Never growing up: too old for gaming?

While working our way through 50-days of streaming for GameBlast20, a new viewer popped up in the Twitch chat and asked how old my other-half and I were. It was a caught us off-guard at the time and one I’ve been thinking about in the weeks since the event.

It’s fairly obvious to anyone who’s ever come along to one of our streams and seen us on camera that we’re older than the majority of content creators on the platform. We’ve both been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and have over 70 years’ gaming experience combined. Personally, I don’t think this is a bad thing: we’ve lived through several decades of video games, have seen trends come and go, and are still interested in what’s going on in the industry today.

Later Levels, Kim, Pete, faces, smiling, GameBlast19, SpecialEffect, stream

But based on the question we received during that stream last month, not everybody sees it that way. I understand (although obviously don’t agree) how some viewers who’ve never heard of Later Levels before may stumble across our content and think we’re too old to be doing this. Snap judgements based on our appearance could lead them to believe we’re never going to be successful, don’t know what the latest trends in gaming are, and that we should move over for younger streamers and bloggers.

So we’re frowned upon from within the community, but also outside of it too. Gaming and its associated culture have become more acceptable in the past several years but there are still many out there who view it as being ‘for kids’. I’ve written before that I think this comes from them being considered more akin to toys than other forms of media. Therefore older people who play them, just like Pete and I, are stereotypically thought of as being individuals who just don’t want to grow up.

But why should we give in to our age? We can be responsible adults, hold down full-time jobs, pay our mortgage and look after a teenager; then use our free time to enjoy video games, and even stream or blog about those experiences too. What harm is that doing anyone? It might be considered more ‘grown up’ to watch a film but playing a game isn’t much different: both draw us in with compelling stories and let us see the world through someone else’s eyes. It’s just that one of them is interactive.

I can honestly see Pete and myself still picking up our controllers well beyond retirement. We’ve both been gaming since we were very young and don’t think we’ll ever give it up, so it’s unlikely our hobbies will change when we’re older. But blogging is a different matter and one I’m not so sure about. I’d love to think I’ll continue writing far into the future because my love for blogging and video games now goes hand-in-hand; but as the years pass, it gets more difficult to see that happening.

I’ve said before that there’s a space here in the community for everybody who wants it, regardless of their age, sex or anything else. That’s something I still truly believe. But the landscape has changed and the goals newer members seem to want out of blogging are far different than the objectives I’ve ever set for myself. Although writing is something I continue to enjoy right now, there are days where it almost feels as though I’m slowly being left behind and I wonder how long it can last.

I don’t want to build a group solely around Later Levels and be constantly active on social media. I’ve never considered running a Patreon or making money from the blog in any other way. And I’m not going to broaden the subject of the site to widen its appeal. These things, along with my age, set me apart from a lot of other bloggers. The heart of the hobby for me is the sense of being part of a community with a shared interest that supports each other, and this is what my focus will remain on.

I may not know how long the site will continue but what I do know is that I’ll carry on blogging and streaming for as long as they’re enjoyable. And you can guarantee Pete and I will still be gaming for many years after that too (although I doubt he’s ever going to be able to persuade me that The Division is the best game ever). And as for those people both within and outside the community who think we’re too old? Well, we’re simply going to ignore them and carry on doing what we love.

Do you ever feel you’re too old for your hobbies, and have you been put under any pressure to give them up? Whatever happens, never grow up.

Byte me: IT geeks in video games

What do you think when you hear the term ‘IT geek’? Is the image conjured in your head of an overweight and bespectacled male, someone who lives an unhealthy lifestyle, prone to talking in excessively-technical terms and leaving crumbs all over the keyboards?

That’s the stereotype used in The Moment of Silence, a point-and-click from 2004 by House of Tales that I spent around eight hours with towards the end of last year. Unfortunately I’m unable to finish it after a Windows update caused the game to stop running but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: although I’d like to see how it’s jumbled story ends at some point, its depictions of certain characters are horrible. It caused need to start thinking about how we’re portrayed in video games and I wondered if we’re always shown in a negative light?

