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Caitlin Cooke
10:28 AM on 12.31.2011

Wow, it's been a full year since I began posting on the cblogs...time flies. I know everyone's heard it a billion times from me and everyone else, but I truly am grateful for this community. Thank you for being you.

Anyway, 2012 is almost here so Id like to touch on some gaming themes that have been in the back of my mind all year.

#1: Gaming as a variable, not a constant

Growing up, it's always been one way for me: I played video games constantly and slotted out time for the other things in my life like homework, friends, and playing outside (whatever that means). In other words, gaming was my constant and the other things in my life were variables to fit my mold. Literally, if a friend called me up to see a movie on a Saturday night but I was already playing NWN with internet friends, I would decline. Every time. Sure, it put strains on my friendships and I became somewhat of a caveman in my basement, but there was no way I was giving up my gaming time. I guess in some sense people would call that being anti-social, but in my mind gaming was a priority and internet friends counted as real people.

However, my gaming habits started to have a shift in college. I had barely scraped by in my honors/AP classes in high school and missed honors society by .01 of my GPA, so I made a commitment to myself to push harder in college. I know it sounds extremely corny, but it worked: I had higher marks than anyone I knew from high school, and I was top 5 in my major's graduating class. But my constant changed - I was no longer prioritizing gaming, and it was instead used as a reward to get myself to do the work. At least then, I still had the time (although less of it), and for a holiday or a long weekend I could again place gaming as my priority.

Unfortunately though, as most of you are aware, once you become an "adult" with a real job it becomes near impossible to place priorities at all. This was officially the death of gaming as my constant - and the beginnings of it becoming a variable in my life. With a full workday, social obligations, and other projects there just wasn't time for much else. And now with my added commute, gaming has officially become a "to-do" in my mind - something that I constantly need to remind myself to get to when I have free time. It's a strange shift, and I know I'm getting old because I look back to college and high school and think of them as my golden gaming years - something I won't ever have again.

#2: Gaming and the new (female) Generation

I honestly hate placing people in Generation [insert letter here] categories. Every person is different, and while the majority do tend to have similar qualities it by no means indicates that we're all the same type of person. Apparently my generation is known for being computer and technology savvy, but I can honestly count more friends that still use aol.com addresses and IE than those who keep up to date with technology. That being said, I do think there is a trend in regards to gaming with this latest generation - something I only started to realize once I moved closer to my teenage cousin.

Jess has an interesting outlook on games. I've seen her play Mario Kart (on the DS and Wii), blast through old PS2 games like Sly Cooper, play through a few of the Lego series on 360, and she's definitely obsessed with Dance Central. She's played all of these with her other female friends. But she adamantly rejects the fact that she plays video games. And not just around her guy friends - but around everyone. Jess has kicked my ass multiple times in Mario Kart, but the second I begin to talk about her Kart skills in front of her friends she shushes me. I'm also realizing that none of her friends, whom she plays all of these games with, ever talk about it around their other friends - specifically male ones. It's like some big secret that they don't want people to know about. They feel like there's some kind of stigma attached to the gamer label, and they want to distance themselves from it as much as possible.

It's a well known fact that gaming is reaching even more people nowadays. It's no longer some secret society, a hobby for the weird or anti-social as it was once pictured. But I feel the majority of people, including young gamers, are still treating it as such. Obviously, observing one girl and her friends isn't definitive proof, but it's a theme that keeps cropping up this year - and I'm curious to see what happens in 5-10 years when these kids grow up. Will they continue to be gamers, will it continue to be a secret, and if not will it just be a silly past time?

#3: Modern FPS can be fun!

I used to love old-school FPS - they had interesting themes (TimeSplitters, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie multiplayer, etc) but most of all they were a blast to play through - especially with other people. Maybe it was the fact that the mechanics and graphics were so simple, or maybe it was nostalgic youth speaking, but I was always under the impression that these older games were a lot more fun than the modern, more manly and war-themed FPS. So as more and more FPS started to come out, I slowly inched away from the genre as a whole. I held an outlook that these games were too complicated and completely uninteresting and left it at that.

Recently though I've had a shift which began when I started playing MAG with Elsa and the other 'toiders. At first I thought that it was out of my league - so many customization options, so many guns and tasks, and not to mention 255 other people. But they walked me through it and after a few plays I felt I could actually make a contribution - I could fix up tanks, take control of a turret, heal others, or just run around like an idiot shooting people. That's when it clicked - modern FPS isn't about complication or manly-ness - it's about being a team player, about contributing your skills for the greater good (which happens to be winning some kind of war, but whatever).

Unfortunately though, I moved away and had to leave my PS3 behind - but with losses come great gains, and my gain happened to be at work. Just recently, I found a group of people that play COD periodically in the break room. Instead of shutting out the game and walking away like I probably would have earlier in the year, I approached them and asked to play. For the past few weeks I've slowly been gaining confidence and skill in FPS, and I've not only won games but I've also had loads of fun doing it. I'm glad I've gotten into modern FPS, and although I still miss my old FPS I'm very excited about the improvements made to the genre as a whole.

So that's it for me - what are your themes from 2011?

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