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Is Gaming the Fountain of Youth?


So I’m turning 30 this year.

Every time someone has brought that up to me, they say it to me like, “Oh God, Nick, you’re going to be… *thunder clap* thirty. Starting to feel… old… yet? He he he cackle!” I never really know how to respond to this kind of talk. I mean, 30 is still so young in the broad scheme of things. Sure, it’s not my twenties, but given that there is still so much more for me to experience it’s hard for me to say that I feel old at all. Turning 30 isn’t going to magically transform me into some sort of age-bracket appropriate automaton. It’ll be a process of learning and adapting, just like all other decades of your life.

These discussions on turning 30 have left me wondering about my age in relationship with my passion for gaming. I remember being a kid, burning away on multi-hour gaming session, my mother and father shouting at me from the bottom of the stairs to “turn off those games and do something constructive, like read a book or go outside!” It’s not like I never went outside, and I read extensively too, but to them, more than thirty minutes playing a video game was over-doing it. Who could blame them? To them, being raised very traditionally in a southern, small town, video games looked like Pong and flashing colors on a screen with no true substance. They were a purely childish endeavor that gave nothing meaningful back to the user, like eating a pile of Snickers. And, perhaps not surprisingly, that stigma persists to this day in culture. Yes, video games are more widely-accepted than ever, even getting use as educational tools, but gaming’s relationship with youth identity seems continuously purveyed, probably one of the biggest reasons any pundit who advocates for banning violent video games is given any sort of credence. So it leaves me to wonder – if gaming is to be associated with youth, does that mean that the gaming community has tapped into the fountain of youth?

Though I realize I’m talking metaphorically, it still stands to reason that gaming culture has a knack for making me feel youthful. If I’m ever feeling the oppressions of aging and responsibility, all I need to do is boot up a game and *poof, I’m casting spells and/or punching aliens/Nazis/zombies in the face with the butt of my shotgun. When I think of all of the wonderfully goofy, surreal, over-the-top things I’ve seen and done playing video games, I can’t help but feel giddily exuberant about it all to the point of geeking out like a six-year-old on a Surge binge:

Like chasing down a purple octopus hell bent on disrupting the opera by dropping an implausible four ton weight on my ice mage.

Or riding and jumping from missle to missle as they are launched at in impenetrable alien-ship that I for some reason can take down with my machine gun much easier.

Or crawling all over a giant bee to pick star pieces out of her hair.

Or slicing up thugs with a laser katana while they explode into a shower of blood and coins.

Or flying around a tropical island on a hang glider before dropping from like 30 ft only for my fall to be broken by landing on a pirate.

Or racing against my nemesis’ anthropomorphic turd.

Even games with a serious tone do little to completely sway my mind away from youthful exuberance. I giggle along at Max Payne’s constant string of glum statements as he effortlessly guns down five guys, or Niko Bellic’s swearing of reform while he’s backing the car over grandmothers, or Alex Mercer’s pseudo-heroism while he’s running a tank over a street of pedestrians before hopping out and eating a couple. The aesthetics of maturity aside, today’s popular gaming scene features many games that run the gamut of all sorts of cartoonish activities. And I’m certainly not calling them out for this – Saint's Row as a franchise has for a while now ditched any pretense of adult melodramatics, and the series is all the better for it. They do it to be fun, and that’s where it counts.

But what am I suggesting? That older people don’t like to have fun? All older people are trying to get the ski lodge shut down so those pesky teenagers got nowhere to hang out? Looking at the ESA’s 2012 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry, the average age of today’s gaming public is 30, and 37% of those who game are 36 and older, the largest slice of the pie. And as time goes on, that slice is going to get bigger. If anything, statistics would indicate that gaming is done predominantly by older people, and as a 29-year-old I’m currently BELOW the average, which is pretty strange for something that is supposedly comprised of "the young people." So is it fair to say that perhaps all of the things that I associate with youth culture are actually more and more largely being adopted into adult culture?

Not only that, but what about games that are oppressively adult in the themes that they explore? Games like DepressionQuest, or The Cat Lady, or Cart Life are all games that take inspiration from the uncomfortable realities of the mature life. Even Max Payne 3, cartoonish action notwithstanding, utilizes a portrayal of Max that is often a very heart-breaking representation of depression and addiction. And while it is all too possible for these things to happen to kids (Limbo and The Binding of Isaac would attest to that), these themes’ proper understanding require time and experience, both of which are part of the aging process.

I feel like I’m spinning my wheels here, but then again I don’t know if I’m qualified to make a conclusive statement on the nature of gaming and its relationship to age. The human condition often attempts to make meaning of events by categorizing activities with certain levels of appropriateness, and the youth-stigma that clings to gaming culture seems more or less systemic of such. But regardless of that narrow categorization, games tend to mean a lot of things to a lot of people, and even more multiplicities within those meanings. I can be just as enthralled by frantic levels of goofiness just as much as I can be immersed in unflinchingly mature situations. I will always appreciate that games have the impact on me that they do, and whether or not the contradictions of youth-stigma and adult content ever come to a settling point, I will still be gaming until I can’t game no more.
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About NickCullone of us since 5:02 PM on 12.16.2009

Married, working, gaming in Kentucky. I heart you, reader.
Steam ID:toddestroy


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