Game over: what happens when gamers get old?

Are you ever too old to play video games? It’s a conundrum I am currently wrestling with

Last month I found myself celebrating my 40th birthday – yet, I don’t feel 40. When I think of 40, I think of wisdom. I think of responsibility. I think of brown cord trousers. This morning I spent over two hours on the sofa, in my underpants, clearing downtown Seattle of The Last Of Us Part II’s infected.

The Last Of Us Part II
The Last Of Us Part II. Credit: Naughty Dog.

It’s strange to think I’ve been alive almost as long as video games have been around. Sure, scientists had been mucking around in laboratory’s playing supersized versions of tic tac toe since the ’50s, but it’s commonly accepted that the timeline of what we know video games to be began in 1972 with the introduction of Atari’s Pong into games arcades.

Iconic, endlessly parodied, it’s basic visuals engrained in popular culture; you know Pong even if you’ve never played it. In 1975, Atari released a version you could play at home. By the late-’70s the market was flooded with counterfeits and every home could play a really crap game of table tennis if they did so desire.

Then in 1980, I came along. I quickly found my family’s Pong rip-off in the drawer under the drinks cabinet. And nothing has ever been the same again.

Star Fox
Star Fox. Credit: Nintendo

I’ve been present for most of video games’ storied history. My growth has run parallel to the mediums’. I was there for the ’80s Commodore/Sinclair wars. I was there for the Amiga years. Golden years. Idyllic years. Years spent tinkering with Sensible World Of Soccer formations all day and all night.

I played Star Fox on the SNES at my friend Mark’s and Sonic The Hedgehog at Steve’s. Then Christmas 1996 came and brought the PlayStation into my life, turning my focus from computer games to console forever. At university I hogged my houseshare’s communal N64, the Sega Dreamcast, I bought a PS2, a PSP, an Xbox360, a Nintendo DS (and in 2009, when everyone lost their minds for 3D once more, a 3DS). I got a PS3, a PS4, an Xbox One and a Nintendo Switch.

And yet there have been times, recent ones, where I’ve felt discomfort while playing games. Said discomfort is relatively mild, a bit like having a small stone in your shoe, but it’s enough to make me question how long I can stay engaged with my life’s primary interest. Because things are different now.

Sonic The Hedgehog
Sonic The Hedgehog. Credit: Sega

The 30-hour-plus campaign in The Last Of Us Part II doesn’t fill me with excitement, but worry as to where I’ll find the time. I’d really like to play Ghost Of Tsushima, but I’m not sure I can justify spending £50 when I really should be topping up my pension. Somewhere in the cosmos my 14-year-old self just read that sentence and is distraught at what he grew up to be.

I tell my friends about new games they might like. “There’s this game called Fall Guys, it’s amazing,” I told my friend Matt last week. “It’s sort of like It’s A Knockout, but on drugs.”

In times gone by, Matt would have started the download before we’d even got off the phone. But now? He’s sceptical he’ll even find the time to play it. “The kid isn’t sleeping at the moment. He’s teething, I think. If I get an hour I’m going to have to sleep.” Again, somewhere in an alternate universe, my 14-year-old self is consoling Matt’s 14-year-old self.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. Credit: Alan Wen

But then I think about what I’ve seen in my lifetime; how rudimentary sprites have evolved into the realistic audio-visual feast’s games have become. How gaming has come to permeate all walks of life. How alternate realities increasingly provide more fun and more inspiration than the dull, grey, cruel world that lives beyond their digital walls.

I can’t wait to see what happens next. What games look like in five years, 10, 15 or 20. I’m not giving up. I’m never giving up. You’re gonna have to prise that DualShock controller out of my cold, dead hands as they lower me into the ground!

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