In gaming years, this player is about washed up
My public humiliation began on a beautiful day a few weeks ago when I visited the "Game On" exhibit at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose.
The exhibit chronicles the history of video gaming and offers plenty of old-school nostalgia. On display was the computer that the very first video game, "Space War," was created on. The machine looks like something from Buck Rogers, complete with a circular screen and more buttons and switches than you can shake a vacuum tube at.
There's also plenty from the golden age of gaming, including a bank of arcade machines featuring "Asteroids," "Berzerk," "Dig Dug," "Missile Command," and others, all turned to free play.
Interspersed throughout the classics are new games that illustrate the evolution of the industry. At one end, Xboxes are connected to gaming stations that allow four players to go head-to-head in "Halo 2."
And it's here, just as I was heading out of the exhibit, where I got into trouble. I stepped up to play, as did three children, none of whom could have been older than 11. Most of them were probably too young to remember most of the games in the exhibit, but they weren't too young to hand me my head on a platter.
Although I managed to rack up a few points and save myself from utter disgrace, I still came in dead last. And I do mean dead. I was killed over and over again with a variety of weapons in the agonizing five or so minutes I spent playing. It wasn't that they teamed up on me or anything, they were just better. When the smoke cleared, my ego lay crushed and smoldering like a cigarette butt.
This sad episode illustrates what we geezers have always known: Kids these days have no respect for their elders. Why, back in my day, we had joysticks with only one button, and we were happy to have it. And we had the good manners to let adults win now and then.
For those of us who grew up with games and were, in our prime, fearsome at the arcade controls, losing to the younger generation is just another humbling sign of aging. It's like when you begin to notice that high-school-age kids are looking younger and younger, the first time someone calls you "sir," or when the man at the liquor store doesn't bother to card you.
I take some solace knowing that these whippersnappers' reflexes will be as dull and unresponsive as my own one day.
But there are other upsides to the aging of gamers.
For one thing, someday the majority of lawmakers will be either older gamers, or people who have at least been exposed to games growing up. And that will probably mark the true acceptance of games into mainstream culture and the end of ridiculous anti-gaming laws.
And, as game designers age, we may get more games that explore deeper issues. We may see plots more complex than "the evil Lord Zoltar is laying waste to the land; rescue the princess now." To be sure, there are already games out there with a mature sensibility, but you've got to look pretty hard to find them.
The effects of an aging gaming population are already starting to be seen. Games are being released based on "The Godfather" and "The Warriors," both decades-old movies. The best-selling "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" was aimed squarely at Generation Xers who grew up watching "Miami Vice" in the 1980s.
I don't mean to suggest development houses should be creating "Golden Girls: The Game," but it's a fact that tomorrow's senior citizens will have grown up and aged with gaming. Some may continue playing until their final days, if the industry can keep up with their interests and needs.
It may be too early to predict whether wireless routers and game-ready computers will be standard fare in the nursing homes of the future, but one thing's for sure: If I make it that far, I'll be there with a controller in my hand.