Updated: Feb 12
As you can tell by my bio at the end of this article I am *ahem* ‘Getting on a bit’. As I have grown older, I have noticed there are many aspects of gaming that are becoming increasingly difficult as time goes on. I imagine that other gamers of ‘my vintage’ have experienced similar trials and tribulations, so if you relate to any of these know that you are not alone. For any teens and twenty-going-on-thirty-somethings reading this - you have all this to look forward to 😉
So, slip on your comfy slippers and sit in your favourite armchair with a nice warm mug of Horlicks and join me as we investigate the difficulties faced by the middle-aged gamer.
1: The mind is willing, but the body Is weak
As you get older you may find you’ll start to ache in all sorts of strange places. What’s more, hair disappears from the places you want it, whilst it sprouts in the places you don’t.
(Are ear-beards and nostril goatees fashionable yet?)
On a more serious note, your physical abilities may start to degrade somewhat. Eyesight can start to go downhill, which may require eye-glasses. This may make wearing future VR headsets a challenge. In the present, it may mean using stronger prescription glasses, which may make prolonged gaming sessions uncomfortable on the eyes. In more extreme cases a gamer may find that their vision cannot be fully corrected by glasses, and thus games may start to look blurry. This may become a serious problem in games that have small on-screen text and no voice-overs for it.
Your hearing may become less acute too, although this can usually be countered by raising the volume on your tv/speakers/headset etc.
Less easily counted are reductions in reflexes and hand-eye coordination. This is something I have started to notice in myself. There are some games which I was superb at as a child, teen and twenty-something, but struggle with now.
A good example of this being Turrican 2: The Final Fight on the Amiga. When I was a tween in the early ’90s I legitimately laid claim to being one of the best Turrican 2 players in the country.
CVG Magazine (remember them?) listed the national high score as being about 2.5 million. My top score was 3.34 million - about 840,000 points higher. Some people claimed I was lying, stating it was not possible to attain such a high score. The video below clearly shows that it was possible since the player scores even higher than I did. I would estimate my ability at the time to be slightly under Thundard’s - I think I died once or twice.
Turrican 2: The Final Fight
Video by Thundard
But that was then. It’s an entirely different story now. I have been playing it again recently and I am nowhere near as proficient as I used to be - indeed I am having difficulty completing it at all. But why?
I could blame it on ‘Joypad rust’ - it has been about 25 years since I last played it - and I have similar problems with other games from this era too.
I could blame it on my being out of practice when it comes to 2D games in general, since I haven’t played many 2D games since 3D games took over in the late ‘90s.
I could also try to explain it away by saying “It’s because I am using joypads now as opposed to the joysticks I used back then”.
However, I suspect the truth of the matter is that my reflexes and reaction times are simply not as quick as they used to be.
When I was in my early 20s I was very good at Super Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers for the Mega Drive/Genesis. I was able to beat the single-player campaign at the highest speed and hardest difficulty settings, whilst getting perfects in under nine seconds every round. A perfect run. (Assuming I was using Ken and the six-button pad that is).
My weapon of choice back in the day…
However, I am pretty much hopeless at it now. I now struggle to complete the single-player campaigns of any of the Street Fighter games on even medium speed and difficulty settings. When I let my nine-year-old daughter beat me in versus mode I only have to self-nerf a little. She will probably be legitimately kicking my A$$ before long.
I also find I am unable to enter that zen ‘in the Zone state’ these days either. I remember winning the hardest and fastest races in Burnout Revenge on the Xbox 360. I could do so without conscious effort. My joypad and my on-screen car were a continuous extension of my body, working in perfect harmony. I was able to slip between traffic at 200 mph ‘as smoothly as a fast-flowing stream slips between rocks’.
(Or some other profound sounding gobbledygook.)
Now I am lucky if I can pull out of the garage in Burnout Paradise without crashing into a parked car 🤣
2: Not enough free-time
Once you have to start working for a living your amount of free time starts to become limited. Add significant others, children, pets, chores etc. to the equation and it may dry up completely.
Lazy weekends gaming for six-hours straight become a distant memory. You may be grateful for six uninterrupted minutes. Games that allow quick-saves become a lifesaver, whilst games with widely spaced checkpoints become a non-starter.