Bill from The Moment of Silence

The Moment of Silence, video game, office, advertising agency, desks, men, Peter, BillLet’s start with the character who inspired this post: dear old Bill. He’s a colleague to protagonist Peter and looks after the IT equipment at the advertising agency where they work together. He’s accused of being overly protective of his server room and getting crumbs all over the keyboards around the office; and it’s revealed that his password is ‘sexmachine_bill_2044’. This is an absolutely terrible representation and Bill’s only redeeming feature is that he seems genuinely concerned about Peter’s wellbeing.

Hackerman from Kung Fury

Kung Fury, man, Hackerman, 80s, mullet, glassesMove over, Guybrush: there’s a new geek crush in town. Although he’s from the short film rather than the game itself, Hackerman is worthy of a spot on today’s list because I think I’m in love. His computer skills are so legendary that he can even hack time and without him on Kung Fury’s team, they may not have been able to travel back to defeat Kung Führer’s Nazi army. Take a look at this video if you want to see how he did it and to quote the man himself: with great processing power comes great responsibility. Swoon.

Bernard Bernoulli from the Maniac Mansion series

Day of the Tentacle, Remastered, video game, boy, geek,nerd, Bernard Bernoulli, laundretteBernard is a much-loved protagonist from a well-known series but it’s impossible to say he’s an entirely positive description of someone who’s good with IT. He may be the most useful character in the original game with more technical skills than the other kids, fixing both the telephone and radio; but he lacks guts, is easily terrified and carries his pens in a pocket protector at all times. Although you might be able to forgive Maniac Mansion as it was released in 1987, it’s a bad stereotype we’re bored of.

Delores Edmund from Thimbleweed Park

Thimbleweed Park, video game, kitchen, Delores Edmund, girlWho wants to run a pillow-factory when you can work for a famous developer and make adventure games? Delores decided to follow her dreams despite the risk of being disowned by her family, and it’s this courage which makes her one of the best things about Thimbleweed Park. Not only is she highly intelligent, teaching herself to code and having a poster of Ada Lovelace in her bedroom; she’s also warm and friendly, and wants to do the right thing for her town. Now that’s just the kind of hero we need.

Octacon from the Metal Gear Solid series

Metal Gear Solid, video game, man, coat, glasses, OctaconChief engineer Hal Emmerich, better known as Octacon, is a computer programming whiz and devoted fan of anime. He was initially planned to look different as the original idea for the character was to make him ‘heavier, wearing a cap and programming while eating a chocolate bar’; but it’s thanks to Yoji Shinkawa for ignoring yet another tired trope from Hideo Kojima. Saying that though, Octacon’s history still contains an affair with his stepmom so I guess originality didn’t win completely.

Chris Hartley from Until Dawn

Until Dawn, video game, male, teenager, Chris HartleyWhile playing Until Dawn for Halloween this year, there was only one character I really wanted to save – and I’m pleased to say he made it to the ends credits in our playthrough. Chris is awesome. He may love technology, be lost without an internet connection and want to be an app designer, but he doesn’t let his geekiness be the only thing that defines him. The best thing about him is how much he cares about his friends: he risks his life for him on several occasions and can even sacrifice himself for Ashley. She’s one lucky girl.

So it seems as though the representation of IT geeks is the same as any other in video games: many are positive while others are simply awful. As discussed by Ed Fear at AdventureX last month, stereotypes aren’t necessarily a bad thing because they give players a handhold and let them know something about a protagonist immediately. But it’s important for developers to build on that and make their characters more than a trope, because that’s where the power to change opinions comes from.

I’d love to hear how you think you’re represented in games. Are there any characters you feel are positive role models, or are there any that you hate?

We’re taking part in GameBlast20 to support SpecialEffect, the gamers’ charity.
Making a donation will bring you great loot, increase your XP by +100 and make you immune to fire.*
(*Not guaranteed.)

AdventureX 2019: stereotypes and not being 100%

Over the past few years, representation in video games has been a big subject. We no longer want muscly men saving the world and princesses waiting in castles to be rescued: we want characters we can more easily identify with and to whom we can even look up to.

