Thought For the Day: Gaming Middle Age

A rather frightening thought passed though my mind this evening: was I past Gaming Middle Age?

A quick working definition– Gaming Middle Age is the age at which, assuming average life expectancy, one has spent as many years gaming as one has left in which to game.

Parse that to your hearts content. I’m primarily concerned with video games, so that pretty much starts in the Pong era for yours truly (home version, that is). If one only counts the home computer era, then it’s a coin toss between the Apple ][ and TRS-80. Call it 1976-77 for simplicity. Jimmy Carter, the Bicentennial, Captain and Tennile, the D&D Boxed Set… You get the picture.

Either way, after doing a bit of the old arithmetic, that means I’ve been playing video games for about 37 years. So, adding 37 years to my present age … oh my that is a large number… And, depending on who’s data you use, its a number almost ten years past the average life expectancy for males in the US.

Perhaps it’s not too late to move to Monaco

RIP: Sir Patrick Moore

News comes of the passing of Sir Patrick Moore, the great British amateur astronomer and author at age 89.  The Independent article linked here and the wiki give a general overview of the remarkable man’s extraordinary accomplishments.

As the article states, “Moore was perhaps the last in the great British tradition of significant contributions to science by distinguished amateurs, and was fiercely proud of his amateur status. ”  Indeed, astronomy remains one of the few areas where even today, amateurs (e.g., Herschel and Lowell) routinely make significant contributions to the field even beyond the discovery of new comets that bear their name.  All that is required is curiosity to wonder what’s out there and a desire to go looking for it.

The ultimate expression of an explorer’s heart and science nerd’s passion, I came to space exploration and amateur astronomy in the mid seventies with the waning of the Apollo program, the Viking and Voyager missions and in part, as a result of the passion of Sir Patrick Moore.

In our adolescent, pre-vehicular days, my friend and I became immersed in the wonderful world of backyard astronomy.  I’d strap my budget refractor telescope (think Gallileo) on my bicycle and pedal up the hill to my friend’s house where we set up for the night.

We’d spend the night dutifully searching the mostly summer sky in an attempt to find objects across the universe that we’d only seen in pictures or read about in books, all under the not yet too bright glare of suburban mercury and sodium haze light pollution.  Here in the northern hemisphere with a limited field of vision, modest equipment and a suburban sky we were able to locate exotic and far away objects like M31 (aka the Andromeda galaxy, 2.2 million light years away), M13 (the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules) and M57 (the Ring Nebula).  Intergalatic time travel on a teenagers budget.

A big part of that effort was a wee tome that proved again and again indispensible:  Patrick Moore’s “The Pocket Guide to Astronomy” ISBN 0-671-25309-3.  All of 144 pages bound in the finest vinyl.  Time and time again, Moore’s book was the go-to source because it was easy to carry with you, clear and concise.  Perfect for the occasional backyard stargazing party or to throw in a backpack.  It still is.  Also perfect for kindling the passion for scientific exploration in a nerdy adolescent.

The Pocket Guide to Astronomy, Patrick Moore
The Pocket Guide to Astronomy, Patrick Moore

Far more than a mere collection of handy star charts, Moore’s book was a concise overview of the physics of astronomy, astrophysics, then modern cosmology, the solar system and planetary exploration and a history of modern astronomy.  Not bad for under 150 pages that you could fit in a breast pocket.  Even with far greater resources today, I often go back to this small book when looking for reference information (like when a particular meteor shower will occur) simply because in Moore’s book, I know where it is and it will take me all of 30 seconds to locate it.

Useful and concise.
Useful and concise.

One of a kind, he will be missed.  Thanks, Sir Patrick, RIP.

Indian Summer

At some point I guessed we lurched across the autumnal equinox so I guess its officially fall, not that you would know it from the weather of late.  While other parts of the country begin to feel that first nip in the air and leaves may be already starting to turn, Northern California often experiences a long last hurrah of summer– the so-called and probably now politically incorrect Indian Summer.

This year seems no exception with unseasonably warm temperatures arriving after a tepid and unseasonably cool summer.  As Wilhelm is wont to experience his annual nostaligia binge, I tend to wax maudlin.

