I began playing video games when I was four – not to imply I’m some OG you should be paying respects to – I’m just providing context. My earliest favorite was Berzerk on the Atari. I used to hold the joystick upside-down, and my father would marvel at this: “How can he play it like that?” He’d ask my brothers this while I tried to focus on killing robots. The irony is I never invert my controls these days.
When I was in grade eleven, my parents took a cruise to Cuba. They didn’t ask if I wanted to come, which was great because it meant I didn’t have to say, “No, get outta here. Have a good time.” I stayed at home, alone, through Easter break, playing Final Fantasy Tactics while listening to Weezer’s Blue Album. This would’ve been 1999.
Ten years later, I was working as a supply/substitute teacher, living with my parents while pretending I wasn’t. In those days it was Battlefield: Bad Company 2, which I played online for well over a thousand hours. I had a 360 copy I used with my brothers, and a PS3 copy I played with my oldest buddies. I was twenty-seven and in the prime of my life; single, sleeping on my parent’s couch, working a job that paid when they bothered to call me. Yes, I had it all. There was a small caveat, though: for the first time ever, certain joints were beginning to ache when I sat for long BF sessions. The meaty part of my palm, just below my thumb, was tender when I poked it, and if I bent my thumbs in a certain way, they’d whisper back with a tickle of pain. Like any rational twenty-something, I pretended this wasn’t happening, and elected to ignore the discomfort. I switched to less demanding PC titles for a while; dusted off Diablo, braved Baldur’s Gate. I tried to monitor my Bad Company time, do the responsible thing and ease off the gas pedal.
Almost ten years later and I’m thirty-six now. I’m married and I have a Basset Hound (she came with the marriage). I walk her – the dog, not the wife – through my hometown in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where blustery winter strolls feel like having your skin fileted. High precipitations and 60 mph winds are Mother Nature’s weapon against video games because they cause power outages, but that’s another story.
My life is mostly console gaming because I can’t afford a decent PC. Besides, I’ve done a poor job keeping up with computer specs since my last reliable desktop, so I feel like my elderly dad whenever I try to figure out what my measly laptop can and can’t run. On PS4 and Xbox One I play most of the hits you’ve all been playing; Forza Horizon 3, The Witcher III, Fallout 4, the Doom re-make. I could go on, but what do you care? You have your own stuff to play. Let me ask you, though, have you put any time into Overwatch? I sure have. Overwatch and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater are the only two games in my history that fall into a special category: without knowing anything about them, I bought these titles because people were talking about them so much. In both cases, I’m glad I clambered on the bandwagon.
I have played Overwatch (PS4) since a month or so after its release and I love it. For myself, I consider it one of the most enjoyable multiplayer shooters out there. I’m sure I’ll be met with haters, players who can run circles around me in Call of Duty titles, or PUBG or whatever. Some gamers feel the need to dislike certain publishers just for the hell of it, and I don’t doubt Blizzard is at the top of the list for a lot of people like this. Argue if you want, but I'd recommend Overwatch to anyone who has enjoyed a multiplayer shooter between Goldeneye and Black Ops because OW has something for everybody. There are several playstyles incorporated into this one title, and for the most part they are relatively balanced, so the game becomes a players’ buffet. If you hate McCree, try some Soldier 76 with a side of soy sauce and see if that settles things.
My personal favorite is Tracer. In most shooters, I tend to get overwhelmed when I group up with a team; I stumble too far forward and get wasted, or I lose track of my teammates and I’m not there when they need covering fire. Suddenly, players are yelling at me, trying to pronounce my gamertag while they ask, “What the hell are you doing?!” But Tracer! At the professional level Tracer has her own specific roles, but in quickplay I can take her for a spin apart from the team, set up a flank, poke at opponent defense, dance some circles around an isolated Roadhog. When I play Tracer, I feel like I can do my own thing while still contributing to my team’s win percentage.
The thing is, my thumbs have been acting up again. Tracer requires a lot of movement each round, and the better I’m doing with her, the more movement it takes. While waiting for the next match to load, I rotate my thumb fifteen times in one direction, then fifteen in the opposite direction. I flex my thumb to the base of my pinky fifteen times, then I switch to the other thumb and do these all again. I tell myself the exercises are helping, and maybe they are. I worry, though. I’m thirty-six and that’s old. I have as many gray hairs as brown, and I even find translucent ones coming out of my ears (my goddamn ears!). The first thing I do when I wake up is crack the fingers on each hand, then the wrists. I listen to them pop and protest as I work the built-up fluid inside my skin. I try to do my thumb exercises every day, flexing and rotating while I wait in line to buy groceries as nearby children stare at me. “This could be you, kids! Hold onto your youth!” I feel like saying this to them, but that would make me a lunatic, so I keep quiet.
My wife never asked for any of this. She has never played a video game besides Mario Kart, and she can’t understand the appeal of games, even after five years together. I try to get her interested in Zelda, in Skyrim, but it’s a lost cause. She likes doing “activities” and going outside. She has a sexual fantasy where we make love in a canoe, like that’s a good idea. She thinks it’ll be romantic, but I picture us saturated, naked in the water, and I’m yelling at her to “get the oars!” while I swim to race the current so I can wrangle the canoe before we lose the deposit we paid to rent it. What can I say? The heart wants what the heart wants. I don’t need her to play video games because I’m doing enough of that for the both of us. However, I feel a compulsion to be honest with her, so I tell her about my hands.
“My thumbs have been starting to hurt a lot from gaming,” I admit to her, a little embarrassed.
“Isn’t that like saying you have a sore wrist from jerking off too much?” I’m not impressed with her lack of sympathy, but I guess I see her point.
I’ve taken to the Overwatch League more than I expected, and I really enjoy the broadcasts, learning about the teams and the coaching strategies. I let the action unfold on my screen while I quickly run the dog outside. The wind blasts us in the face and blows her ears behind her head while she squats and grunts. We hurry back in and watch the action, and I can’t help but feel envious of favorite players like Agilites and Striker, Soon and Shadowburn. Here are these young guys, some barely eighteen, and they’re getting paid to play what they love, are encouraged to push themselves as far as they can go.
Really, I envy the sportscasters. They can call the action as it unfolds, wearing their cool L.A. outfits, they can be a part of it all, but they still get to play Overwatch at their own pace. What a job!
By the time I’m 46, Tracer will seem like an old gaming bitty and I guess I will too. I’ll try to put in as many hours as my hands will allow between now and then, but our thumbs separate us from the monkeys. One day I’ll have to stop, or go live in the jungle, smashing grubs with rocks to keep myself entertained.