Some kids went to college. I went to Britannia. Then, I went to Italy. Then, I went to Iraq. Then, I went to bed.
I was one of those kids who took a year off after high school, which is to say I spent a year working crappy retail jobs, drinking like a townie and playing videogames with a vengeance. I was bad. I woke up to Team Fortress Classic. I went to work at a videogame store and played demo units with the customers. I lived and breathed gamer. If that gross Zelda cereal were still around, I’d have eaten gamer, too. It was a wonderful time to sate my gamer appetite, and I gobbled up anything offered, a glutton for all things interactive.
But, like all ages of enlightenment, my year-long gaming marathon had to end. School came calling, and what comes with school, but girls? My gaming budget took a back seat to gas, condoms and insurance. Even if I had the cash, my time was consumed by required reading, girls and chasing girls. I still kept up with the latest gaming news, however. I even wrote extensively about games between term papers, and occasionally incorporated my hobbies into essays for school.
Somewhere along the line, though, I missed a few computer upgrades. I didn’t pick up an Xbox Live! subscription. I didn’t buy into the GBA until months after the SP debuted. I started referring to my Xbox as a DVD player. I quit my job at the videogame store in favor of – gasp – regular retail.
What happened to me? Had I just run out of money? Chicks and school have caused many a gaming career to suffer. Was it burnout? Maybe I’d temporarily run out of steam; time to read a book, maybe get a degree. No, this was a deeper problem. I just outgrew gaming, or at least the gaming I knew.
That’s not to say I got older, or gaming is childish, though. I just moved on. It’s happened to me before – drifting, really. From friends, from different sports, from collections. I just can’t stay still long enough to get hooked to much of anything. I get in, I get intense for a while, and I get out. What’s most interesting is, I’m still around at all.
I’m still not plugged in directly to the culture; my days of arguing on message boards are long over. But I can still appreciate good entertainment. The funny thing is, it usually doesn’t come in the forms hardcore gamers pay attention to. I tend to skew a bit lighter; chocolate will do when fudge is too heavy. I’d rather dabble than delve, nowadays. I’ve become what I used to laugh at. That’s right, I’m a casual gamer. But you won’t find me playing Yahoo! Chess (at least not often).
I’m my own genre. I’m the hardcore casual gamer.
I think mobile games are cool. I think 10 hours is more than enough time to invest in a game. I laugh at your $700 video card, because I’m playing a three-year-old game you’ve never heard of, while you wait for a driver update to be able to play Half-Life 2. I buy non-collector’s edition versions of games, because that oh-so-pretty art book isn’t worth the extra $30 to me. I play – hold onto your hats – browser games that amount to parodies of my former lifestyle. And guess what. I’m not the only one.
Believe it or not, there’s a whole generation of us waking up to the reality that chasing hardware and existing entirely in the nether of cyberspace doesn’t always jive with paying rent or leading a fulfilling life. No offense to my brethren who prefer the Hardcore Life, but your numbers are one fewer. Let’s be fair: You guys lead an expensive, time consuming life. You’re frontiersmen, living on the edge of cyber-civilization, battling the savage hordes of overclocking-related heat issues, 64-bit processor bugs, deadbeats on BitTorrent who throttle their uploads. It’s a tough life, and many of us can’t live it, no matter how much we wish we could. So, we back off, and the delay between the front and us gives us enough time to get a better idea of what it is we may be buying.
You dictate worthiness, but we’re the bridge between you and everyone else. We come down from the mountain with a slightly edited stone tablet, and spread a less processor-intensive version of your word. Yeah, I’ve played F.E.A.R. – on my hardcore buddy’s machine. Same with Half-Life 2. I even subscribed to World of Warcraft for a bit. But my gaming is more of the Royal Sampler variety than the main course. If a game doesn’t grab me nigh-instantly, I move on. My filtering gives up after an hour or so. The next Final Fantasy game might be great, but if I’m not in love after 60 minutes, I’m returning the rental.
Does this preclude me from great games? Sure, but so does spending a week reading a book, or working late, or going out to dinner. I’m willing to forsake my hobby for other things, and my “hardcore casual” filter lets me do that. But my filter isn’t all bad; it opens doors, too. Beyond the time limit, it also blurs together graphics, gameplay and story into an overarching experience, rather than focusing on just one element of a game. People in my old circles have scoffed at Kingdom of Loathing and Stubbs the Zombie for any number of very specific reasons. I took them both at face value, and had a blast.
Look out, this newfound demographic is quickly becoming comfortable. While I miss my days of hardcore gaming, the opportunity to withdraw for a good book or movie or TV show is just too much to pass up. I might head back to the digital frontier someday, but as the age to start a family is rapidly approaching, the chances of me making a second journey dwindle. How many of the Rough Riders brought their family of four in a wagon behind them?
Tastes across the board are changing; the rumbling can be heard in people a few years older than me, who just can’t be gamers anymore. As the first generation of children brought up on video games reaches the point where they have to choose between the frontier and the family room, the industry is going to have to react, and react quickly, before our choice closes the door on our high-speed career forever.
Joe Blancato is a Contributing Editor for The Escapist Magazine, in addition to being the Founder of waterthread.org.