I worry about getting old, but not for the usual reasons. I don't overly worry about the usual things like, will I end up on some local council report as an infirm codger, scaring the respectable neighbourhood with my can't-be-fucked-to-clear-up-my-garden attitude as I struggle to walk my own length and lob another dead monitor on a rotting pile of tech. Or ending up in a nursing home where the staff steal my money and spit in my food (good nursing homes are available). I even hope that my kids are so contented and settled that they are too busy living full and wonderful lives to worry about my crumbling carcass. No, the thing that is currently keeping me awake at night is the possibility of not being able to afford PC upgrades and a fibre broadband connection. The horror.
Following on from my previous post (Click for Identity) I have come to realise how much of my life is taken up with computer games. A lot of the people I talk to on a regular basis (that are not my family) have been met through gaming or have contact maintained through them or the communication platforms created to support them, such as Discord. The MMO Elite:Dangerous has provided a great new circle of friends, and a salutary reminder of the variety of experience communities can bring, good and bad. The game may have diminished in importance to me, but it has undoubtedly had a lasting effect; right now I am struggling to find the next 'thing' to connect me with people, but that might be fortuitous. The problem is that my multi-monitored, multiple hard-drived WiFi6 gaming rig connects me with people and gives the endorphin hits a lot better than my small, run-down culturally challenged city* seems to be able to manage. It probably doesn't help that, from the age of six, computers, their games and the magazines that talked about them were the strongest constants in my life. I wonder what the mobile-phone reared current generation will demand from the areas they live in?
Looking beyond your local horizon is a very important principle to apply to so many aspects of life, and that's where I find myself at the moment; re-engaging with learning, art and writing after spending decades inhaling games like cherry-blossom scented air. I have also rediscovered the joy of travelling and walking, just in time for the health conditions to kick in and make that a challenge - deep joy! I have heard it said, and may have said so myself, that it feels like the age of the MMO (the genre I have embraced so readily) is on the wane, however I think it is perhaps more accurate to say that there is a curious tension between style and time availability- I have certainly found my gaming time is more preciously rationed than ever before. MMOs are still some of the top-selling games on the market, with the likes of Final Fantasy XIV bringing in huge numbers and age-old titles such as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 still putting out new expansions. The advance of mobile gaming through titles like Marvel Snap that crossover between phone and PC point to a greater appeal of shorter, sharper multiplayer experiences that could prove challenging for traditional sprawling PC MMO behemoths; there is no doubt, however, that playing against or with other humans gives gaming an extra dimension that sets MMOs apart. Advances in AI will throw interesting curveballs into this mix and, as the current impact of ChatGPT has shown, will probably permeate everything we interact with as the combined pressures of product, energy and time costs outstripping availability for both developers and users alike continue.
Elite:Dangerous, as a case in point, used to be a game that required a good deal of time investment through material gathering and engineering (the 'grind') to upgrade ships and equipment in order to reach the farthest points of the 1:1 scale galaxy or fight the toughest enemies. Now, some dedication is still required, but it tends to be participation in week long Community Goals that unlocks tech to allow more effective participation in the storyline, currently bopping aliens over and over again. The tech then becomes available some weeks later to those who didn't take part. It appears to be both a simplification of the development model of the game and a recognition, perhaps, of the changing time commitments of players in general. After dropping console development in order to focus on the PC platform, it has narrowed its MMO scope and faces a continuous challenge to create content that matches its grand scale with anything other than set-piece content that is devoured in hours and then ignored as barely relevant to the wider in-game universe. Attention spans, time pressures, and the shop not quite matching the façade are all issues besetting the game. An interesting one to watch (in so many teeth clenching ways) is Star Citizen- an MMO that has raised such an insane amount of funding and created a fanbase dedicated to the development of the game rather than it's actual finished product**. It could find itself imploding under the colliding masses of its own ambition and the changing landscape of what people want, demanding people buy the latest technology in order to participate in a sci-fi life simulator that itself is forced to recode again and again to maintain its development lifestyle rather than reach an end product. Buzzwords such as 'Gen-12', 'Persistence', 'Server-Meshing' and 'Quantum' get recycled into relevance among fan communities without the product ever seemingly taking any huge leaps forward (let's not even talk about the single player Squadron 42 that is delayed beyond belief). Will the gamble of such a long development cycle ultimately run aground on the shores of 'No Longer Give a Fuck'.
Which brings me back to my own fears for old age. I don't want PC gaming to become so expensive and technology so out of reach in my dotage that I cannot afford it or have to summon my kids from wherever they are in the word in order to help me out. Or worse, becomes a console user or reliant on Amazon Luna- oh,the humanity! I've seen hugely dramatic change in gaming over the last forty years, and this is certainly an interesting time in the life of games development. To some extent, the current trends in MMO gaming might be moving in a more affordable direction as sprawling MMOs slide with me towards retirement, but that also makes me sad. I am loving Blood Bowl 3 leagues with friends, occasional games of Catan, salt-filled hilarity in Wreckfest and online pub quizzes, but I still yearn for the exciting sense of community I felt in the early days of Elite Dangerous- I wonder if I will ever see them again? Especially as Star Citizen still does not have simple, plug and play joystick recognition and requires constant, complex button mapping in order to explode for no reason or fall to my death through badly rendered environments. I mean, seriously. Need another $10 million to sort that out? Perhaps being gently mocked playing Starfield on Twitch will be the best answer, but I hope not.
* This is slightly unfair as the city I live in is surrounded by beautiful natural spaces, has a most excellent coffee shop I call my church and enough art spaces for quarterly slow wandering painting appreciation. Its theatre and concert hall however seem to survive on middle class people who don't want anything too surprising, earnest youth groups and an annual visit from Jools Holland.
** I still have not put a penny into Star Citizen and own a couple of ships through winning giveaways. I also find myself with store credit of just over $50, but too low by a couple of dollars to buy anything meaningful.