Guide for the Aging Gamer

You probably can’t put your finger on exactly when it happened, but you know that it did.

You crossed a line somewhere. The smile you give your barista in exchange for a cup of coffee went from being seen as friendly to looking downright creepy. The days of being able to eat a plate of Buffalo wings without feeling like you swallowed a fistful of push-pins went out the window. And the only thing that makes more noise than your knees when walking up a flight of stairs is the sound of you bitching about having to walk up a flight of stairs on bad knees.

Face it champ…you got old.

Now just because you don’t recognize any of the bands that perform on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve (or are even able to stay up late enough to see the ball drop) and still buy music on CD doesn’t mean you have to abandon your gaming hobby.

Nor are you alone. The median age of gamers is steadily creeping up faster than your cholesterol count and gaming is gradually gaining acceptance as a use of leisure time — certainly more acceptable than betting on impending celebrity deaths or actively trying to disappoint small children.

And, unlike something like stamp collecting which is only for the old, addled, and weird, gaming is a multi-faceted and flexible pastime that only requires a few lifestyle adjustments to be able to continue enjoying it at least up until the time when bladder control is nothing but a distant memory.

Level grinding until the sun comes up and then dragging your unshowered, unshaven self to your job or your next class running on nothing but Red Bull and the hope that when you get back home you didn’t save in a lousy spot with no ammo or health packs to spare is a thing of the past. The real world expects results and, unless you work for your frat buddies or the guys from the ‘420’ room in your old dorm…chances are you’re not going to get a lot of slack here.

So, what to do? How can you manage to effectively goof off, save the world, blow s@#$ up, eviscerate those sorely in need of eviscerating, and still manage to still be a productive (if anti-social) member of society?

Fear not, I am living proof that you can game, work, and have a house with rooms but no roommates, a family, and a cat. I’ve been playing since people giggled when they heard “joystick” and video games didn’t have save options and only ended when you passed out, lost your last life, broke the controller in frustration, or suffered from a stress and inactivity induced heart attack, so I might be able to help out a bit here.

Get Comfortable

First thing’s first. Chances are that if you’re reading this, doing things like standing up or bending over without making noises like a commercial fisherman trying to pass an impacted stool are becoming more difficult. Sitting for hours on end trying to pass the next level, beat the next boss, or shave another tenth of a second off your Burnout Road Rules time (because, damn it, it’s important!) can leave you feeling afterwards like you’ve been worked over by two guys with bags of oranges.

Most household chairs and couches were designed to encourage social interaction, not eliminate it from your life, so they weren’t necessarily made with the gamer in mind. My recommendation is to try one of the following: invest in an ergonomic chair designed to withstand long hours of sitting still, cursing and controller throwing. Failing that, try to cut your gaming time down into chunks that end before discomfort sets in. For most old farts, like myself, that usually works out to about 20-30 minutes or, alternately, about how long it takes to figure out that Too Human wasn’t as good as you had hoped it would be.

This goes for controllers, too. Most controllers have come a long way from the days when playing for any length of time left your thumbs blistered and your hands twisted and locked into some bizarre claw-like shape. This was both painful and made manipulating small objects difficult and, for some of you, would completely, albeit temporarily, ruin your social life (you know who you are).

But even now, some folks (literally) can’t get their hands around the standard controllers that come with their respective consoles. Many third party peripherals (Peripherals is Latin for ‘overpriced junk’) are available that may make things easier for you.

A game in the hand…

Having trouble getting to the television? Has your game console become the “thing little Jimmy watches Wall-E on”? Does meeting up with your SOCOM clan lose out to a Ghost Hunters marathon? Access to the shiny box that makes pretty pictures can be a problem when you’ve got a house full of other people who might want to spend their time doing something besides watching you play a game you’re probably really bad at. Little Jimmy may wind up a bit maladjusted while sitting and watching one of his parents take virtual bullets in their virtual heads over and over again. If this is the case you will hear about it in a concerned call from a school counselor.

Yes, it’s about James…no, his grades seem to be fine…he’s just spending an awful lot of time in the back of the room muttering to himself and saying things like ‘Damn campers’ and ‘I don’t care if it’s a legitimate strategy’ and ‘back and to the left’ over and over again…you need to come in.”

