of my mid-twenties, no — I figured this would all be over again in another handful of years. Color me surprised, now in the last two months of my thirties, that I am still an eager and insatiable gamer. I guess, should you ask me if I’ll still be playing when I’m 60, my answer will be a horrified, “Wait! I’m going to turn 60 someday?!”
Several hours later I might be calm enough again to say, yeah. I guess at this point I’ll probably still be gaming straight on into retirement.
I don’t know exactly why being a gamer and being a certain age are ideas connected in my mind. If I’m honest with myself, there are times when I’m playing a video game, that I feel a little bit embarrassed by that fact. Like, I’m out in the backyard playing with battle-scarred GI Joe figures, and any second someone in a suit will walk past and just give me a disparaging and disappointed look. I don’t necessarily think people growing up now will feel like this as they round the appropriate age to start seriously looking at buying red convertible sports cars and hair plugs. After all, my generation doesn’t really think of watching television the same way my parents generation did. Maybe this will be the same.
I like to think that by the time I end up in a Floridian retirement community, shuffleboard will be replaced by an old mock-up of an 80s arcade, with septuagenarians wearing more comfortable versions of the faded flannel and ripped jeans from their youth, hunched over a Street Fighter II machine trying to get their old bones to execute Chun Li’s helicopter move. Instead of cribbage boards, old people will break out shoe boxes full of Magic cards. We will go into the quiet sunsets of our lives with controllers in arthritic or gouty hands.
It’s not a bad dream actually, but it still seems pretty silly if I’m honest. There is a cognitive dissonance going on in my head when I try to picture myself playing the hottest FPS or RTS with liver spots on my hand. Then again, that same dissonance would have been there fifteen years ago if I had imagined myself at forty firing up the latest Tomb Raider or SimCity, not that anyone would still be playing those hoary old games in the twenty-teens.
I keep waiting to grow out of gaming, not because I want to but because I have an anachronistic idea about what I should be as an adult. It’s counter productive, really. After all, I genuinely believe that the easiest and best way to stay young is to keep having youthful experiences and to find joy in the things that others outgrow. Were I to finally and unfortunately abandon this hobby tomorrow, do I actually think I’d be better off or just closer to some false idealization of what a much younger me though being an adult was probably like.
But, at the same time I also wonder what else I might have done with those hours sunk into World of WarCraft, Mass Effect and Minecraft. What missed opportunities for bettering myself and the people around me went whizzing by as I crouched over a keyboard with my headphones and glassy-eyed stare.
I realize gamer-guilt is such an undignified cliche at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less a reality. When I start to feel this way though, I just try to remind myself that all these other people I know in their late thirties and early forties haven’t exactly become concert pianists or experts on Proust in the free time they spent not playing video games. The flaw I keep making is the assumption that gaming is unlike other hobbies or recreations. We all have the things we do for downtime, the things that sometimes we do too often or for too long because we just can’t tear ourselves away, and that we are pretty fortunate to be living in a period and a place where we have that tremendous luxury.
I am a grown up with a car, a mortgage, a mid-level corporate job and two precious tax deductions that are near and dear to my heart. Who cares whether I spend my few extra hours killing space aliens or watching Nascar?
So, why shouldn’t I still be gaming at 60, at 80 or at the ripe old age of 237, my life unnaturally extended through the application of bionics and genetic manipulation? After all, I think in some very important ways gaming keeps me feeling young, and there’s no good reason in the world to not want to hold onto to that feeling for as long as my meaty hands can.