I’m not dead, I promise! But it’s been a slow reading year for me, so my book reviews have gone on hold temporarily–hope to get back to them soon. For now, here’s some thoughts on fiction in general, and aging with it.
I’m not old! I tell myself that every day. It’s a bit belied by the fact that I tell everyone else that I am old, but what can I say, I have an image to maintain. Can’t visibly act like a child and still try to impress the actual children with my age and hard-won wisdom, now, can I? That’s what I thought!
Nevertheless, I’m not the child I used to be, either. I may not be old, but I’m not exactly young, either. I could call myself middle-aged, but I strongly dislike that term for some reason, so, no thanks. At any rate, nowhere do I feel my age more than in the realm of video games. The comic above catches the essence of it in a nutshell–but you, readers, deserve some context.
I spend a lot of time on Reddit (as evidenced by my series of posts on The Great Reddit Reading List). I like that forum for the sheer diversity of available interests–in a phrase, there’s something for everyone. I can find interest groups for just about every fandom and interest and niche subject I could want, and–wonder of wonders–they’re active!. I would have killed for this kind of access when I was a kid–you know, back when being a nerd was something that would get you beaten up. I had no one to talk with about my love of Tolkien and pulpy science fiction novels and obscure cartoons and E.T. the Extraterrestrial (who, incidentally, was my weird favorite toy that I carried everywhere–picture below, though the original is long gone). Nowadays I can gather my fellow nerds from the four corners of the Earth, and it’s just faaaaan-tastic (emphasis on fan; we don’t call them fandoms for nothin’). Anyway, it’s safe to say I spend a lot of time there, possibly too much time; and some of the places I hang out are the video game subreddits. (I’ve said this before, but for the uninitiated, a subreddit is one of Reddit’s many communities, as I described above.)
The gaming subreddits (subs, for short) are a lot of fun, but they are a minefield for people my age. On the one hand, video games are timeless, in a way. The entire industry is only just slightly older than I am. Further, it arose just in time for the internet; and so, not only is its history fondly and widely remembered, but also, most games are still available in some form via emulation. Can you imagine having all of television history at your fingertips? (Well, Betty White can, since she’s lived through it all, but the rest of us aren’t so lucky.) All of film? What about modern literature? Gaming is compressed in time by its beginning on one end, and the internet age on the other.
On the other hand–and this is where the minefield comes in–gaming has had a simply enormous amount of development and change crammed in since the 1970s. The industry is not yet fifty years old, and has gone from Pong…
…to realistically animated horse testicles that shrink in the animated snow. (!)
And that’s not even getting into virtual reality, which was the holy grail of gaming for my entire life, and which you can now buy secondhand at Gamestop like an old Mad Catz controller. I can’t give you an adequate picture of VR gaming here because, naturally, it’s in 3D. At any rate, with all these changes, sometimes it’s a lot to keep up with–and on Reddit (or any other forum), you’re one comment away from being savagely reminded that you’re not a kid anymore…usually by a literal kid.
I do not handle this well. Oh, I manage to keep myself from going off on the unsuspecting juvenile in the comments sections–it’s not their fault they’re young and I’m not–but inwardly it sends me into an existential spiral of facing my own (hopefully still distant) mortality. I may not retaliate, but I want to retaliate. I want to rage and say “You’re too young for this site! And this game! And…and…and life! Go back to your diapers, kid!” I rein it in, though.
Really, though, the problem is me. Rather, it’s what I want. I want to experience it all! I want to play all the games, to appreciate all the innovations, to love all the eras of gaming history. And now, as I slouch toward forty, I’m facing the stark and somewhat scary realization that I can’t. I can’t do it all. There’s just not enough time–not unless I want to push away everything else in my life (I don’t) and do nothing but play games. Probably not even then. There’s just too much out there already.
For awhile I avoided facing this fact by absorbing other people’s experiences with gaming. I read Cracked.com articles about video gaming. I watch videos on the history of gaming. I sometimes (though rarely) watch “Let’s Play” videos of games that interest me. I hang out in the forums. I listen to the particularly awesome Cane and Rinse podcast (which you should check out). But it slowly dawned on me that this is only gaming at a remove; that it still takes up enough time that I can never get it all even in this manner.
That brings me to the heart of what I want to say, and what’s been on my mind. Because this isn’t just about gaming; it’s about culture and fiction in general. Ultimately it’s about life, and about coming to terms with the fact that we can’t do it all. We’ll fail–and regret it–if we try.
I’ve taken steps to introduce my kids to things from my own past and childhood. My son loves Power Rangers, which I watched when I was not much older than him. My older daughter is crazy about The Legend of Zelda series of games. My younger daughter is getting a crash course in ’80s movies lately (she loves The Neverending Story and Indiana Jones, but was scared of the Skeksis in The Dark Crystal). I did this for all the standard (and valid!) reasons–to connect with them, to let them know me better, to give them an appreciation of the past. I even made a point of not resenting the things of today that they love, like Fortnite (my son), Stranger Things (older daughter), and that godawful She-Ra reboot on Netflix (younger daughter). I don’t want to be the “you kids get off my lawn!” old guy. But eventually, I had to accept that they are not me, and shouldn’t be me, and they will never catch all the things I’ve loved in my life. They have to have room for their own memories.
In the meantime, I’ll pick and choose what I want to experience, because I’m still making my own memories too. I didn’t stop living when I became an adult. It’s complicated now by the fact that even in the franchises I love, there have been thirty or more years of new material and reboots and restarts and revisions piled on top of my old favorites. (Just how many versions of Transformers are there? I dare you to go check!) With all of that clutter, it’s hard to choose among the already-available things out there, and it’s doubly hard to recognize what’s worthwhile among the new. And added to that, sometimes I just feel like things are changing too fast for me. I suppose that’s inevitable as we age–but don’t send me off to the nursing home just yet; I’m still fighting this fight!
Growing old(er) gracefully isn’t what it used to be. Whew.
Nevertheless, I’ll keep at it. I can’t have everything, and neither can you–but there’s a lot of fun still to be had. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some 1990s SNES games to emulate…but only the best of them.