So, in the interest of domestic harmony and not raising a future tower sniper, may I suggest getting your gaming fix by altering your method and arena…go handheld.

Handheld games, much like your mom, are easy to pick up and relatively cheap. Plus, unlike that last joke, they are getting more sophisticated all the time, delivering near-console-worthy experiences in places that it’s inconvenient to bring consoles: work, funerals, subpoena hearings, family interventions, and the restroom.

Yes, with an investment in a PSP, Nintendo DS, iPod, or iPhone, you can turn what used to be a spot for reading Maxim or writing your ex-lover’s phone number on the wall with lewd promises can now be a new gaming haven.

A large Mexican meal can provide you with ample opportunity to play through God of War or grind out (no pun intended) a few levels in Final Fantasy.

One note of caution: save your game before your legs fall asleep. If you need to call in an assist here, you will have a lot of explaining to do.

Know your place

More than likely, if you maintain a social circle of people your own age and you don’t work in the video game industry in some form, than you probably don’t know a whole lot of other gamers.

Oh, sure…there are your ‘clan-mates’ and the random douchebags you’ve added to your friends list (including the dopes who get on mic and continuously ask, "can anyone hear me?" and the ones who insist on doing their bong hits with their headset on) because they sent a request and you were feeling really depressed about not having any names on yours, but no one you could call if you woke up in the trunk of car somewhere outside of Reno.

The majority of the people who you likely deal with on a daily basis can offer no opinion on where the Tomb Raider franchise went wrong, whether or not DLC is good for the industry in the long-term, or how to divine why almost all licensed games blow.

In fact, bringing up any of the above topics in mixed company will probably get you the same sort of bewildered look as if you just ran into the room and shouted “snowshoe!” for no readily apparent reason.

So, what to do when you can’t discuss games and gaming with your friends when you’re out in the ‘real’ world? Simple…ditch your friends.

Face it, they’ve never done you any good anyways (except the successful ones with cash to spare; keep them on speed-dial) and they’re only sucking up your gaming time with their barbeques, birthday parties, and family interventions. Think about it…that’s time you could be spending with virtual friends working on the LittleBigPlanet level that you’re never going to finish or get to work right.

Can your ‘real’ friends tag your levels as favorites, provide you with scores and times to beat or help you cheat your way to trophies and achievements. Much like certain northwestern-based state Governors, I think not.

Relationships with your virtual friends are much easier to maintain as well. With a few keystrokes you can arbitrarily dissolve relationships on a whim. Dissolving relationships with real people usually takes things like talking, discussing feelings, or providing reasons, all of which are usually uncomfortable, unpleasant, and best to be avoided.

These next two are specific to those who have, somehow, convinced another human being to spend a significant amount of time in close proximity to them without requiring a court order to do so.

Co-Op

Well, you’ve gotten yourself a significant other…congratulations! They may very well not have any idea what they’ve gotten themselves into, but that’s their problem isn’t it?

Sharing your space and life with someone special means accepting all of their little faults, foibles, and annoying habits, and insisting that they ignore yours.

It also means that unless you’re that rare social creature, the gaming couple, then you’re going to have to figure some things out…like how to bring someone around to your way of thinking while making them think it was all their idea. Ah, romance.

Chances are that the two of you may have very different interests and ideas about how to spend downtime. For example, you may think that firing up the Xbox and getting some folks together for some good old-fashioned zombie-killing in Left 4 Dead is a good and productive use of time at home. They, on the other hand, may want to do something really frivolous like talk, share feelings, bond, or contemplate the future.

The best thing to do to avoid these uncomfortable and gametime-wasting exercises is to try to convince your co-habitator that your need to game can actually provide benefits far beyond the visceral excitement of gunfire, explosions, impaling your opponents, and splattering their blood on the walls. Sell it as a good thing for the two of you.

“Hey, sweetie…you should be glad that I spend my time gaming. When I do have downtime you always know where I’m going to be and what I’m going to be doing…like a Lojack.”

Then, if you must, let them know what your other idiot friends are doing with their time instead of spending it at home. Go ahead and drop dime on the knuckleheads who are shooting pool, boozing it up, going to strip clubs, and doing horrible things to animals with turkey basters and voltage meters.

