I confess. I am a videogame junkie. This is not an easy admission to make. Most forty-one year old men have respectable hobbies - ones that involve doing lots of sweaty yard work, building birdhouses or coaching little-league football. They have it easy. No one looks at them in askance or gently move their young children behind them during polite conversation. Rather, those gentlemen are considered "normal" and "healthy" by "normal and healthy people." But the elderly videogame guy, now he's a weirdo.
Trust me, it's not easy being the decrepit oddball walking into the videogame store or the game section of your local MegaMart. It is very easy to feel guilty using your height and weight to shoulder aside ten-year-olds so you can be the first to try a demo of the latest Xbox release. Bringing along one's children is generally a good way to gain admission to these areas without claiming too much notice. But this advantage is easily forfeited when passersby hear your kids repeatedly whining, "C'mon, Dad! Can we go now?"
But you soon get used to it. When I was younger, I used to believe that one day I would outgrow my love for videogames. After all, I reasoned, what adults play these games for hours on beautiful Saturday afternoons? However, it turned out as I grew older, the games themselves became more sophisticated and engrossing. The result? There was to be no escape from the siren call of electronic tomfoolery.
And oh, that call is strong. Most people are simply unaware of what joys and challenges are available in today's crop of games. Folks my age generally think of the games they played as teenagers, and can often recall none better than Pong and arcade Space Invaders. "Sorry, but I outgrew Asteroids about 20 years ago." Which is ultimately their loss - 20-year-old games are as much like modern games as smoke signals are to mobile phones.
No longer do you clumsily maneuver colorless blobs on a fuzzy screen using awkward joysticks. Nowadays, games are controlled by sophisticated ergonomic devices which would have been the joy of any Apollo astronaut. The level of "realism" on your TV screen often rivals that of any fine Pixar movie. You want to drive around the streets of a virtual L.A. stealing cars and/or beating up crooks? Knock yourself out with a Grand Theft Auto game. How about joining a squad of marines on another world fighting aliens? Hyperdrive into Halo, baby. Or what if you just like quietly solving difficult puzzles with soothing music and gorgeous scenery? Well, step right up to the land of Myst. Whatever your needs from hobbies and entertainment, games can now provide - they've grown up, right along with us.
Plus, being the oldest guy at the party has its advantages. For example, I can simply walk up to the counter and buy any game I want. I don't have to work an extra shift or eat ramen noodles for a whole week. Instant gratification. No trying to sneak "M-rated" games by the store clerk or pining away for that extra-fancy controller for me, pal. And if I want that second (or third) gaming console, I can have right at it. The hard part is coming up with a satisfactory explanation for the spouse. For some reason, she doesn't get quite as excited as I do about new hardware releases.
Games are escapism, pure and simple. No different from plopping down big bucks to see Hollywood's latest two-hour blockbuster. Unlike a movie, however, you actually take part in the plot and goings-on. And many games last much longer and provide much more enjoyment. Sure, it's great to watch Ahnold blasting bad guys and bandying clever banter, but wouldn't you rather do the shootin' and the sassin'? Grab a game controller and set your inner action-hero free.
With that in mind, remember that all of this may come at some personal cost. My advice is to be sure that you have an understanding spouse or significant other. He or she may very much enjoy cuddling up on the sofa for a marathon Friends session, but may balk at grabbing a controller and duking it out on an imaginary football field. Videogaming, like all great vices, is best done in moderation.
Glenn Jarrell is a lawyer in Georgia and a gaming Fool. He thinks that nursing homes should have weekly LAN parties.