Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Get Older

Kim at Later Levels was wondering when, if ever, someone might be considered too old for gaming, after someone watching her and her husband Pete stream asked how old they were. Naithin at Time to Loot picked up the theme and both posts generated a lot of comments, pretty much all supportive of the idea that you're never too old to play video games.

My position, unchanged to any significant degree since I was a teenager, is that when it comes to culture and entertainment everything is for everyone and it's no-one's business to try and tell anyone otherwise. Of course, for all recorded history there's been no shortage of people who want to do just that.

At the extreme we have the kind of hysteria codified in Stanley Cohen's 1972 treatise "Folk Devils and Moral Panics". In the U.K. in my lifetime I remember outbreaks of outrage and fear over mods and rockers, "video nasties", dangerous dogs and Dungeons and Dragons, just to name a few.

These intense eruptions of public paranoia, always media-driven, flare up and die away, usually when they cease to drive sales. Occasionally they leave behind them some rushed and ill-considered legislation but more often their only legacy is as a curious footnote in cultural histories.

Much more insidious are the underlying trends that simmer and bubble just beneath the surface, never quite boiling over into outright panic but always stoking a feverish discontent with the behavior of others. The veneer of popular authority conferred by such "normal" views feeds the belief in certain individuals that it's okay to tell people how to spend their leisure time and to critique those who don't choose to use it "productively".

This is something I know more from observation than personal experience. Self-analysis is infamously unreliable but I would like to think that anyone who's ever had the temerity to suggest they knew better than I how I should spend my time has gone away regretting they ever mentioned it. I've rarely been one to suffer from self-doubt and almost never when it comes to my cultural choices.

I have also always been fortunate enough to move among peer groups that tended to think along the same lines. At school, at university, in my strongly-socilaized twenties and thirties, I mixed almost universally with people who liked nothing more than to be introduced to new ideas - unless it was arguing about their relative merits.

There was always a hierarchy. Every type of entertainment or art was valid but some were more valid than others. In my social circle an interest in sport was considered a tad déclassé, science fiction was deemed to be inherantly superior to fantasy and music came with so many signifiers you needed a chart to navigate the potential reefs that could punch a hole in your credibility.

In that hierarchy, the two cultural activities that always bumped along the bottom were video games and table-top role-playing. Which isn't to say no-one in my circle gamed or role-played; several did, including a number of core movers and influencers.

Even though gaming wasn't considered all that interesting by most of the community, no-one ever suggested that anyone shouldn't do it. I find it hard to imagine the concept of curating someone else's experience in that way even arising as a theoretical possibility. People did what they did and that was all there was to it.

The crucial and barely forgiveable sin was being boring. If you were going to insist on bringing topics to the table that didn't interest most of the people around it then you'd damn well better make certain you made them interesting. I still find that a good rule of thumb.

When I started playing EverQuest in 1999 it marked the end of my social years, already in steep decline through the '90s. At a certain point many people, myself among them, find they just don't have the energy any more to spend most days at work and most nights out of the house, drinking, dancing, watching bands and movies and everlastingly, neverendingly debating the merits of every last notion.

At least, discovering MMORPGs marked the end of one kind of socilization - the direct, face-to-face, in person kind. It was replaced by an asynchronous, partially anonymized set of interactions the world was soon to adopt as "social media".

I was forty when I started playing EQ. By then I'd been playing video games for twenty years. Mrs Bhagpuss and I played more video games in our forties and fifties than the children in the house. Even at the turn of the century most of the people we met and grouped and were in guilds with in game after game were not adolescents. Most of them weren't even students. They were adults, mostly a little younger than we were, not infrequently quite a bit older.

When I turned to blogging the question of age simply never occured to me. Blogging does not seem to me to be an activity that comes with an age limit, either up or down. It's writing, isn't it? When was writing ever the property of a particular age group?

I read a lot of "Young Adult" novels. It's a publisher's term that really means books aimed at readers in the early to mid teens. Actual young adults from sixteen onwards are rarely seen browsing the YA shelves.

