01 Oct Why I Don’t Play Video Games

It’s not because I’m middle-aged. The median age of gamers is now 30. That’s median, meaning there are plenty older and plenty younger. One of my best friends, a Boomer, was an avid gamer for years and stopped only because he got carpal tunnel and needed his hands for other things, like playing guitar. I myself was enamored of early games — like Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man — when I was young and had time to burn. I don’t have any time to burn nowadays. That’s one reason.

You probably know that video games are the biggest entertainment business in the world — much bigger than the movie industry. Most of the major developments in computing grow from innovations in gaming, which makes such high demands of computers (storage, sound, visual effects). You probably don’t know that the most popular games are driving/racing games — like Mario Kart, one of this year’s top sellers. The least popular are the sim games. Shooter games are several notches from the top, though that’s not what popular opinion would have us think.

If you don’t believe there are tons of driving games out there, take a look at this list: driving games. So what’s with the driving/racing fixation? When I was a kid, there was always ONE driving game at any arcade. You sat in a booth that was pretty much the same size as an old-fashioned telephone booth. You gripped a steering wheel. There was a brake pedal and a gas pedal. Your windshield was an opaque screen (the booth wall right in front of you) that showed a film of dangerous traffic. When you pressed the gas pedal you were hurled through that traffic. Inevitably you’d hit all kinds of vehicles and pedestrians.

Children had their own driving simulator that was simply a miniature steering wheel stuck into a plastic dashboard. There were many varieties of these. The most elaborate ones had headlights that lit up and horns that worked. I never had one of these. So maybe this is the missing link in my relationship to video games. Maybe being crazy for racing — relishing extreme speed — is essential for most gamers.

I never liked racing of any kind. When I was in high school I tried the track team because I felt obliged to do a sport (every boy was supposed to) and this one seemed the least violent (we had no soccer teams in the South at that time). Intense and punishing, foot racing is pretty primitive stuff. . I’d get a stomach ache and sometimes diarrhea before every meet. Competition seemed designed to humiliate me. No matter how hard I ran, I never ran fast enough. Running the mile was probably as close as I’ve ever come to knowing what insanity feels like. For five minutes and thirty heart-hammering seconds, I’d feel sick and hurt and panicked, all but gagging as I hurtled mindlessly around that cinder track four times.  I quit after one season.

If you like watching NASCAR racing, why wouldn’t you want to play a video game that puts you behind the wheel? I see that. I see the appeal of role-playing games too. And shooter games? My once-avid gamer friend is convinced that they do no harm because they are such a fantasy. Sure, they’re violent but so are the Three Stooges and virtually every cartoon American children watched until the 1990s, when Boomer parents began to clean things up. . The irony of gaming is that it’s making young men especially ready for the military, where combat increasingly resembles a video landscape. Eye-hand coordination and the ability to manipulate buttons adeptly are primary skills.

One other thing occurs to me: I don’t like following directions. Hate it, in fact. The more elaborate the directions, the less I can stand still for it. Video game rules and conventions are so elaborate, I’m sure they would drive me mad. In any case, this much seems true: if you have kids under twenty, they are or will soon be video gamers. And in another decade the average age of gamers will be 40 or higher. Which means that those of us who don’t play video games are going to be left out of a lot of conversations. Even so, I have no interest in these games — they are as distant from my desires and inclinations as the nearest red star is distant from our planet Earth — and I’m fairly certain that, had I been born a decade or two later, I’d be pretty much in the same place.