While at AdventureX last weekend, my other-half and I attended a talk by Ed Fear entitled So You Got in the Room, Now What? This was billed as being about the ‘trials and tribulations of creating a third wave gay character’. It focused on the Senior Creative Designer’s work with Mediatonic Games on Murder By Numbers, a 90s-themed Hollywood detective game featuring a character called KC who is happy with himself and doesn’t really care what people think of him.

I do love adventure games but I have to admit here that Murder By Numbers isn’t the sort of thing I’d usually play. It’s good to pick up something fun and silly every once in a while, but I tend to gravitate towards more serious stories with a different kind of art-style. That being said however, Ed Fear’s presentation was an enjoyable one; he was a great public speaker with an important message to share, and left me thinking about a couple of points he made long after his talk had ended.

He said: “I came to the realisation there is absolutely nothing wrong with stereotypes. Every single person in this room conforms to a number of stereotypes, be it about their gender, their job, their social class, their sexuality, where they come from, whatever. The reason these stereotypes are pervasive is because they’re true.” We use stereotypes to simplify our social world because they reduce the amount of processing we have to do when we meet someone new. This makes them perfect for use in media such as video games.

Fear continued: “The problem with stereotypes is that they need to be a foundation. Your character obviously has to be more than that. Stereotypes are actively useful because they’re hooks, they’re handholds that people can grab onto when they see your character. When they first get to know your character they can go, ‘Ok, I get something about them’, and that’s great. That’s your opportunity then to subvert that or to build on it in a way that people aren’t expecting – but you’ve got to get people to grab onto it first.”

The designer then went on to explain why it’s so important to recognise the difference between stereotypes and caricatures. The latter is derived from an Italian term that literally means ‘a loaded portrait’ and this sums up the point perfectly: it’s loaded with bad intentions and representations. As a member of a particular group, you know which of the stereotypes and which are those that have been wrongfully placed on the community – and that, as said by Fear himself, is where your power for change lies.

AdventureX, conference, video games, The British Library, Ed Fear

During his talk, he briefly discussed a Murder By Numbers character who he feels some players may respond to negatively. This is someone who doesn’t necessary agree with how ‘forward’ KC is but they’re ultimately a good person who just needs a little educating. The designer believes some might ask for him to be removed from the game because he’s not 100% on board – “And if you’re not 100% perfect, then you’re 0%.” This made me realise something that’s been on my mind somewhat in the following days.

In the present day, we’re told over and over again by the media and influencers how important it is to view our bodies in a positive light, embrace our personalities and love who we are. But what if Fear was right: if we’re continuously being torn down online for not being 100%, then how can we ever truly be confident in ourselves? How can we embrace the person we want to become when there are so many voices telling us that person isn’t good enough?

They’re complex questions far too big to be answered in a single post so I’ll leave them there. But I will say it seems to me as though we’re all caught up in this constant battle to be happy with ourselves that we’re never going to win until we become more accepting of each other’s differences. Fear ended his talk at AdventureX on Saturday by explaining how important it is to talk about representation in video games – and that’s very a good place for us to start on other issues too.

He concluded: “The whole point of me doing this talk was that we need to start talking about [representation]. We talk so much about how to get in the room that we don’t talk about what you do when you get there… I wanted to show the fact that you can get it wrong and that you can need other people to kind of set you on the right path. So we need to start talking about this more.”

Leisure luxuries and the biased views of Professors

Dear Mr Hurst,

I read the article by Graphics Editor Quoctrung Bui entitled Why Some Men Don’t Work: Video Games Have Gotten Really Good when it was published on the New York Times website last month. It was the author’s opening question that caught my attention: if innovations in housework helped free women to enter the labour force in the 1960s and 1970s, could innovations in leisure be taking men out of the labour force today?

