Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but gaming doesn't make me feel young and immature any more, like all the politicians say it should.
It makes me feel old.
Not older and wiser – even if I'm pretty sure I will have lots of excellent tactical advice when the aliens finally attack – but definitely a little grey around the joystick. Time, alas, moves on. Sad to say, I'm just not the Super Mario Bro I used to be.
Online gaming is a constant reminder of this. As a kid, you don't have much money to buy games, which means you typically become pretty good at the ones you do manage to acquire.
As you age, you probably have the money – more than just pocket money, anyway – but less time. And you know what? That's fine. I don't feel the need to go high-score chasing any more. I'm quite happy to move on when a game outstays its welcome, even if it means finding out how it ends on Wikipedia.
For single-player games, that's easy enough. I've always gravitated towards these anyway, although more out of a love for story and character than any deep-seated shyness, lack of skill, or general misanthropy. Those factors are why I don't play sports
Pwned like a n00b
On the internet, however, as the years have passed, I feel increasingly out of place. This is the worst kind of social awkwardness, because at least in pubs and the like, the people you're trying to make a connection with aren't trying to blast your head off with shotguns so they can spray obscene graffiti on your still-twitching corpse. Not outside Loughborough, anyway.
Online, the bottom of the learning curve just isn't a fun place to be, especially when the people you meet have completely forgotten their own time learning the ropes.
Single-player game modes don't come close to preparing you for any multiplayer game, and you can just about guarantee that your first encounter in the game proper will be some foul-mouthed, sexist, racist, barely coherent 12 year old who thinks that being a 'n00b' (a 'new player' in human talk) is something to be ashamed of.
These people aren't the majority in most games, but it doesn't matter. If they ruin the fun, the fun is still ruined. Every genre has its own subset of these people, whether it's the ones who use a cheap trick to win, or the ones who accuse you of using a cheap trick you didn't know wasn't just a valid tactic, like sending in tanks to destroy a town instead of combined forces, or daring to actually fire the superweapon you've spent the last hour charging
Taking RPGs too seriously
In role-playing games (RPGs), the two most annoying types are those heading up the bitter, never-ending war between the hardcore players.
The first is generally desperate to pretend that the gameworld lore somehow justifies them wandering around as a svelte elf babe with ridiculous hair and rather more than a +20 double stamina boost down the breastplate.
Then there are those who just long to memorise whole libraries full of game rules, and then calculate complicated equations about damage and resistance that make you feel sorry for the villains.
Neither is a problem, until the first time your own Level 80 Svelte Elf Babe – mine's called Triskaideka, by the way (and no, I feel no shame) – steps one perfectly manicured foot out of line and ends up drowned in a flurry of angry spittle, cast out of the group in shame, and, worst of all, is accused of looking fat in her new plate-armour bikini. The beasts.
Almost inevitably, the problems stem from the nature of the internet itself – the result of hardcore players really being able to drill down to levels on their favourite games that we never used to be able to, as well as good old fashioned online anonymity.
So far, neither Sony or Microsoft has got back to me about my proposal for all game controllers to come with the ability to send a few thousand volts into the game-ruiners' sweaty adolescent palms.
Maybe if I had that on my side, I'd be willing to use the Xbox Live subscription Microsoft sold me last year. And then buy shares in rubber companies.
The thing is, if I was starting out as a gamer now, I doubt any of this would faze me all that much. It would be business as usual, just like the days when I was able call on Mum and complain that my opponent was cheating if he became too good at winning Street Fighter with Zangief's Spinning Piledriver.
If I was younger, I'd have the time to hammer away at all these games and learn the ropes like before: through constant defeat, with the promise of one day tasting the sweet nectar of total internet domination.
Instead, the online gaming jungle is like a strange new world I don't particularly feel part of, no matter how friendly the people I encounter happen to be.
On the plus side, at least not having to worry about all this leaves me plenty of time for what matters most: friends, family, and being able to beat all of them at Tetris. Oh yes.
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