It’s OK to grow up – just as long as you don’t grow old. Face it… you are young. – Jarvis Cocker
A couple of weeks ago I celebrated my 40th birthday. Reaching a milestone like that causes you to think about some of the big issues in life: Who am I? Where’s my life going? Why do I keep buying games on Steam when my backlog continues to grow? (You know, the important questions)
Something else happened on that day; Grand Theft Auto V was released. Being a PC guy, I haven’t been able to play it although I’ve been interested in the massive fanfare and controversy surrounding it. It’s got me thinking about a couple of other times I’ve witnessed in my gaming life. The first was when I was 12 years old, at Superstore with my mom picking up groceries. I wandered over to the Electronics section where out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a TV playing some new video game featuring a small man running sideways across a scrolling screen, jumping around, finding special items, and unlocking secret pathways: Super Mario Bros.
Having been introduced to the format in the era of single-screen games like Donkey Kong, it is difficult to express just how cataclysmic seeing that game was for me. I felt similarly back when I first played GTA III, experiencing a 3D open world that appeared like it was existing independent of me. I’m replaying it now and the sense memory of the first time still sends chills up my spine. For many people a generation younger than me, it seems like GTA V (and IV for that matter) is filling that niche. I think it’s always cool to see a game that everybody is playing and talking about at the same time, but I’ve also realized that I’m becoming less emotionally affected by it as time goes on.
Not being able to play GTA V in the foreseeable future led me back to GTA IV. I’ve had it on Steam for years, but never gotten that far into it. This time, I decided, I was going to finally make it ‘click’. So I reinstalled it, got my Social Club and Games For Windows accounts all sorted, and within two hours, all the reasons I’ve never proceeded very far into it came flooding back. Everything about this game felt to me like an object lesson in what was wrong with this console generation; it is incredibly ugly and visually bland with brown, muddy textures. It has a story that is not half as interesting and meaningful as it thinks it is, and everything is slow; Niko walks slow, cars drive slow. Most egregiously, the driving is awful. Here’s the bottom line: If you have a game called Grand Theft Auto, and it’s designed to make the player want to call a taxi rather than drive somewhere, you’ve made a critical error.
I digress however, as my intention is not to crap all over a five year old game. The point is that as I failed yet another mission because my slow-moving car kept spinning out while chasing another slow-moving car, I had a revelation: This game, and perhaps this series, is no longer for me. I can’t really say for sure whether it’s due to one of us growing up or growing old, but we have most certainly grown apart.
I think it’s reasons like that is why the Retro Gaming scene is so big. People in my age bracket feel a general sense of malaise about the current gaming landscape and retreat to familiar territory. Believe me, I can completely understand the thought process for this group as my mouse hovers over the ‘purchase’ button for Final Fantasy VII on Steam. On the other hand, isn’t this sort of thing the video game enthusiast equivalent of a midlife crisis? I want to keep up with what’s current in gaming, but maybe doing something like writing for a gaming website when you’re 15 years older than the next oldest person on staff is even more ridiculous. The truth is, I just don’t know anymore. This summer, I took a bit of a break from writing because I was feeling incredibly ambivalent about this industry, and whether I had anything interesting left to say.
However, I’ve learned to accept that it’s okay to be out of step in some ways and smack dab in the zeitgeist in others. I’ve let GTA go on to be whatever it wants to be, and I’ve found solace in the games that bring me enjoyment. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve done a full completion of Saints Row the Third…and I NEVER do that kind of thing anymore. After beating Saints Row IV, I deleted my save and restarted it. I’ve put nearly 300 hours into Dark Souls over the past year and I don’t see myself uninstalling it anytime soon. I’m savoring the joy that I get out of some video games and not getting hung up on banging my head against a wall trying to understand why I don’t get it out of others. I guess the true sign of growing up is gaining the acceptance that some things in this industry just aren’t designed for me anymore, and by embracing those things which are.