Summer’s fecundity grudgingly erodes and is overtaken by the season of decay, but Indian Summer makes the conclusion less of a victory lap and more like the slow inevitable defeat of an aging protagonist that shouldn’t have attempted one more adventure, one more come back making the final defeat bittersweet.

Harvest is done.  School is back in session.  Vacations are complete (if you took one).  The days are notably shorter.

The group of freaks, artists, scientists, musicians and misanthropes that I call friends would often get together for a campfire at a friends’ house in these Indian Summer nights.  We’d start with a barbeque or not and then We’d stand around the bonfire swapping stories and sharing laughs until the fuel for the fire or the beer ran out or the chill finally drove us home.  No one wanted to leave that circle of warmth and light and go into that chill night before they had to.  No one really wanted it to end.

The iconic sensation for me of this time of year is stepping outside at sunset.  The low sunlight is particularly golden and the wind carries a slight sweet scent of decay from the farmlands that surround our fair city.  Once the light fades, the warmth of the day fades quickly and a cool nip in the air creeps in far to soon.

This summer has been an especially cruel one on the game front.  After our instance group left WoW and our brief foray into EQ2X died an ignominious death, we slumped into a bit of a hiatus as we have tended to in recent years.  Summer vacations, long days and warm nights make for other opportunities that make keyboard life seem a bit thin.

Mrs. P and I partook in our annual indulgence of each and every stage of the Tour de France in July leaving little time in the evenings for gaming outside of Tour immersion.  Once the Tour concluded, we decided to spend a bit more time in LotRO with the coming of Isengard, it seemed a decent goal to head toward Moria at least.

Progress has been made, but RL concerns have derailed efforts in August and September.  As much fun as LotRO can be, in the right measure, its still a bit of an acquired taste.

As a result, I’ve been casting about for something to ignite the spark of gaming enthusiasm or at least scratch the itch with little lasting success.  I’ve been exploring a number of facebook games like empires and allies, the sims and a few others, but I’m always left with the feeling that facebook games play you rather than the other way around.

Seeing my raptor flash from time to time with Wilhelm playing Civilization V, I decided to grab that from Steam on sale.  I’ve played a few games and if nothing else, its reminded me of some of the things we’ve lost in migrating from turn based games to real time games.  A series of interesting decisions indeed.

Again inspired by Wilhelm, I’ve been playing Need for Speed: World and managed to connect to a part of my (our shared) youth that was steeped in car culture.  Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m vaguely looking for a new car and confronting the stereotypical male midlife crisis.  Smoking tires and bootlegs, even virtual, seems to help cool the hot flashes of male menopause, though I still find myself trying to justify picking up a Boxster…

With the exception of LotRO, there is an ominous absence of MMOs from my gaming geography.  With the announcement of the SW:TOR release date of December 20, my heart sunk a bit.

Its going to be a long fall.  I was looking forward to something– anything– new on the gaming front that could involve our little group.  Diablo 3 was a possibility, but with D3 delayed until early 2012, that possibility is even further remote.

Even looking forward to SW:TOR is a bit bittersweet.  As many in the blogosphere have predicted, it may be the last of the dinosaur Triple A subscription based MMOs that we are likely to see for some time.  Darren, Tipa and others openly wonder whether there is anything new SW:TOR can bring and whether MMOs generally can  rekindle that sense of wonder and exploration that sucked most of us into the genre.

As we get older and the genre “matures”, some say “decays”, its harder to get the same bang from the all too similar formula we’ve all seen before.  Darren predicts that SW:TOR will be F2P within a year.  Tipa wonders whether any MMO can justify the time commitment required.

I can’t completely disagree with them.  Though I’d like to.

To bring the analogy full circle, I feel the genre having been fruitful is starting to decay with the inevitable winter to follow.  I fear that SW:TOR will only enjoy the dying light of the Indian Summer of the traditional MMO.  Nonetheless, many of us will go there to enjoy the dying rays of what used to be the summer sun and wilfully deny the shiver that encroaches as the autumnal night closes in a bit too soon for those of us that want one more endless summer evening around the fire with friends, even if its just for a little while.