Why grown men still play video games

Behold! Super Mario Brothers

Behold! Super Mario Brothers

I remember the first time I saw the video game Super Mario Bros. It was at the house of two friends from primary school, twins, who lived right next to North Sydney Leisure Centre, where I went for after-school care. Sometimes I’d duck into their house (I’ve no recollection of whether I was allowed to do this), sit on their sofa and watch agog while they made a chubby little plumber eat mushrooms of dubious taxonomy, jump on reprobate turtles and leap balletically atop flagpoles as he attempted to rescue a princess from a spiky, bad-tempered dino-lizard. Sometimes they even let me have a go. I felt the way I imagine our ancestors felt the first time they gathered around a fire.

And there was fire in the game, too, or at least fireballs if you ate one of the white flowers – something I could never get to work in real life.

And yet I was transfixed by the athletic little plumber. Imagine being able to play something that amazing in your own home, I thought. You’d never get anything else done – and reading books would certainly go out the window – but on the bright side, the Mushroom Kingdom would have its monarch restored, at least until Bowser came and kidnapped her again in an endless succession of sequels that has made Mario the highest-selling video game franchise of all time.

Tetris!

Tetris!

By 2013 standards, the Nintendo Entertainment System’s graphics were very basic. It can’t have had more than a dozen colours. And yet the machine was absolutely revolutionary – they sold 61 million of them around the world. And it began my lifelong love of videogames. For nerds of a certain age, that bleepy, bassy music first heard in the underground Level 1-2 will always be close to our hearts.

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A few years later, in high school, I got my first video game console. It was a Game Boy – which, with its monochrome dot matrix graphics, might be the only more recent video game system that made the NES graphics look high-tech. But you could play it anywhere, and I absolutely loved it. Super Mario Land was my favourite game, and the first time I finished it was a red-letter day in my adolescence.

I became addicted to Tetris, as well, convincing myself that because it involved geometry, it was somehow beneficial to play for hours on end. Although I do use my Tetris skills every time I have to pack too much luggage into my tiny car.

Nearly 30 years after I first saw Mario in action, it’s still my favourite series. I don’t like games that require too much time commitment or detail. If I can’t figure out how to play it in a minute or two, I’m not interested, which is why strategy games and lengthy first-person shooters have tended not to do much for me. I’ve always enjoyed the rule-breaking, open-world Grand Theft Auto series, because hey, we all feel like driving a semi-trailer through a crowded pavement sometimes (or is that just me?) and a recent favourite is Portal 2, which has incredibly simple gameplay but increasingly fiendish and original puzzles, as well as an excellent vocal performance by Stephen Merchant. And of course SingStar’s a favourite because it allows me to inflict karaoke on my neighbours.

I don’t get as much time to play as much as I’d like nowadays, and I’m seriously behind on my gaming – I’ve only scratched the surface of GTA IV. But it’s still one of my favourite ways to wind down. The immersive nature of videogames is what makes them so relaxing, I think. When you’re bouncing your way through the Mushroom Kingdom, or driving around Liberty City, there’s absolutely no room in your head to think of anything else. Many videogames require absolute focus so you don’t lose your virtual “life”, and the chance to escape from everyday life for an hour or two is an enormous pleasure.

As I approach 40, I’ve begun wondering whether my generation, the Mario generation, will ever grow out of video games. The Playstation 4 is close to launch, and the absurdly-named Wii U has an incredible-looking New Super Mario Bros game available for it. (Although at least one writer thinks that 1991’s Super Mario World remains a better option for it!)

Today’s kids are growing up in a world where video games are available in your pocket all the time. I know one three-year-old who’s already surprisingly adept at Angry Birds. They’re also on the enormous screens that are already ubiquitous in our homes. Indeed, my phone’s full-colour 3D-generating capacities would utterly humiliate my beloved Game Boy. But video games, those early pixellated pioneers, will always hold a special place in my memory.

Realistically, the next time I’ll get to spend hours a day on video games is when I retire. I hope I’m not the only one who sticks with them, because retirement homes strike me as the perfect opportunity for some intense multiplayer gaming. The term ‘‘deathmatch’’ might take on too literal a meaning in that context, I suppose, but I can’t think of many better ways to go than having my cutting-edge Nintendo Wii U  controller prised from my cold, defeated hand.

