I’m not sure if, as a child, I ever imagined being a gamer at the age of 31. Certainly when I was a youngster getting to grips with his first console (the awesome Super Nintendo), the idea of my dad – or anyone’s dad for that matter – playing videogames would have seemed hilarious to me.
However, as I grew into my late teens, I found that the small amount of financial independence I had gained through college loans and part-time work was still being directed at videogames. At this time, I was also a master of my own free time and found an abundance of it available. As an 18-year-old with my own disposable income and parents who were happy with how I spent my time (so long as some of it was either at college or work) I found my gaming collection was really allowed to flourish. I would readily tuck into vast quantities of enormous games, the bigger the better.
Literally hours of any given day were directed towards the Playstation 2. I was a completionist, meaning that each and every game I sat down to devour, I set out to swallow 100% of what it had to offer. Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas, all epic games with a huge variety of activities on offer, I consumed it all. Every race, every side quest, every secret – sought out and completed.
I could happily lose the whole 48 hours of a weekend to Final Fantasy games. I replayed through the PS1 classics: Final Fantasy 7 and 8, on multiple occasions, trying to master that ‘Knights of the Round’ Materia or collect all cards in the ridiculous meta-game within FF8. When Final Fantasy X launched for the PS2, I took most of the week off college and only worked three shifts at the pool hall where I was employed, just to sample every delight the game offered up.
By the time I was into my early twenties, open-world games were my staple diet. Alongside the GTA series, Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction (2005) was the ideal game to satisfy my craving. A loose plot – predicated on the idea of crippling North Korea’s war effort as a gun-for-hire, massive explosions and the freedom to go nearly anywhere and destroy almost everything. Delicious.
Shortly after 2005, my life outside of gaming started to change. Rapidly.
This was not merely the effect of age, although it’s fair to say there is a correlation. As an avid gamer in my early twenties, I saw no real reason for my love of gaming, or the time I spent doing it, to change. In 2006, however, I transitioned into a new era of life.
Having spent the previous three years completing my degree and working in videogame retail simultaneously, my gaming habits still had that distinctive flavour of the open world epic. From 2006–2009, I completed a post graduate degree, got married, moved 200 miles away from the city I had called home, started an actual career and saw the arrival of my first child. In a two and a half year span, life as I knew it had radically altered.
Free time was short and precious – work and life commitments were rewarding, but exhausting. Something had to give. Little did I know at this point that it would be gaming, or rather my gaming habits. It took my gaming brain a little while to catch up with all these changes in my life. Looking back, the signs were definitely there.
The kind of games that I used to complete in two-week periods began piling up. Critically-acclaimed masterpieces like Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IVwere left sitting, unfinished, collecting dust. LA Noire and Skyrim got purchased and then barely played before they were shipped out while they still held some value. My palate had changed. I began to find open worlds and freedom of choice sour experiences. Where the unprompted exploration had once provoked a tingling sensation of excitement, I was now left with the taste of bitter indecision and directionless meandering.
The time to invest in these rich, diverse, open environments just wasn’t there anymore. Unless a game could immediately grip me and hold on long enough for me to actually reach the end – a feat that could now take months – it really didn’t stand a chance.
As a younger gamer, it was rare that I would indulge in a narrative-driven game. Chiefly because these games tended to be brief. Some exceptions were made (like Resident Evil 4), but they were usually fished out of a rental store, played through in a weekend, then thrown back into the sea of short-lived titles.
Years later, with all the pressures of responsibility crowding my mind bite-size games with a strong narratives became the focus of my attentions. Their truncated natures (as in the hours of unnecessary exploration and infinite side-quests having been removed) became what I looked for; An unexpected sweet taste from something I had loathed in my youth. What I had thought of as mere morsels, were now leaving me satisfied.
The Uncharted series, the Batman Arkham series, and the latest Tomb Raider are all much more likely to be found in my collection. Technical achievements like the enormous Grand Theft Auto V may see other critic’s salivating, but all I see as an unfocused, insurmountable burden of a game that just doesn’t have enough to coax me in and enjoy more than a mouthful.
There is still a mild frustration at the back of my mind that all the relentless exploration of my completionist youth went unrecorded. Today’s games have achievements and trophies littered throughout; keeping track of every item found, side-quest completed or secret unlocked. Even with today’s appetite for shorter, more focused games, it’s a very rare thing for me to acquire even a gold trophy of exceptional effort, let alone the platinum reward of 100% completion.
All is not lost, however. Not only do I have an awesome family of my own that support my gaming, but the inevitable fact of my children growing up means plenty of multiplayer support lies ahead. I may never rekindle that desire for open world gaming that once defined my appetite, but as I continue to grow older and games continue to evolve, I’m sure I’ll always find something to suit my taste.
Featured image: Richard Keech, inset images: Lucas Arts, giantbomb, Rockstar Games, Mega Games