It’s been a little over a week since Black Ops II hit store shelves and I’ve already slipped back into my familiar CoD routine. It’s a regiment consisting of beer and countless hours spent with a controller in hand. These sessions usually only conclude when my senses have been dulled to the point that my reflexes are no longer responsive. Typically the time spent playing is generally uneventful, with the exception of a nice kill or impressive scorestreak, but every so often something unexpected does break the repetition. This occurred recently while I was engaging in my usual game of Team Death Match and encountered something that had a profound impact on me.
When playing any CoD game, it’s always been a habit of mine to abruptly mute any of my fellow peers that have elected to use headsets. As soon as I hear the crackling of a microphone I instinctively reach for the square button before even contemplating what weapon class configuration might be best suited for the upcoming map. But unfortunately, even with the “Mute All” command, there isn’t always enough time to complete this task before being dropped into a match in progress. Usually when such an event takes place I find myself subjected to earfuls of horribly ignorant and painfully stupid comments spewed forth by our country’s hormonally imbalanced preteens.
That’s not to say that all players choose to abuse the privilege of having their opinions heard by a group of strangers while shrouded in anonymity, but in a typical match four letter words rain down from the heavens like Hellstorm Missiles. It’s this reason that I have made the conscious decision to avoid purchasing a headset of my own. And just to be clear, I am by no means condemning gamers for spouting obscenities during a match when I’m undeniably guilty of that myself. In fact, if someone doesn’t voice their disapproval with a four letter word after being knifed in the back the moment they line up the opposing team’s helpless sniper in their crosshairs, then I would venture to guess that individual may be dealing with repressed anger issues. The only difference being, when I unleash a tirade of salty talk I do it in the privacy of my own home instead of shouting it into a microphone. With that said, I do often find myself smirking in admiration when I hear somebody implore a creative use of vulgarities. These sort of exclamations sometimes even heighten the experience if you know you’re the one responsible for your enemy’s frustrated, profanity laden outburst. And as long as the obscenities are hurled untethered into the ether of the online gaming universe, everyone is free to enjoy themselves. It’s only when players start directing their crude comments towards each other that the chatter quickly spirals out of control.
So when I was plunked into a match only seconds before it was about to start and found myself in the middle of a dialogue between two strangers, I feared the worst. I cringed when I realized the two were openly addressing each other and prepared myself for the idea that I would most likely have to quit the lobby to save my ears from what was sure to be an onslaught of stupidity. But to my surprise, as I listened and watched the seconds countdown on my screen, it appeared the two were actually engaged in a friendly conversation. They continued to talk amicably and even shared advice about locations to place turrets until one of them finally broke topic and asked the other how old he was. There seemed to be a noticeable age difference between the two, with the high pitched tone of the younger ones’ voice suggesting he was maybe twelve or thirteen…or an angel.
The question asked by the boy struck me as only mildly weird considering there were ten other strangers listening in on the exchange, but the older participant’s response is what caught me off guard. After a moment of hesitation the man laughed “too old for video games”. The inquirer then followed up by asking, “how old is that?” Immediately I was flooded with panic and found myself desperately hoping the guy being questioned was significantly older than myself and would provide a response indicating he had been born sometime around the late 1920s. After a moment the man reluctantly replied “I’m thirty, dude”. At first, I thought (as someone on the wrong side of 25 myself) that it could have been worse, but the echoing response from the teenager was crushing. The kid simply replied with a single word; “dang”.
The saturation returned to my screen as the match began and I watched, unable to move, as my teammates scurried down the tracks. I was frozen in place. My brain swelled unable to comprehend that a thirty year old playing video games was somehow a shocking revelation to a teenager. I must have sat there with my lifeless avatar staring at the side of a train car for close to forty-five seconds before somebody fragged me back to reality. After respawning, I felt an ember inside of me spark into a flame as I thought about all of the thirty-year-olds out there whose lives have been forged in the fires of video games. That smug thirteen year old with the angelic voice didn’t grow up in the age of 8-bit glory. His life as a gamer is still in its infancy and like anyone without the supporting experience, he doesn’t know any better. All he’s ever known are the current generation consoles and he probably thinks a NES shirt is cool because it’s vintage. He never rescued the princess from Bowser’s castle or caught a touchdown pass with Bo Jackson.
Certainly there are things I’m willing to acknowledge should be given up as one grows older, but video games are my generation’s Peter Pan. I’m aware that society’s unspoken rules prevent me from ever standing on a skateboard again or letting pants hang two feet below my waistline. I have no illusions about losing access to things like chocolate milk, cartoons, and crazy straws. And I have long given up in my belief of childish notions like the existence of Santa Clause or that dreams can come true. Even more alarming, I’m aware that in a few short years I’ll be forced to relinquish my right to attend concerts (unless of course they involve blankets spread out on a lawn). All of these things can be shamed out of us by society’s wagging finger of judgment, but the video game banner shall fly freely over my generation. The thirteen-year-olds of the world can have mall food courts, Harry Potter, and emoticons, but I’m keeping my right to video games. So how old is too old for video games? The answer to that question is one hundred and sixteen; one year older than the longest recorded living person. One can never be too old to enjoy video games. I only hope that when a controller is finally pried from my lifeless hands that I’ll be reincarnated as something with opposable thumbs so I can see what games will look like seventy five years from now.
So to all of those cocky thirteen-year-olds that think thirty is too old for video games, I have one thing to say to you. And no, it’s not the cliché adage that someday you’ll be thirty too (but you will, so enjoy the high metabolism now). Instead, I want to leave you with the knowledge that the average age for gamers is in fact, thirty years old. According to the latest numbers by the Entertainment Software Association; 37% of all gamers are 36 or older with only 32% of players under the age of 18. Activision has also recently released their sales numbers for Black Ops II and as of now, the game has sold 11.22 million copies worldwide. That translates to around 4.2 million middle aged Black Ops II players across the globe. That’s right tweens, you’re outnumbered and outclassed. We’re a league of veterans with years of experience under our belts and you’re just rookies trying to get a spot on the roster. Despite all the free time you have that isn’t occupied with team sports or being disciplined by your parents, you’ll never be able to log enough play time to match our talents. Regardless of your callsigns and emblems, your under developed motor skills can hardly compare to the refined reflexes that only twenty years of video gaming experience can provide. So the next time you and your buddies get caught in a triple kill just remember you’re contributing to the scorestreak of someone that probably has a full time job and pays a mortgage.