A certain strand of YA publishing is written by and for people for whom reading and writing is a form of identity in much the same way "gamer" is. In those books the lead character often blogs. Or used to blog. Or is planning on blogging.

I suspect that's because the authors are generally ten to twenty years older than their target audience and blogging was what they did when they were in their teens. My guess is that very soon those blogging protagonists will turn into vloggers or streamers as a new generation of YA authors comes through. Blogging in the classic sense may well become the prerogative of the "old", by which I mean what I've always meant by that word - anyone over thirty.

With all that in mind, I was rather surprised when Kim replied to my comment, in which I observed "I read a lot of gaming blogs and not many of the writers are under thirty these days. A lot of them are 40+" by saying "It certainly seems like the majority of bloggers I know are between ten and 15 younger than I am". She doesn't give her exact age on her blog (and why the heck should she?) but judging from her comments and the photo I would guess she's mid-thirties at most.

In this corner of the blogosphere I think that would put her about bang in the middle. I think I have a rough idea how old most of the more active bloggers in my blog roll are - everyone tends either to mention their age or date themselves by implication at some point - and I doubt there are more than a handful who have yet to turn thirty.

At 61 I think I might be the oldest. I could name several bloggers on that list who're in their fifties and a good few more in their forties. Obviously I'm not going to do that. Why would I? None of this is about age, after all. It's all about interest and aptitude.

In a reply to something Marathal said in the comments on Naithin's post I wrote of playing games "I’m looking forward to having even more time for the hobby when I retire. I’ll stop when I lose interest or when I’m physically incapable and not before". I'd say the exact same about all of my interests, from driving to traveling to walking to reading to music to movies.

What's more, I plan on reading and watching and listening to whatever takes my fancy, with total and complete disregard for what the intended audience might be. Legal restrictions excepted, when it comes to culture everything is for everyone, or it should be.

And the best can be found anywhere. Anyone who thinks the imprimatur of the Canon or the authority of academia ring-fences quality is mistaken. Previous acceptance and ongoing interest is a pointer but not a promise and someone always has to be the first to discover the new best thing. As Bill Watterson so memorably said, there's treasure everywhere.

What's more, you're never too old - or too young - to look for it, to find it or to tell everyone else about it. Game, blog, stream, all of it, if that's what you want. However young or old, whatever others might try to tell you. Act and speak with conviction and clarity and your choices will be accepted. Never doubt your right to be who you want to be, do what you want to do, say what you want to say.

Just be prepared to live with the consequences.


  1. I expected you to name this post "And Wednesday too".

    And I also don't think there's a concept of some arbitrary metric (such as age) restricting people to enjoy certain things. As you said, it's mainly a case of what society considers inappropriate at the time.

    1. Just about every new entertainment form was considered dangerous and unworthy in its early days. It takes a generation or two to grow up with something as a constant presence before it normalizes, I think. We're pretty much there with video games now - maybe one more decade before it's regarded in much the same way as cinema or tv.

  2. Heh. Methinks Ancient from Tome of the Ancient has you beat in age, but that's just a guess.

    You have beaten me, as I'm 50. That age actually came out in an in game conversation in WoW, and the person I was talking to was pretty stunned. I got the impression from him (going off of toon gender alone) that he played Vanilla in his teens, so he's likely around 30 or so now. The concept of an "old man" playing kind of floored him.

    The thing is, people of my and your age were the ones who first played with the Atari 2600, the Intellivision, and other consoles of the 70s. In addition, we were kids and teens when D&D exploded onto the scene, and our parents likely introduced us to board wargames as well. So yeah, there should be far more of us than there seem to be.

    But hey, I consider this no different of a hobby than those who spend lots of money tailgating or going to a bar/pub before sporting events. My dad was a golf nut to the point where he'd go golfing with his uncle in the snow. In the end, it's all about what you're interested in.

