I recently read this article by David Wong & John Cheese over at Cracked.com titled “5 Ways to Tell You’re Getting Too Old For Video Games”. To point out the “game shame” (my terminology for the widespread cultural disrespect for games) of this statement is almost trivially easy; by making such a statement, he’s saying that games are inherently and necessarily “for children”. However, that’s not the reason I was inspired to write a reactionary post; far more egregious examples game shame can be found in almost any article written about video games from any source you can find on the internet. The reason I want to write about this particular article is that the author starts with a bunch of very legitimate, solid complaints, and then comes to woefully incorrect conclusions.
Point #5 – You Think Multiplayer Is Bullshit
The author points out, correctly, that most games have an extremely lame single-player experience that’s all really just a training for the multiplayer, and yet his kids don’t mind this.
“…my own kids can head-shot me on the run while jumping off of a building and switching weapons in mid-air. And you know what? Not once do I hear them complain about what a fuckjob move it was for the industry to focus on multiplayer.”
Firstly, the problem is not the focus on multiplayer, the problem is, if anything, not enough focus on multiplayer – in other words, adding a lame, lip-service single player is the problem. Further, he strangely compares a game like Final Fantasy VI to multiplayer games like Call of Duty, and then complains about Call of Duty‘s single-player. Obviously, this is not a fair comparison, as Final Fantasy games are completely, entirely focused on providing an interesting single-player experience with no multiplayer features whatsoever. The problem is, simply, lack of focus in modern games. And by the way, it’s true that kids don’t complain about even the most obvious of bad things, because they are kids, and kids aren’t that critical. We’ll come back to this later.
He also makes the point that he has less time for games now that he’s older. Well, that’s nobody’s fault but his, and does absolutely nothing to say that he’s getting too old for video games. All arts & entertainment take time; if you don’t make the time to enjoy them, you won’t enjoy them. No one made him have three kids; he chose to do that with his life and he can’t expect to have the same amount of time for himself now as he did before they were born. Is this rocket science?
Point #4 – You Think Games are Suddenly Too Long
This section talks about how long games are, and how he doesn’t have time for them because of it. I completely agree with his assertion that advertising the “length” of a game is utterly stupid, although he gets a bit lost in parts:
“The very next notch up the scale of game length is the “you will never fucking see everything even if you play it for three years” games.”
Who said that games were supposed to be about “seeing everything”? This statement only makes sense if you view games as digital asset tours rather than games.
“I need a game that will give me the most possible fun in the precious few hours of spare time I get in a week.”
…Yeah. That’s what everyone needs. I don’t care if you have one hour per week to play games, or sixty – we all want more fun per hour. The alternative to this would be to argue for “less fun per hour of play”. So, while he’s trying to attribute this to his “old age”, actually this is just something that we all fundamentally have needed all along, and he’s just finally figuring it out.
Point # 3 – You Miss Game Storylines that were Actually Compelling
“And even weirder, I watch my kids play games now that barely have a story at all, yet they’re transfixed.”
Most of the most fun games ever invented do not have stories at all – Tetris, Chess, Go, Desktop Dungeons, Football, Counter-Strike – just to name a few. I already pointed out that games are not only not about story, but that story and games actually damage each other in a previous post. So, he’s working under a totally false assumption here to begin with. His basic argument for this section is that as you get older, your imagination starts sucking and that’s why stories from games are harder to enjoy. Well, that’s not true. The reality is that we get more critical as we get older, and this is a good thing (again, will address this at the end of the article).
Point #2 – You Think Originality is Dead
Point 2 accurately depicts the modern digital games scene as almost completely unoriginal. He then makes the point to argue that games were also unoriginal 15-20 years ago. Although I think games were a bit more original the farther back you go in the history of digital gaming (they were original because the technology essentially forced them to be), I won’t deny that through the 90s (which seems to be this writer’s preferred “golden era”), the situation was almost as bad as it is today. But why does he go and blame it on himself for being critical enough to notice it, rather than demand that games become more original? Video games, like every other medium, have a responsibility to be good and original enough to allow critical-thinking adults to be able to enjoy them. How is it his fault that he’s smart enough to notice a problem?
Point #1 – You Miss When Games Used to be “All About Fun”
Okay, so his entire article really could have been Point #1, as it’s really what he’s getting at – that because of his old age, he now can’t enjoy the crappy crap that he used to be super excited about as a kid. Yes, this is what happens when you get smarter. Adults are more knowledgeable and more critical than children – they have more experience to draw from and whenever they are exposed to arts & entertainment they have more to compare it to. Adults are better at understanding what’s good and what is not than children. This is not a bad thing; in fact, just as we’re more equipped to dismiss something for sucking, we’re also more equipped to more deeply appreciate something that is truly wonderful. I would not trade my ability to think critically for anything. I’m proud of it, and other adults should be, too.
The fact is that there’s nothing at all here pointing to the ridiculous idea that anyone is “getting too old” for video games. Video games are in a god-awful place right now and I’m surprised anyone is able to stomach them. Just as music, film and every other medium has to meet a certain standard for us, video games simply need to up their game, literally. They need to be less bloated, more focused, more original, and just overall better in order to attract an adult audience. The problem is not that the author is getting too old, it’s that he’s getting too smart. And that’s not a problem at all!