It was my birthday this week and I had a lot of customers asking how old I was as my beard was providing a weird chameleon effect that made me look both older AND younger. So when I tell them that I am 36, they seem surprised. They assumed I was younger because of my interest in gaming and tech. Which is weird to me.
It’s weird because despite the obvious rise of ‘yoof’ in gaming ‘journalism’* us ‘oldies’ have been at the cutting edge for decades. We have helped shape the industry. We have been through dozens of control options, casing types and god-awful demos. We were coding in our bedrooms long before it was on a national curriculum and yet there is still this odd stigma that being a ‘mature gamer’ to borrow a term from a previous life, is something to be ashamed of.
A couple of nights ago I was called a ‘geek’.
Long story short I was pissed off about it.
‘Geek’ isn’t necessarily something that I should be annoyed about, but given that you can buy a jumper with ‘GEEK’ daubed across it from Primark I think that the term is now something that is either fashionable – in which case, I’m out – or it is used in a derogotary sense, which is also a no-go. I am an enthusiast. Just as someone may like football, cars or collecting odd hammers I collect games. I appreciate them (mostly) as creations as well as entertainment, but I also look at them with a degree of reverence. I respect the industry – despite the occasional fuck up – and I love the communities that have sprung up. With events like Gamescom and EGX changing the traditional ‘trade’ show into something a whole lot more mainstream and all-encompassing I have been able to make contacts (and friendships) with developers, publishers and creative types as well as consumers, gamers and other enthusiasts. I’ve played iPad games with total strangers in a queue under Earls Court, I’ve hunted Pokemon with a bunch of teens and I’ve worked in gaming retail for a period of about a decade and always felt like a ‘proper’ expert employee.
I’ve also found games to be supportive during times of stress and heartache. I was lucky enough not to have been bullied at school – despite the fact that gaming in the late eighties was definitely a realm of ‘geeks’ – but I found school very difficult due to some emotional and mental health problems that were not dealt with effectively. On occasion I would find myself locked in a store cupboard at school, but on a good day I would be ‘allowed’ to stay in a classroom with a BBC Micro and a collection of great games. This, plus my Acorn Electron (later replaced with a Speccy) and Sega Master System were a genuine escape. More importantly I found myself wanting to savour the design and the narratives of early gaming (something that often took a LOT of imagination) and no matter how much I felt that I didn’t fit into the world, or that people didn’t care there would always be a cassette tape full of games (thanks to a wayward uncle) to distract me. As I grew up and video games became ‘legitimised’ I found myself on the crest of a new wave, with a flurry of new gamers discovering an escape for themselves.
Only now, looking back, can I see how integral to my life that gaming has been. I genuinely think that I wouldn’t have survived my late teen years without them.
So why, now I am pushing 40 do I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy my hobby publicly? Why do I find the term ‘geek’ so derogatory? Should I not just tip the offending utterer bollocks? Should I not think ‘I’m a bloody adult and can do whatever I want?** Of course I can, but the world of gaming has a new generation. A self-entitled generation that doesn’t respect the heritage or the importance. The generation that will damn a game to obscurity because it isn’t what they expected. A generation that led to No Man’s Sky getting a AAA release that was ALWAYS going to disappoint. A generation, that quite frankly can fuck off.
I’ve spent weeks of my life at events, press launches and conventions surrounded by people I respect. Then I slowly found myself surrounded by selfish dickheads with a YouTube channel who feel that mocking games is ‘journalism’ and it isn’t surprising really. The world loves to hate. The world loves negativity. When a game comes out to near-universal acclaim there is a sycophantic flurry of tweets, videos and Twitch streams that dies off pretty quickly. If a game has a bug or three, expect MONTHS of “THIS GAME SHOULD NEVA HAV BIN RELEASED GUYS!!” videos. A lack of understanding of how games are made and work has poured fuel onto the flames of criticism. So now I am lumped in with that world, and I don’t want to be. I love gaming. Of course there are games that I HATE, but that is a personal preference and absolutely nothing to do with the developers themselves. I don’t like Fifa much and I HATE the idea of the story mode being so restrictive but that is because I don’t see the value in it. People may enjoy it, and that’s great. It doesn’t mean that they are wrong or that I am, it just means that is is fine for two people to have a differing opinion.
