My hands didn’t used to hurt like this. Sure, gaming in the trenches for hours on end would leave anyone a little sore in the joints, but this is some other shit. I’m Googling wrist stretches and typing “carpal tunnel syndrome” into WebMD. I’m casting accusations of lag switches and ping differentials far more often. Worst of all, I’m occasionally realizing that my deaths are, in fact, sometimes my own fault. At the ripe old age of 24, I’m beginning to fear that my time as a competitive online gamer might be entering its final years.
It’s not just a matter of my admittedly waifish body’s physical limitations, either. I have a job, usually. I take massage classes. I have chores and tasks and errands that adults must tend to if they want to be presentable members of society. High schoolers have some of that, sure, but everyone who’s not a full-time student knows that the responsibility jump is gargantuan. On top of that, my attention span for competitive gaming has shrunk considerably. I just don’t have the stamina to try and outmaneuver people for several hours at a time. I require the consistent progress of RPGs and puzzle games that I can make easier or harder at my discretion. Plus, getting stomped by people 10 years your junior just feels bad, even if the shame is hidden behind a screen name.
Now I’m of course nowhere near a professional-level player and never have been. But I’ve been known to, as the kids say, get nutty with it on occassion. I was once within the top 1,000 players in BRAWLHALLA, a fighting game similar to the SMASH series. It was during a particularly lonely period of my college experience and while I have a lot of negative emotions associated with that time, I can hold up that achievement as a meager symbol of my perseverance.
My college drinking buddies, Bodvar and Hattori
But the real crux of my competitive gaming experience was and still is team-based games. Being introverted and anxious people, myself and my group of friends found ourselves spending most nights teaming up to dispense justice in lobbies across America. First on Xbox Live before eventually moving to Discord, we would often be competing to see who could dominate the lobby the hardest. Each of us had our specialty, but we could all keep pace with each other and have an absolute blast crushing wave after wave of hapless idiots.
Beating someone else in an online game is a transcendental experience. There is absolutely nothing that can recreate the feeling of knowing, just knowing deep in your soul, that you competitively dominated another person. Anyone who’s won any kind of competition knows that winning feels euphoric, but when you can make your character dance, gesticulate, and otherwise engage in BM gloating without remorse, it elevates the experience to a whole new level.
But being on the receiving end of the dunkage naturally creates anger, shame, and shame over being angry. It’s not something that should cause any degree of real strife. It is, literally, just a game. But just as the elation of victory comes from a purely recreational activity, so does the sorrow of loss. I’ll be the first to admit that my babyrage has gotten out of hand more than once, and would disqualify me from any future jobs or romantic relationships should it have ever been recorded. But the fact that I don’t feel much of anything during a loss marks another indicator that the passion for the sport is running dry.
Okay, it still feels pretty bad
Maybe it’s not necessarily just my age that’s causing my pwnage acuity to decline. After all, I’m the average age of an eSports player, 24. But of course, that’s like comparing me to any current professional athlete. They get to where they are at my age by fully and completely devoting themselves to it from the time they’re 14. An actual eSports training regiment can’t compare with drunken Discord dilly-dally. With eSports growing as a phenomenon, and the pool of players attempting to join the scene growing with it, there’s less and less space for old-heads who just want to stomp 12-year-olds playing with their favorite Christmas presents.
It’s not just the skill gap that pressures you to devote huge time chunks to these games. Getting the game on or even before release is now a necessity to be top-tier just because someone who does that gets more hours. Moreover, game devs know that their target demo has a lot of time off around the holidays, so exclusive holiday content further drives us back into the machine. Missing out on sick Halloween skins or limited-time game modes adds the pressure of the clock to encourage more gaming, which further widens the gap between those who have the hours and those who don’t. Obviously if you play more, you deserve to be better, but the gap is becoming so wide that there’s increasingly less room for new players to jump in.
The main culprits here are FPS and fighting games. With the recent release of the slower-paced shooter GEARS 5 and the complete re-release of HALO: REACH as part of the Master Chief Collection, I’ve found that I can still run a lobby under the right conditions. Namely, shooters that reward positional awareness over mechanical finesse. But I also recently tried my hand at my beloved PUBG, a game which I’ve written about before in this nostalgic past tense. To be brief, it didn’t go well. Okay, that’s not entirely fair to say. I had fun, but only in that I was able to Jerry my way through a firefight for a while before meeting my rightful end.
But I’m not angry at the children for tearing me apart. There’s a lot to be said about whether or not putting that kind of pressure on those kids in any high-level athletic activity is healthy or moral. But that’s the subject of another article entirely. All I’m here to do is whine about how it’s just so goddamn hard for adults to enjoy video games. Entertainment comes in shorter and shorter units every year, and it’s because we just don’t get the time off we deserve in this country to relax and actually enjoy life. For video games, this means that their products now are designed for middle and high school kids with infinitely more free time. There doesn’t seem to be a space where older gamers can do battle without being overrun by supple-wristed zoomers. The only solution that comes to my mind is a cyber cafe that only allows 21+ folks, but securing funding for that might prove challenging.
I guess this means it’s time to take up fishing or golfing or whatever it is old folks do in their spare time. You hear older people talk all the time about the challenges of getting old. How their bodies fail them in areas where they could once excel. The loss of competitive gaming seems to be my first step into the abyss of the aging process. And take it from me, dear reader: that step is a lot more painful when there’s a space marine floss-dancing atop your virtual corpse.