3: Not enough energy
Although most gaming involves sitting upon one’s fundament, it is not a passive activity as it requires a certain amount of mental energy. As you get older and the demands on your time increase you may find that you simply do not have the energy to game come the end of the day. Vegging-out in front of the TV might be all you can manage by that point.
4: Your squadmates are rarely available at the same time
You and your friends may have been part of a squad for years and would meet up regularly for a gaming sesh (or even a LAN party if you remember the ‘90s). However, now most of you have a combination of jobs, partners, kiddies, pets, PTA meetings, kids parties, chores, DIY, gardening and finding-out-what’s-causing-the-car-to-make-that-weird-sound to be dealing with, finding a time when everyone is available at the same time becomes more of a mission than the game itself.
Factor in those last-minute changes of plan, such as medical emergencies - “Sorry, I can’t do tonight after all. Little Sally has stuck a crayon up her nose so we are off to the hospital to get it out” - and you will be lucky if half the squad shows up.
5: Not enough disposable income
Sure, you are earning a decent salary now compared to what you did when you were 18, but now most of it gets eaten up by rent, mortgages, bills, insurances, little-Timmy’s-new-shoes-because-he-grew-out-of-the-ones-you-bought-him-two-weeks-ago and the like.
So now your disposable income is leaner than ever, whilst games are becoming increasingly expensive. Combine the two and affording more than a few games a year may become ‘aspirational’.
6: Staying up-to-date with the latest games become difficult
The video game industry is evolving and advancing (in some ways at least) faster now than it ever has before. Keeping up with current events, newest tech, gaming news and whatever the latest hot-button topic is can become a major challenge for the time-poor gamer.
I do this for a living full-time and have press access etc., and even I struggle to keep on top of it all. How someone who is working 40 hours a week doing a regular job and has family commitments etc. is supposed to keep up is anyone’s guess. I suspect that many gamers as old as me simply do not bother because…
7: Becoming stuck in our ways and indifferent to new releases
...They already own all the games they want and are disinterested in playing anything new.
Studies have shown we humans tend to stop discovering new music at age 30. I strongly suspect that this holds true for gaming as well. Looking at my own 500+ games library there are very few which are more recent than 2012, and even those that are tend to be either continuations of pre-2012 franchises - Doom 2016 for example - or their spiritual successors, such as Dishonoured or Prey - spiritual successors to the early 2000s immersive sims such as System Shock 2)
I keep up-to-date with the latest games since it is my job to do so, but if it were not, and I was left to my own devices, I would probably spend all my gaming time playing mods and retro games.
As you get older it can become more difficult to learn new skills if they are significantly different from the skills you already possess. The US military has a term for this - ‘Negative Skills Transfer’. This generally related to the introduction of high-tech digital systems into its force structure. Older service people - those that could be described as ‘Digital tourists’ - had difficulty ‘getting their heads around it’. Younger service people - new recruits especially - were Digital Natives. They grew up with digital tech so the high tech ‘digital battlespace’ was natural to them.
Gamers of my generation – the Gen Xers and the Oregon Trail generation sit somewhere in the middle - we are ‘digital naturalised immigrants’ as I once jokingly put it. I ‘get’ most technology, although I struggle to ‘get’ Twitter.
(Incidentally - WTH is an ‘Instagram Influencer’ and why should I care what one thinks? I am genuinely confused…)
That said, I may not ‘get on’ with a revolutionary technology if it was released today. For example, I haven’t yet experienced VR (although it is high on my bucket list) and I fear I may not get on well with it since I didn’t get on with Wiimotes, Kinect or other ‘gesture interface’ systems either - none of them ‘felt right’.
9: Muscle memory
Muscle memory can be a great thing, but it is also very difficult to un-learn. Gamers ‘of my vintage’ might be too used to gaming a certain way to be able to make drastic changes. I offer up myself as a case-in-point. I still use the arrow keys for PC gaming because I started gaming with microcomputers and PCs long before WASD became the norm. The muscle memory had become so ingrained by then that attempting to switch to WASD was an absolute disaster. Trying to adapt to something even more radical would probably be impossible at this point, and I suspect many gamers as old and dusty as me would struggle too 😊
And there we have it, I have bared my (rather crusty) soul about the trials and tribulations I face as a middle-aged gamer. Do you find yourself in a similar situation or know someone who is? Tell us about it. Are you still in your youth? If so, do you foresee yourself facing similar challenges in twenty-odd years, or do you predict something else entirely? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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