Any middle-aged person who plays sports understands the torment.
Mentally you know what needs to happen next. The run you should make, the space you need to cover. Like in a waking nightmare, you watch it all play out as you predicted. But those legs. Those once trusty legs that effortlessly propelled you into that space, helped you chase down that attacker, they let you down. You’re moving at half speed as the action runs in fast forward.
You’ve gotten old.
Now, for me at least, the same damn thing is happening in video games.
This past Monday, on the 20th anniversary of the first game’s release, Fortnite and Apex Legends — games dominated by teenagers and their supple brains — Big Papa Bear Halo is back.launched its free-to-play multiplayer, and there was much rejoicing. After years in the wilderness, playing second fiddle to games like
I’d long waited for this moment. As a 40-year-old man who plays video games regularly, I’d drifted away from first-person shooters — a genre which increasingly felt like a warped pinball machine stacked with loot boxes and ever spinning level-up counters. Online games like Fortnite felt more like hyperactive Skinner boxes, designed to keep players spending at all costs, than a test of teamwork and skill.
But Halo was my thing. I played heaps of Halo, particularly in the Halo 2 to Halo 3 era. This was the online shooter I was sorta good at? I put in hundreds (maybe even thousands) of hours and played at a decent level. I understood the strategies and weapon balance implicitly. Unlike Apex Legends or PUBG or Overwatch, I knew how Halo worked on a fundamental level.
So I jumped on Halo Infinite on day one, expecting to be… maybe not dominant, but at least competitive. On day one, everyone is learning a new game, adjusting to new mechanics, weapons and metas. Folks with a basic grounding in Halo should be at an advantage.
Every game — every single game — I was getting demolished. Either Halo has changed dramatically or I’ve gotten much worse. Almost certainly it’s the latter.
I could feel it immediately. Like a soccer player who’d lost both his legs and his first touch, I couldn’t even aim properly. I wasn’t quite sure where I should be in space, and I sure as hell couldn’t respond to threats quickly enough. One of Halo’s strengths as a video game is it allows players to outwit one another. Unlike, say, Call of Duty, you’re not automatically dead if someone spots you first — you have a chance to outmaneuver and outfox opponents if you’re smart and have good aim.
Unfortunately I am not smart, and I no longer have a good aim.
I’ve gotten old.
Which has gotten me thinking. As a 40-year-old, in my sporting life, no one expects me to compete with Kylian Mbappé-esque 20-year-olds rattling it up and down the wing at top speed. It’s understood that I no longer belong with people in their absolute physical prime.
No, I play in the over-35, or in “masters,” competitions where I’m surrounded by people whose best years are clearly behind them. Is there any good reason we can’t do the same with video games? Is there any good reason why online games like Halo can’t provide playlists exclusively for aging vessels like the one I’m currently occupying?
Think about it. It’s 9 p.m. It’s been a long day. You’ve put in a 10-hour shift at work, and your brain is frazzled. Your obnoxious toddlers are showered, cleansed of poop and vomit, and finally asleep. You have 60 precious minutes of free time before you have to drag your broken body back to bed and do it all over again.
Do you really want to spend those minutes being humiliated by teenagers jacked up on Mountain Dew? No, you want to play at a comfortable middle-aged person pace and have fun.
Sure, you could set up customs. But anyone over the age of 35 knows how difficult it is to gather a group of likeminded buddies for a quick game. We’re all scrubbing the vomit and poop on different timelines.
And sure, the logistics of actually enforcing an age barrier could be tricky. I actually don’t know how to effectively make it happen, but I know I want it to happen. And if a game developer somehow did make it happen, I’d be eternally grateful.
Because I’m old. I’m bad at video games. My prime is disappearing in the rearview mirror, but I still want to enjoy the things I once enjoyed doing. Help me!
Give me my over-35 Halo playlist, dammit!