An Old Man’s Game

I am getting old.

The grey hair is beginning to creep in. Quiet nights at home are preferable to drunkenly running around town. I don’t understand the appeal of teen-centric programming on MTV. I barely know how to use Facebook.

And I think I’m getting worse at video games.

Master Chief Coffee

Keep it together, Chief. [via]

I never thought this would happen – not to me, at least. I’ve played games my whole life, and the unspoken truth was that as I got older, my skills sharpened. Years of experience melded with my malleable hands, creating a veritable hurricane of unbridled video game badassery. I was certain of few things in life, but I knew this to be a fact: If you put a game in front of me, it could be conquered with enough time and effort.

But no longer. My once nimble hands now fumble over the controller and keyboard, desperately trying to find the exact rhythm that would unlock that ever-elusive killstreak. My eyes now squint as I stare at a TV screen, unsure if that movement in the distance is an opposing player or – nope, I’m dead now, so that was definitely an opponent.

Maybe this is what an athlete feels like after he exits the prime of his career: I’m filled with knowledge and experience, but my body just can’t keep up with the ever-evolving game.

As with all things, my downward spiral can all be blamed on the internet.

I was 18 and I was pretty sure that I was the best at Halo. No, I mean, seriously: THE BEST. Deathmatches with my close group of friends often ended in me getting 10, 15 points ahead of them and then playing the game of, “Hey guys, look, I suddenly lost all of my motor skills. What happened?” I’d let them catch up a bit and then miraculously pull off a spectacular game-winning kill at the last second (side note: it usually involved a Warthog flying towards their face). I was toying with them, giving them a glimmer of hope before I’d swoop in with my pistol for a spirit-crushing headshot. I didn’t let them in on it, but I knew I could trounce them with one life if needed.

And then Halo 2 came out. You know, the one with online multiplayer.

I held my own for a while, but as the months wore on, I realized something incredibly sobering: I was totally average at Halo 2. I’d have my occasional great matches, but I was consistently falling somewhere in the middle of the field. Where I was once the one toying with the competition, I suddenly realized there was someone on the other side of the world doing the same to me.

Warthog Crash

We meant to do that

Truth is, I was probably totally average at Halo, too. I was just a big fish in a small pond when playing with my group of friends, and it took joining in the ranks of the internet to make me realize how not-good I really was.

Now, over ten years later, I find I’m perfectly content if I can get a flat K/D ratio. It’s been a slow crawl to get here – ten years of grudging acceptance – but I don’t have the trigger finger gusto that I once did. Maybe if I dedicated every spare moment to my multiplayer shooter of choice I could get somewhat close to those original Halo days, but I just don’t have it in me anymore. Multiplayer shooters are a young man’s game, after all.

It’s a sad thing to realize, but competitive multiplayer games don’t hold the appeal they once did, and that’s probably because being reminded you’re not that great is more disheartening than its worth.

But with age comes wisdom

… and with wisdom comes the ability to appreciate more about the things I love than I ever did back then. I’m no longer disheartened when I lose a multiplayer match. Instead, I enjoy playing a multiplayer game because of the social experience – the competition and K/D chase has come secondary to the joy of chatting and bullshitting with friends, some of whom I’ve never even met face to face. With wisdom comes the ability to appreciate different kind of games: games where story and art comes secondary to mechanics, games where mechanics can create a compelling and unique narrative, games where I’m not just shooting dudes in the face.

With age comes the acceptance of the old adage: Winning isn’t everything.

But it’s still nice from time to time.