Once your significant other gets wind of what you could be doing with your time, perfecting your headshot skills or beating virtual hookers to a pulp with a set of brass knuckles, rolling her for the cash she was carrying, and leaving her body in a dark alley will seem downright quaint.

Be warned, this last maneuver will incur the wrath of your (former) friends and acquaintances once they find out that you were the one who narced them out and ruined all of their fun. Be very wary of any forthcoming invitations from those who you threw under the bus, especially to shoot pool, booze it up, or go to a strip club, or if they ask you if you have a turkey baster or voltage meter, and if you’re allergic to ferrets.

Accepting any of the above offers could lead to you winding up in that aforementioned trunk somewhere in Reno.

Yes, you run the risk of pissing some people off in the interest of preserving your own domestic tranquility and selfish interests, but that’s their problem, isn’t it?

Next-Gen

So, nature has taken its course and you’ve somehow beaten the odds and gotten someone to get into bed with you and allowed you to provide them with three and a half minutes of resigned frustration.

The natural outcome of such a pairing is, of course, a child. Speaking as a parent, simply having a child doesn’t mean you have to suddenly give away all of your gaming gear (unless you want to give it away to me; that’s different and something I would encourage). No, it just means a readjustment of priorities and time.

Nighttime is going to be your new best friend. Playing in the middle of the night will keep infants and toddlers away from the screen and reduce the chances of having a seizure be triggered by the lights and colors. Of course, if there’s no other way to get them to sleep, you may want to casually reroute them past the set while you’re in the midst of a round of Rez HD.

Keeping kids away from the screen also prevents them from having horrifying images like Kratos, firefights, and Miis being burned into their mushy, still-forming brains. You can ignore this if you’re planning on scarring your child’s psyche in the hopes that they will become a tower-sniper, serial killer, attorney, or something else just as demented. But, if you hope to raise a child who won’t delight in or profit from the misery of others, then you will have to consider the middle of the night as your new primetime.

Granted, hauling yourself out of bed in the middle of the night and tiptoeing around the house to game as quietly as possible isn’t the most enticing of prospects. Nor is using the time that you used to spend jotting down and trying out telephone chat line numbers, watching male enhancement pill infomercials, and trying to elicit cheap thrills by watching scrambled pornography for gaming instead, but having a child is a life-changing event, pal…so you’re going to have to change your life.

When your kids start getting older, chances are that they’re going to inherit your complete lack of athletic ability and dearth of social skills, so they’re going to want to game.

Their desire to share in your hobby means a couple of things. First, you’re going to need to pretend for the moment that you are the responsible one in the equation and make decisions in the best interests of the child. For example, you should steer children of a certain age away from titles like Grand Theft Auto 4, Gears of War, Condemned 2, and Metal Gear Solid 4. Not because of the mature themes or graphic participatory violence, but because a young child’s hands are simply too small and lack the dexterity to manipulate the complicated control schemes properly. There is nothing more frustrating for a parent than to watch their child play a great game really poorly because they can’t work the controls and are too young to read the manual.

The other problem with children wanting to get involved in video gaming is that they will start cutting into your gaming time, which will already be severely limited in the first place. Should you have to curtail your fun in order to let junior waste everyone’s time playing the latest Pixar-themed, shovelware piece of junk?

I say, “Nay!” Your best bet is to turn them on to software that is age-appropriate but still fun for those in the house who can vote. Games like LittleBigPlanet and Guitar Hero are things everyone can get into, and, if you secretly crank up the difficulty, the child will soon give up and begin shutting themselves in their room, wearing black, and writing awful prose poetry into overpriced journals about how ‘stupid’ their parents and their hobby are, how nobody understands their pain, and how when they get older they’re going to run away to San Francisco, work in a socialist coffee shop, and make a ‘statement.’

Meanwhile, you get your console all to yourself and never have to play a movie tie-in game again. Problem solved.

 

Hopefully some of this helps and remember, as gamers get older our needs are going to change and the industry will have to respond. I, for example, am working on a way to be able to recharge controllers and iPhones by connecting them to a pacemaker. It will work better once I figure out a way to incorporate the rumble feature without stopping some poor slob’s heart.

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