This post persuaded me to read your paper Leisure Luxuries and the Labor Supply of Young Men, which explains why you and your colleagues believe video games are responsible for reducing the amount of work completed by young men between 15 and 30 hours each year since 2004. It’s unfortunate that most of the general public won’t have the opportunity to do the same without paying $5 to the National Bureau of Economics; luckily for me, the nature of my job means I’m able to access it.

Now I have to admit I’m not the most scholarly person. I’m not a Professor of Economics with a PhD like yourself, and I guess you’d class me as one of those ‘lower-skilled workers’ you talk about – those uneducated undesirables ‘without a bachelors degree’. The majority of your paper therefore went over my head but I was able to understand its conclusion with a lot of effort. I won’t quote it here for the sake of copyright, but let me paraphrase:

Advancements in technology and gaming may have an effect on labour supply. It’s possible that individuals develop ‘a habit (or addiction)’ for the activity. The physical equipment and social aspect of gaming enhance the enjoyment received from the hobby. Therefore negative impacts to labour demand could have a negative effect on labour supply as individuals first increase their available time, then develop a taste or skills for gaming.

I said wouldn’t quote but the word ‘addiction’ is taken directly from your paper – and it’s one that’s frequently mentioned in discussions around video games despite there being no clear link. I would have thought that a higher-skilled person such as yourself may have already come across last year’s study published on the American Journal of Psychiatry website but I’ve included the link here in case you need it for reference. The implication that gamers are unable to control themselves, always desperate for their next digital fix, does nothing but perpetuate the tired stereotype and continue to hold us back.

Speaking of stereotypes, I couldn’t help but notice some of your paper’s preliminary findings discussed during your speech at the University of Chicago in July 2016. We all need career advice from time to time – even those ‘with a bachelors degree or more’ for whom the ‘labour market had been relatively strong relative to that of those with less schooling’ – so I feel it’s my duty to offer you the following well-meaning guidance. It’s never a good idea to resort to tropes so you may wish to steer clear of the following references during your next talk if you’d like to show the audience your intelligence:

If they are not working, how do these young men eat? We – the parents and relatives – feed them. When they are in our basements, they come up for food from time to time and raid our refrigerators. I have no information on whether or not they are showering… In summary, these younger, lower-skilled men are now less likely to work, less likely to marry, and more likely to live with parents or close relatives.

If you’re looking for an example of how to word an argument convincingly while still being based on fact, I can recommend The Youth Are Playing Videogames Instead Of Working! by Shelby Steiner published on the Falcon Game Reviews website. Although written as a response to the New York Times rather than to yourself, this post explains why it may not be as simple as blaming the reduction in working hours on video games. This information could prove useful if you ever consider conducting a follow-up to your original paper.

I’d like to offer you some final pieces of advice before I let you get back to your research, from one parent to another. In your speech you mention that you’re experiencing how technology has changed the value of leisure firsthand, then go on to talk about your 12-year old son and how you ration video games for him. Here’s the section I’m referring to in case you don’t recall:

He is allowed a couple of hours of video game time on the weekend, when homework is done. However, if it were up to him, I have no doubt he would play video games 23-and-a-half hours per day. He told me so. If we didn’t ration video games, I am not sure he would ever eat. I am positive he wouldn’t shower.

I’m the step-parent to a 10-year old boy and a sister who grew up with a younger brother, and unfortunately I have to tell you that this is absolutely normal behavior. There’s no child on this earth who wouldn’t choose to stay at home and do whatever the hell they wanted above going to school and doing homework. In addition, the showering thing – the teenage years are coming so you’ re going to have to get used to the smell for a while.

You may not wish to speak about your son in a similar way during any future speeches, however. We all know that nothing on the internet is private and he may not appreciate hearing you speak about him like this when he’s older. In addition, your tone suggests you may have some work to do when it comes to relating to your child so it may be a good idea to put the research down in favour of some father-son bonding every once in a while.

As to what you could do together during that time, I have a good suggestion. How about stepping away from your desk, leaving your office, and going home to play a video game with your son? Not only will it give you a more balanced view of gaming in preparation for your next paper; but you never know, you might just enjoy it.

After watching your video on YouTube, you look as though you could use some fun.

Yours sincerely,