Through the Eyes of an Aging Gamer

For weeks, my wife wouldn’t let me forget the time she nailed me with a red shell.

THROUGH THE EYES OF AN AGING GAMER

To this day, my father still tells people stories of me “kicking his grandma’s butt in Mario at only two years old!”  I remember taking turns playing the original Zelda with my dad, slowly discovering hidden secrets and marvels built into this early industry monolith, until we finally beat Ganon one late afternoon.  I was only four years old. Now I’m more of an aging gamer and things are…different.

Aging Gamer…

Next year, I’ll finally turn 30.  I’ve gamed for nearly three decades and I have so many stories I could share.  Few would understand, let alone appreciate, these stories, from outside of a forum like Gamespace or MMORPG.com.  I used to pretend to be sick as a teenager so I could stay home from school and play Ultima Online with my friends.  I would frequently skip nights of sleep so I could do just one more quest chain in Baldur’s Gate 2.  My brothers and I would duke out our arguments in Super Smash Bros. and then play co-op on Age of Empires 2.  The memories are numerable and, in retrospect, all of them fond.

Today, my time for gaming is severely limited.  Like many others in my age-group, our free time is diminishing by the day — and, yet, the gaming industry continues to grow.  More people are drawn in and more time is spent by them discovering the magic of video gaming.  Somehow, I’ve shifted from being part of the hardcore group of competitive gamers to sitting on the sidelines, relishing the little bit of time I can watch someone else play on Twitch.

Like many my age, my obligations are aplenty.  I work a full-time job, am finishing up a graduate degree, and I somehow manage to find time to workout seriously in hopes of winning a physique competition one day.  Even still, I don’t have children like many of my peers.  I log onto Facebook and see my childhood friends and high school classmates getting married and having kids left and right.  Hell, I just got married last month myself, but my wife is understanding of my passion for gaming and will even sit down to the occasional match of Mario Kart with me.  Life is busy and finding the time to seriously game like I used to seems like a remote possibility… maybe when I retire?  If you’re anything like me, you’ve dreamed of retiring next year and making a living being one of those Twitch gamers.

Aging Gamer 1

I eventually got her back for that red shell.

I look at the younger generation and I don’t envy the time they have to play — they deserve it.  Soak it up like I used to.  Some of the best stories you’ll ever hear will come from a video game.  Meanwhile, it’s fun to look at the older generation and realize I will be in their shoes one day, amazed at how far gaming has come.  But for today, I look at the industry as a whole, the way it has evolved, and wonder where there is space for me (and people like me) to continue enjoying video games the same way nostalgia wants us to.

There is no doubt that revenue models, gaming archetypes, and platforms have changed drastically.  The companies that have stuck around longest have been the most agile in meeting shifting consumer demands and reconstructing internal business models.  As an aside, in my opinion this is one of the reasons people are so harsh on Nintendo — yes, they eventually come around, but they like to stick to something good just a little too long.  But I digress.

Those of us, the aging gamer, that still want to find time to fit gaming into our busy lives have to prioritize it.  Sometimes for our own sanity, we need to stop for a moment, sit back, and do something we enjoy.  For me, it is increasingly difficult to find the time to boot up my PC, load up a game, get into voice chat, and play a game that didn’t used to feel like so much work.  To feel like it is worth the effort, I need two or three hours, and when I have that much time, I’d rather work on a paper for school or go to the gym.

Gaming for me has, sadly, been relegated mostly to on-the-fly mobile interactions, typically amounting to 5- or 10-minute sessions.  To make matters worse, shifting business models means most mobile games are free-to-play gambling mechanisms with built-in barriers compelling you to pull out your credit card — not exactly my idea of fun, let alone hardcore.  It’s tough to feel engrossed by a game’s content when it stops you to ask for $4.99 to continue.

When the Nintendo Switch came out, I was so excited.  It took five weeks post-launch to get my hands on one and I felt like I was flung back twenty years in time… I felt like a kid again, remembering unwrapping my N64 for Christmas and spending entire weekends playing with my brothers.  Why was this such a big deal to me?  Well, most of my gaming now was mobile anyway, and the Switch gave me a way to seriously play favorites at my own leisure, whether on the couch, in bed, or traveling on an airplane.  To put it into perspective: before my Switch, I might get 15 minutes total of wholly unsatisfactory mobile gaming on my phone each day; since my Switch, I’ve logged 150+ hours in Breath of the Wild alone, and dozens more in other titles.  I can’t wait for the next big releases.

Aging Gamer 2

The unexpected salvation to my gaming life.

Again, I digress.  But there is a purpose for all of my reminiscing and storytelling.  I’m not here to sell you a Switch or talk about how hard I have it because I can’t game like a kid anymore!  I’m here because I want to discuss some of the things I think appeal to different generations and maybe even suggest what I think is required to draw all of them in together.

When I think about the younger generation, kids and young adults that didn’t know what it was like to not have the Internet, I’m reminded of myself when I was younger.  I greatly valued competitive play and player-vs-player content.  When I wasn’t looking for a (digital) fight, I sought out extensive stories that drew me in.  No doubt hormones played a role in seeking to assert myself in a global (or local) community of gamers; no doubt, also, that my abundant free time contributed to engaging with 100-hour sagas.  If you ask me, the younger generation mostly values Content and Mastery.  Of course this blanket statement won’t apply to all; I only observe that, for me, things like min/maxing specs and stats has become less important as an aging gamer.

