Note: there are spoilers for Baldur’s Gate 3 in this post.
I will be 50 years old at the dawn of 2024, which means I will have been playing video games for 44 years (give or take). For me, video games are like books, or TV, or movies; we get stories, but stories of our own design. We can take whatever narrative we were given and approach it from different directions or, if we’re playing a game that’s not deep enough to warrant a narrative, overlay our own if that’s what we want to do. The additional level of intractability is one of the things that kept me gaming throughout the years, but I can’t dismiss factors such as longer, deeper games, multiplayer, and ubiquity as reasons either.
My interest in gaming as a hobby is like a bell curve. Early on, when there were very few home gaming systems, uptake was slow. I had a Magnavox Odyssey2, and soon after, an Atari 2600.
As the dawn of the console generations coincided with bringing computers into the home, the graph started to rise: Sega Master System, then Genesis, alongside a C64 and Amiga 500. Once I was able to buy my own hardware, it was a veritable feast, with a succession of high-powered PCs backed up by rotating generations of Xbox, PlayStations, and Nintendo consoles both stationary and hand-held. VR has even made an appearance more than once.
Now, though, I feel that my interest in the hobby is on the down-slide of that bell curve. This is the first generation in many, many years that I don’t own a “next gen console” (I have a Switch, but). My PC is inching up on 8 years old and is doing quite well, but it whines like a F-18 fighter jet on takeoff when things get too graphic-y. Over the past 5-10 years, I have tried to push beyond the hump of the curve and go beyond gaming consumer to gaming producer because like what I assume is true with 90% of the gaming population, I have ideas. With 50 years of gaming experience, I have a lot of ideas. I’ve tried my hand at other gaming-adjacent activities like streaming and video making. The one thing I’ve never done, though, is podcasting, which seems odd now that I see it in writing. But all of those endeavors have fallen by the wayside for various reasons: to involved, not enough traction, not enough use, not enough progress, and so on.
I’m left with pure gaming, then, and there’s no shortage of that. There are more games being released now than there have ever been, across all kinds of spectrum. There’s no excuse for not being able to find a game that you want to play, especially since older games either still run pretty well on newer systems, or because outlets like GoG or even the Internet Archive make older games available in the Modern Age.
As I slide down the back-side of the bell curve, my issue isn’t that there’s no games I want to play. I think my issue is that as I get older, my tolerance and ability levels are changing in ways that I cannot describe, and in ways that make me unsure if there are actually any games out there that will fit my bill going forward.
The most recent example is, of course, Baldur’s Gate 3. I played 1 and 2, as my previous post mentioned, and I was looking forward to 3. I had been doing pretty well until I wasn’t; I ran into a fight that threw an overwhelming number of NPCs at me. My training kicked in and I loaded an earlier save, opting to take a different route which allowed me to side-step that encounter, but then it dropped me into another, just as difficult encounter. I had already lowered the difficulty to “Explorer” level, but I simply could not survive. I looked into the D&D 5E rules for building encounters this morning, and I am almost positive that these encounters completely throw the challenge rating rules right out the window. That just means that tactics are all the more important, and this is partly where I’m going to bring my age into the picture.
We almost never talk about age in gaming; really, when it comes to the “-isms” that gaming has dropped the ball on, “ageism” seems to be the least of anyone’s worries. But coping with age in gaming is something that every single gamer will encounter if they keep up with the hobby. It cuts across the entire gaming population, regardless of any other attribute. Like most markets, the video game industry is youth-obsessed. “Influencers” hold more sway over young, impressionable minds which gets them to spend money they don’t have; plus, it’s free advertising as streamers and video makers create content for their own brand recognition on the backs of corporate products. The subject matter of marketing campaigns continue to skew younger, as they always have. I follow an account on Mastodon which posts older game adverts, and I’m amazed at how cringe they were…but also how age appropriate they were in a time when the vanguard of the gaming community was made up entirely of teenagers.
When age does enter into the conversation, it’s either because younger gamers are amazed that people still game past 30, or to talk about how physically difficult it is for aging gamers to react on the same level as their younger competitors. What I don’t think ever gets any discussion is what kinds of games older gamers gravitate towards, and what they’ll put up with.
In the case of BG3, I just cannot get my mind to tackle the level of content that the game is throwing at me. For example, relatively early on I had to go into the goblin camp and defeat three bosses. This never went well for me as the number of enemies exceeded my party’s ability to manage, and the AI was better at taking advantage of the landscape than I was. Later, bypassing the three-boss fight, I had to defend the druid grove against a drow and her goblin army (plus an ogre and 2 spiders). I had some NPC help and some traps, but ultimately the sheer number of enemies, the ineffective nature of the ally NPCs, and the total mastery of terrain that the enemies possessed meant that I had no chance of winning. I quit the encounter after about 45 minutes, and I wasn’t even “done” done.
In my “old age”, I am not very interested in anything that resembles “Souls-like” game play, although I understand that many people — many my age — are getting through these BG3 encounters, if not getting through it easily. I’m not asking for the game to be made one-click simple, but this is one case where I’m seeing a disconnect between what I’ve become willing to accept, and what’s being published as a high-profile, flagship, anticipated games these days. It hurts to have this chasm, more so than it would if I were physically unable to play. I end up feeling stupid, or even angry at myself believing that I’m too lazy to rise to the challenge that others are obviously mastering.
This is one reason why I move between games so quickly and so easily these days. There is a wealth of options out there — some that are a good fit, some that I wish were a good fit — so sticking with any game that I am unable to come to terms with is just a waste of time, despite my pressing desire to continue to waste that time on the off chance that something might suddenly click, or that something might suddenly go right for me. I really want to continue with BG3, but I cannot abide by the amount of time it’s taking me to complete these encounters, and I will not dedicate over an hour to a battle that is obviously unwinnable — by me — during the first 15 minutes. That understanding of my own mind and admission out loud make me sadder than you can know because gaming has been my primary hobby for decades now, and I feel it slipping away as the conditions of my aging and the desires and direction of the gaming industry move apart. I don’t have any experience with being this old, so maybe this is how it is for every interest for every body out there. It just really, really sucks, because I’m not all that good at crosswords or shuffleboard, either.