    1. This is what really puzzles me, the way whole generations that must have grown up playing video games seem to have completely expunged the experience from their collective memory. I played my first video game in the late 1970s, just before I went to University. As a student, most of my friends played arcade games - there was a time when games like Galaxians and Asteroids were set flat into tables rather than upright in cabinets and we used to sit in the pub and play across the same tables that held our drinks. Right after university, when I was settign up home with my first wife, we had an Atari2600 and then a 48K Spectrum and we'd rent games by the weekend from a games rental store and play them together.

      Gaming was just something people my age back then did. It wasn't odd or unusual or niche. It was regular behavior for people in their late teens and twenties in the late 70s and early 80s. Talk to people in that age group now and most of them act as if video games were only invented a decade ago. Even people in their forties, who must have grown up with game consoles in the house and with talk of gaming as a schoolyard standard, seem to think the whole thing never applied to them.

      It is changing now, thankfully. Where I work gaming is definitely seen as regular behavior by most, whatever their age. People alaso seem better able to remember that yes, they did once play and enjoy games and that they might even do so now, on occasion. About time too!

  3. The age at which you enter into something "new" is critical here, but I was one of those who tended to listen to my mentors more so than my peers - as success was deemed more important than any thoughts of trying to justify to my mentors that leisure activities were anything more than a waste of time or money. Yeah, my social circles changed as I progressed in age, but I always retained the ability to recognize those people who were put into my life for a positive purpose and I always cultivated those relationships into something that was beneficial for the both of us. Do I listen to person A and spend the weekend studying for a difficult advancement exam on Monday, or do I listen to person B and spend all weekend playing D&D in the barracks, hoping I can pass the same exam on Monday? Luckily for me, I was able to maintain and cultivate both types of relationships, but that doesn't mean that person A's opinions were given more weight than person B's. I just always maintained the autonomy to choose for me as I saw fit. Respect has always been an integral part of my life, and I'm fairly quick to separate someone from my social circles if that respect isn't reciprocated.

    I'll be 56 in a couple of months, and I'll soon be retiring from my second career after retiring from the military in my late 30's. Moderation is critical in life, whether it be gaming, drinking, eating, or any other in a long list of leisure activities, but I've always been open and accepting of criticism if someone from my social circle see's fit to grab me by the elbow and attempts to guide me through some dark days.

    For me, that's always been my belief. Someone in "meatspace" can have a much more profound impact on my life than some anonymous entity from the internet. Thicker skin, shorter toes and all that. Do as you please, but do not let your activities become a burden on me or my life without knowing that I WILL say something if the situation warrants it.

    1. The mentoring phenomenon is one I find curious. Isey was posting about it the other day in the context of business mentoring. I don't believe I ever even heard the term until the 1990s. I'm positive it wasn't in use in any circles in which I moved during my schooldays or in my university years or the first decade of my working life.

      The related concept of "role models" did have some currency but even then it was only something I heard of through the media. I don't believe I ever heard a teacher, relative or employer use it conversationally and certainly no-one in my peer group would have used it other than in a discussion about the concept.

      What I always did have, though, was an awareness of certain individuals who I either admired or whose attention I desired. I would pick up cues from them and learn or I would offer up those parts of my own personality that I perceived would be taken favorably. That's a much more amorphous, organic, reactive, subjective process than what I conceive modern-day "mentoring", which often has an almost contractual formality, to be.

      In the end though, it's all about whatever works. And it's always as much about what you bring to an experience or a process as what you take from it.

  4. Such a thought-provoking post (which seems to be pretty much par for this course). Thanks for sharing it, Bhagpuss. I'm 52 and can't remember a time when I wasn't gaming. It's definitely a part of me, and I don't foresee a time when I won't be gaming. I'm looking at retiring within the next few years and I would think my gaming habits will change significantly (gaming more rather than less) and I'm very much looking forward to that prospect. Not sure what this adds to the conversation but I just wanted to share my bit.

    1. Share away! And apologies for the late reply (such as it is).

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