For my own generation, the adults gamers, we value simply finding the opportunity to immerse ourselves, even if it’s only for a moment in time.  Because those moments are increasingly rare, portability and accessibility are important.  The ability to play cross-platform, jumping from PC or console to mobile, means greater engagement and more satisfaction derived from our gaming sessions.  No, I don’t have the time to sink 300 hours into Skyrim anymore, but you can sure as hell get me hyped by telling me I will soon be able to take it with me on my Switch.  My hypothesis is that the best way to drive interest for my generation is by telling us we can have a meaningful gaming experience without the commitment associated with abandoning other obligations.

With older generations, desires are a bit more nebulous.  Some people have never been exposed to gaming; meanwhile, some grew up with gaming and have varying levels of interest as they’ve watched it spring from nothingness into a full-fledged industry.  Interestingly, I observe that most of my older peers are more likely to play a simple mobile or flash game on PC than to seek out an engrossing story.  My parents certainly don’t pay attention to when a new XStationU is released, and my bet is your parents probably don’t either.  With that said, I’ve also observed the greatest awe in this generation when you show them something new.  I watched my father-in-law lose himself in virtual reality and love every moment of it.  No, he’s not the type to sit and play for three hours straight — but give him 15 minutes to admire the innovation of modern gaming and he’s satiated.  I think this is one reason why the Wii did so well with this age-group.  Remember, this is a demographic that watched the rise and recession of arcade gaming.

To summarize, I think our values in gaming change just as our values as individuals do when we age.  As younger gamers, we seek out extensive content and the ability to master it.  Adults seek out convenience — sell us a small slice of nostalgia and make it portable and/or cross-platform, please!  Older gamers are mostly looking for a great experience, and it may not even necessitate an extensive adventure.

Here’s to anticipation for where the industry goes next.  Part of me looks back and misses what I remember growing up.  The other part can’t wait to boot into the next Witcher, Matrix-style, and pwn some monsters with my bare hands, even if I have to wait until I’m a great-grandpa to do so.

6 Comments

  1. Readers,

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! You could consider it an opinion piece, so if you disagree or have any thoughts, let me know! More than that, feel free to share your fondest gaming memories… I can’t wait to read them!

  2. I’d like to share my “how I got into gaming” story. I turned 61 last week!!!! Back in the 80’s the only people I knew who had a Nintendo or Sega were parents with young (between 3 & 10 years old) children. They had Mario or Sonic for their systems. I’ve never been good at platformers (also sucked at Pac Man, Atari, etc.) – so from what little I knew, I wasn’t interested in these consoles. I did have one friend who’d bought a Commodore for their kids & was shown a text adventure. I liked the concept, but with all the time demands of life I just didn’t have the energy to put into graphing my exploits. I wondered why someone hadn’t combined the idea of a character you could visibly move around (a la Mario & Sonic) with the in-depth story of a text adventure!!!! Yes, that’s how little I knew about games at the time!!!

    Then in the 90’s my GatT (Girlfriend at the Time) wanted a PlayStation for Christmas. She was good at platformers (I got to see her complete Mario – hadn’t even known that game HAD an ending!!!), but had not played any other genre (at the time, I wasn’t even aware that there WERE other genres!) so I got her the system & Abe’s Oddysee. Based on commercials we’d seen on tv, we were both interested in something called “Final Fantasy VII” – I tried to buy that as well, but everywhere I went it was sold out. It wasn’t easy, but Abe’s Oddysee became the first game I ever completed (had to play it twice to get the “good” ending; never was able to get all 99!). I got Crash, Gex & a bunch of others I don’t even remember anymore for my GatT. Of those, Abe was the only one I finished. The others were more fun for me to watch her play.

    That is where my interest would’ve ended had it not been that, almost 6 months after Christmas, we were in a store (not a chain) & lo & behold there was FFVII! When I got home & put it in the system I was amazed – there WERE games that combined the visuals of platformers with a text adventure! I subsequently bought some gaming magazines to find out about this – learning they’re called RPGs & that there are different genres, etc. The GatT is long gone, but my love of RPGs is as bright as ever!!!

    I’m retired now & really appreciate the time I can invest into a game. Gaming isn’t my only hobby, but it’s a big one.

    • Jbumi,
      Thanks for sharing your story! I really enjoyed reading it. I know this is blasphemy to say…. but I’ve never played any of the FF games (!!!). Growing up, I did enjoy the Breath of Fire series. Glad to hear you’re still gaming!

      • Hey, nobody can play everything! It just happened to be FF because of the interest from the commercial & my piqued curiosity because it took so long to find in stock.

  3. Excellent article!

    I clock in at just a few years older and definitely understand, all too well, the shift that happens as we continue to game and (unfortunately) age. I try oh so hard to relive the greatest moments of gaming I’ve experienced or simply try to create new ones but life gets in the way more often than not. Luckily, I do have more free time lately and found the Switch to be a reawakening to console/handheld gaming. It feels like a must have for us aging gamers.

    Also, always glad to see another Ultima Online player around! That game ruled my life for many years..

    • I still log into UO once in a while. I don’t have as much time as before but it’s still fun to run around sometimes. Before school, I had more time to participate with my guild in hunts and group activities. I still dream of pvp mobs at fel Yew gate and the old days of large faction warfare in cities.

      When ESO came out, I played a TON in the first three months. My favorite thing was to go to Cyrodiil and pvp. Again, I just don’t have the time anymore. With ESO, even if I had the time now, though, it’d be harder to play… it went FTP and a lot of the skills (that enabled my type of playstyle) were overhauled. It might be fun to experiment with the new mechanics but all I remember was it being a big grindfest. I understand that has changed a bit… maybe one day I’ll find the time!

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