Editoral by: Chester Lee
What Makes A Perfect Gamer
(or why a 12 year old will always kick my butt in video games)
The other month I turned 30. That’s right, the big 3-0. It hasn’t depressed me. Well, occasionally when I fill out those surveys that come with the games I review and they ask me to check my age and I realize I have moved up into a new category. But other than that, I am fine with it.
Except when it comes to gaming.
I don’t get it. I was RAISED on video games. I am of the generation who spent my days creating strategies for PONG (yes, there was a strategy book for PONG), and once spent an entire weekend playing JUMPMAN, pausing only to sleep. My friends and I skipped school to play Ultima II on my Commodore 64, and spent our afternoons at the arcade where I excelled at Karate Champ, Ms. Pac-Man, and Pole Position.
In my lifetime I have played hundreds of games. I have owned Intellivisons and Ataris, ColecoVisions and Nintendos. I have become an Avatar, I have solved thousands of puzzles. I finished 7th Guest without any hints!
I should be pretty good. In fact, I should be in the upper echelon of gamers. But, I’m not. Despite all that experience, I am just average. If you want to find the best gamers in the United States you don’t have to look far. Go visit any middle school in the country.
Yes, it’s a rude awaking. At one State Computer Fair (where I was judging student’s web sites) I watched teams of students play Command and Conquer:Red Alert. They asked if I wanted to give it a try.
“Ha!” I thought, “I’ll surprise them.” They didn’t know that I completed both the Russian and Allied disks. After fumbling a bit with the controls (to keep up appearances) I began to build and attack.
I was destroyed within the hour. The student I was playing against (age:14) created battle plans that blew me away. I didn’t even know some of the commands that he later showed me.
So what happened? How did I go from being a top gamer to one of those pitiful creatures you see in arcades who simply stare at all those buttons for Mortal Kombat 3 without a clue. What makes a good gamer? Did I lose my reflexes or my hand/eye coordination? I don’t think so. My golf and tennis game has never been better. So if is not a physical thing, what is it that makes us old timers slow down when it comes to the latest titles?
After giving the matter some thought, I decided to do some research, and I came up with the five top characteristics of good gamers. See how you do in each category.
I have none, the kids have it all. How often do you have to play Tomb Raider IIuntil you know how far Lara can jump? I’ll jump once, twice, three times, then give up and move on. Kids will keep jumping 20 or 30 times until they get it right. The more patient you are, the more you’ll score. I once had a nephew who showed me this incredible move in Clay Fighters, he hit six buttons while moving the paddle in every direction. I asked how long it took to learn that–he told me a day. A whole day spent on learning one move. That’s patience.
To become successful at anything takes time. Sure, there are some prodigies who can sit at a piano and start playing Mozart when they are 3, but for the rest of us, we need to take hourly piano lessons once a week just to learn how to play. The same goes with games. Play 300 games of StarCraft and you are going to get better then they guy who has only played 50. I work all day, then go to a gym, come home and make dinner, then maybe get some extra work done. You know what the summer means to me? It’s hot, that’s all it means to me. Most kids will log 300 to 400 hours of video gaming in the summer. I am lucky to get in 50–if my workload is light.
3. Social Importance
Can you talk about your gaming experiences with your friends? I can’t. It is not something that comes up in the circles I travel. When I was younger, sure, it was all we talked about. “Hey Brent, did you find that secret room in Adventure?”,“Hey, John got to a new level in Donkey Kong, Jr.” But today, I talk about quarterly reports and marketing stats. I can’t open a Marketing meeting with “I kicked some serious tail in Age of Empires last night, what did you do?” I would never be taken seriously. Hey, when you can make gaming (or anything) a social experience, you do better at it.
As I have gotten older my life has re-prioritized itself. When I was young it went something like: friends, games, food, money (to get games and food), driver’s license, family. Now, my priorities are shelter, spouse, health, family, friends, career, education, food, etc….games fall way down around 20th or 30th. Why? Because they are games. My whole life used to center around getting my initials up on Defender or solving Zork, even when I wasn’t playing I was THINKING about how to play better. Yesterday, when playing Might and Magic VI, I managed for my characters to go up to level 6, 15 years ago I would have been thrilled, today I simply shrug and press on.
Kids can adapt. They aren’t burdened with the experiences that weighs them down like us old folks. Every time I play a new game, my mind immediately starts to compare it with previous games. “Oh this is like the puzzle in MYST.” “These controls are similar to DOOM.” Kids don’t do that. They simply adapt to this new environment. I would love to test this theory by placing a 26-year-old and a 12-year-old in a game of DOOM and change the keyboard controls. In about 20 minutes the 12-year-old would be blasting away mightily, the 26-year-old would still be mumbling “I liked it better the old way…”
If all this sounds like I am lamenting getting old, I am not. I wouldn’t go back 15 years right now if you paid me a million dollars. I couldn’t imagine a time where I didn’t have a car and someone actually told me when I had to go to bed.
But, I would be lying if I said I missed those times when the most important thing in my life was getting to another level and the elation I would feel when I reached a new goal. I would happily trade all my current problems for one good puzzle to occupy my waking thoughts at 3 AM instead of anxiously wondering about my presentation the next day.
I’ll always love video games, and occasionally, if my mood is right, and I have lost track of time, I completely lose myself in the moment….that is, of course, until some 12-year-old comes along and blows me out of the water.
Ah well, at least I can drive to the video game store instead of begging my parents.
It’s a fair trade.