No Man’s Sky is another area that I find myself shouting into a void about. I love it. I see that some people had an idea of the game in their head – not helped by the promotional materials perhaps – but ultimately the marketing did make it clear that it was to be an exploration and resource gathering game with some points of focus. As with Spore and other games that had procedural generation it released with creatures that looked odd. But that’s what procedural generation does. The fact that the game came out with a weirdly high price point (over £42 in most places) certainly didn’t help much either as people have become accustomed to games at that price being huge blockbuster titles like Uncharted 4 or Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Instead they got a game from an awesome small dev team, that has done something pretty astonishing but also they have done it without going down a familiar path. How many thousands of people went out to buy Elite Dangerous on disk for £45? None. Because the game was released in a way that supported the game and its somewhat niche interest group of players. Sure anyone could get it, but there was no illusion generated by a premium release. So how was No Man’s Sky ever going to live up to two years of hype and a ridiculously major launch, when in essence it is a large scale indie game. I have wanted indie developed games to get this big before, but now I see it more as a trap.
My partner’s son rushed out to buy No Man’s Sky. He didn’t know much about the game at all, he just got caught in the wave of excitement. He bought it from GAME at a high price (god bless you Resi 4) and soon enough he declared that he didn’t like it. That it was boring. And I know why, it’s a simple truth perpetuated by the pick up and play nature of apps. Reward needs to be near instantaneous for much of the younger crowd, and a game with a sedate pace will rarely be popular with them. There are dozens of articles bemoaning that Journey is just ‘push up’ gameplay but that misses the point spectacularly. So while the world at large has branded No Man’s Sky as a major disappointment and Hello Games as hacks, I ponder why they allowed themselves to have such a false sense of understanding in the first place. Because I am clearly a high-geek. A hipster-level nerd who sees myself as above these idiots. Or that’s what people say when I moan about their lack of appreciation for things game-related.
I’m becoming more and more cantankerous, and yet it isn’t the games that I get annoyed about, it is the consumers and the commentators.
So I sit here annoyed that I am lumped in with a group that I view as self-entitled little fuckers with a web cam and an annoying voice. There are dozens of YouTubers that I love and respect, Twitch streamers that I enjoy watching greatly and podcasters that I listen to regularly but they are outweighed by the colossal fuck-tonne of indignant little fuckers who seem set on getting free games and spreading bile. Fuck all of those little twats. As I head to EGX 2016 soon I know I will be surrounded by dozens of these little folk deciding that Yooka-Laylee is rubbish or that Unbox isn’t great while they queue for three hours to play a generic shooter just so that they can say ‘I haz played it!’. Conversely I will also be surrounded by amazing community members, creators and consumers. I will have dozens of awesome conversations and make new friends as well as meeting up with old ones. But god, how great would it be if there was an exam before entry? If you can’t name five peripheral characters from the Sonic universe, no entry! But it won’t happen, because these jumped up little fuck-tards generate more hits and views than I ever will.
I’m not envious.
So what can I do? Produce a bile-infused rant on a website like the one above?
Or maybe I’ll just do what I’ve always done. I’ll glare at them before returning to a conversation with a dev about what sandwich they like after a holiday in Calcutta.
I’ll keep pushing out content that I feel may be of worth to some.
I’ll play my games, write about them on social media from time to time and enjoy them.
I’ll be the ‘geek’ that people claim I am, but ultimately I am a man who enjoys games as well as books, writing postcards, walking in the rain, eating jam roly poly, making love at two in the morning, popping the bubbles on protective wrapping sheets and the like.
The world is full of arseholes. Maybe I am another one, maybe not. It doesn’t matter really.
* Posting a video on YouTube of yourself screaming at a demo is NOT journalism, it is simply game experience. And that’s fine. Just don’t call yourself a journalist. You are part of an enthusiast media, like bloggers, podcasters and the like. Like.
** As long as it isn’t ‘eat lard’ or ‘kick a nun’.