89 comments

  • Wow. An article about guys who play video games that doesn't portray them all as violent sexists or immature children trapped in adult bodies, but actually talks about the real reason most play them - escapism, fun and challenge.

    I'm impressed.

    Also, I wan't that impressed by GTA IV. I prefer Saint's Row 3 for the sheer silly insanity and sense of humour, which GTA IV seemed to have lost in its quest to be taken seriously..

    Commenter
    DM
    Date and time
    May 17, 2013, 9:57AM
    • The average games nowadays is actually a middle aged male so you're hardly the exception here Dom. As to why we play, there are many reasons. Sometimes it's escapism, sometimes it's for a challenge, sometimes it is just to enjoy the storyline. Before the usual "you must be a teenage loser who lives in your mum's basement" comments come out, I'm in my mid 30's, happily married live overseas, have university and post grad degrees, earn a six figure salary and enjoy reading, hiking and plenty of other outdoor pursuits as well.

      Commenter
      Hurrow
      Date and time
      May 17, 2013, 10:00AM
      • "The average games nowadays is actually a middle aged male . . . "

        Not so.

        That stat is only true when you confine games to more traditional consumption via consoles and home computers. The fact is that that methodology is just not accurate anymore.

        As of 2012 (Digital Australia 2012 Report) 47% of gamers are female, 53% male. Moreover, the average ago of gamers in Australia is 32.

        We could go through the statistics presented in the report one-by-one but the main conclusion to be drawn is that gaming has already become mainstream and that trend is continuing. The report would also suggest from usage trends that people - especially non-traditional gamers - are making games part of their every day routine, something which the new age of mobile gaming has allowed.

        Commenter
        RG
        Date and time
        May 17, 2013, 2:23PM
      • My only question is where you find time to actually play games?

        (what with I assume is a busy job being 6 figures, plus a multitude of outdoor pursuits and reading to boot)

        Commenter
        Barney
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        May 17, 2013, 3:07PM
      • @RG - Whilst it might be on the young side of it I think most people would consider 32 to be middle aged, albeit on the young side of it. And as you have conceded the more dedicated gamers ie those who don't consider themselves to just be killing time tend to be male.

        The main point I took from the report was that although a very large percentage of the population now play games, most only play for short periods of time. From my own anecdotal experience people who play games on phones and tablets don't tend to consider themselves as being gamers whereas those who play on either computers, consoles and to a lesser extent dedicated mobile gaming devices do. Plenty of my female friends play facebook games or 4 pictures one word, however if you told them they were a gamer they would be horrified. My male friends who play XBox or PS3 *shudder* are happy to be identified as gamers though.

        Commenter
        Hurrow
        Date and time
        May 17, 2013, 3:35PM
      • @Barney - During the working week my commute is only about 15 minutes each way which is a lot shorter than for most people I would imagine. My wife works casual part time (maybe 15 hours paid work a week tops) so she does the vast majority of the housework without me having to worry about it. When I get home from work we can have a chat about things, eat dinner and then I can normally get in an hour or so of gaming most nights if I want.

        On weekends hiking etc tends to only take up about half a day or so which leaves plenty of time to do whatever other running around I need to do and getting in some gaming. And of course the fact that we don't have kids means that we have a lot more free time in general!

        Commenter
        Hurrow
        Date and time
        May 17, 2013, 3:52PM
    • Nearly 40. Anxiously awaiting animal crossing in June, Pokémons in October.

      Commenter
      Grant
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 17, 2013, 10:07AM
      • Why is this even and article and why is it addressing why men play games. Women play them too, and we play them because they're a lot more fun than gossiping over the latest pathetic soaps on TV.

        Commenter
        Ailie
        Date and time
        May 17, 2013, 10:07AM
        • ... Or watching another mindless reality TV show.

          Commenter
          Johnny
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          May 17, 2013, 10:26AM
        • Hi Ailie,
          This is the first time we've published an article on men playing video games. If you take a look around our site you'll see we've covered the topic of women playing video games a few times before. Here are a couple of examples you might enjoy.
          http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/sexually-assaulting-lara-croft-20120626-2100r.html
          And this one
          http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/is-online-sexism-worse-than-real-life-20120824-24ql9.html
          Thanks for reading!

          Commenter
          Daily Life
          Date and time
          May 17, 2013, 10:30AM

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