Old Man, Look at my Life

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.

Comments

I have been visiting this site for quite a while now, but, after reading this post I just felt the need to register only to say *THANK YOU* for such a BEAUTIFUL post.

Thank you Sean, and thanks to all the people that posted follow-ups to his article.

(Yes - another soon-to-turn 40 here ;))

I'm only 32 so I feel like a spring chicken posting on this here thread, but I feel like I'm in good company. Great article. I'm counting on gaming becoming my main thing when I'm old and allegedly wise.

Dakuna wrote:
whispa wrote:

Awesome article! Been gaming a long time now (Apple IIc was my first computer) and still loving it! I still get excited about new games so I don't see me letting up any time soon. My wife doesn't care for it but it's my hobby and she accepts it. *twitches*

That was also my first computer, I think! We got it in 1984 - I lived in what was then called Zaire, and we bought it on a 3 month vacation and took it back with us. I think the first game I had was called "Space Quarks", and we only had a green and black monochrome monitor. A friend had a C64, and we hooked his monitor up to the our Apple and WOW COLOR!! /nostalgia

My first one was Castle Wolfenstein, not the 3D one. Good times!

whispa wrote:
Dakuna wrote:
whispa wrote:

Awesome article! Been gaming a long time now (Apple IIc was my first computer) and still loving it! I still get excited about new games so I don't see me letting up any time soon. My wife doesn't care for it but it's my hobby and she accepts it. *twitches*

That was also my first computer, I think! We got it in 1984 - I lived in what was then called Zaire, and we bought it on a 3 month vacation and took it back with us. I think the first game I had was called "Space Quarks", and we only had a green and black monochrome monitor. A friend had a C64, and we hooked his monitor up to the our Apple and WOW COLOR!! /nostalgia

My first one was Castle Wolfenstein, not the 3D one. Good times!

I never played Castle Wolfenstein, but I did play the sequel, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein - it had great sound design for the time; the Nazis actually yelled in almost distinguishable German, and the footstep sound changed, based on how injured your character was.

Very good article. I keep going back to this quote by C.S. Lewis whenever I start to feel my hobby is too childish.

“Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” -- C. S. Lewis

Elysium wrote:

Yup, that was just plain dumb of me. Been a while since I played Street Fighter, and somehow Chun Li's (I think that's right) move got pasted on to Guile in my head.

Edited original post.

I thought it was funnier to imagine you struggling to input a button combination for the wrong character. You know, because you're old.

I'll be 43 in a month, and you can have my controller (yes, I said "controller", not "mouse and keyboard") when you pry it out of my dead, cold hands. Honestly, if you had asked me at any point in my life "will you still be gaming in X years", the answer would always have been "holy f@#$!!, yes" without reservation.

Also, all of the people who make fun of me on Xbox Live because they think I'm old are just big weenies anyways. Hey, kids, piss off, I OWNED A PONG CONSOLE.

Just finished an #ideaschat Twitter chat about lifelong learning. Learning and gaming are two things that I can't imagine my life without.

Anyone else getting a heinous earworm off the article title?

Probably another symptom of the topic at hand.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

(yes, I said "controller", not "mouse and keyboard")

*monocle pop*

momgamer wrote:

Anyone else getting a heinous earworm off the article title?

Probably another symptom of the topic at hand. ;)

I'm a lot like you.

momgamer wrote:

Anyone else getting a heinous earworm off the article title?

Probably another symptom of the topic at hand. ;)

I had a Neil Young pun in the first page of the thread that's died on the vine

I hate Neil Young like Tanglebones hates Billy Joel.

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.

Choice quote there and so true

The only time I feel old is when I go to LAN parties. It's the only time I can game for 12 hours at a stretch without my wife complaining, but, dear me, everyone there seems so YOUNG.

Still, they welcome an old 41 year old codger like me.

wordsmythe wrote:
momgamer wrote:

Anyone else getting a heinous earworm off the article title?

Probably another symptom of the topic at hand. ;)

I'm a lot like you.

Now the damage is done.