Here’s an open secret in the video games industry and remember you didn’t hear it from me.
In spite of the fact that it is illegal to sell video games to children who aren’t the correct age to play them – and there are severe penalties for those who do – large amounts of minors still manage to get hold of games that have adult content in them. How do I know this? Well, I have played hundreds of Free-For-All matches on Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer, and unless a large portion of the players on there are addicted to inhaling helium, it’s a pretty safe bet that they aren’t the correct age to be playing this game.
(Oh, and asking if they’re the right age to be playing MW2 in Free-For-All pretty much guarantees that you will: A) be hounded throughout the map and then shot to pieces by all of the other players and B) become acquainted with just how colourful a vocabulary an eleven-year-old can have. My advice is to mute everyone else; don’t ask and don’t tell).
As disturbing as one may find the fact that minors play adult-themed games in their droves, what’s even more alarming is how amazingly good most of them are at it. I would say I’m pretty good at shooter games, but I’m just not in the same league as some of the young hitmen of tomorrow. To be honest, if I finish up a match in third position roughly ten kills behind the leader, I feel a sense of genuine accomplishment. These kids don’t just beat me, they pwn me, and if it weren’t for the miracle of the speaker mute – by far the most vital feature in MW 2’s multiplayer – they’d probably let me know it.
Then again, this shouldn’t surprise me. At the risk of sounding like an aging relic, I was like that at their age. And I don’t mean obnoxious and juvenile, because I’m still those things. No, I mean I was better at games than people who were older than me. I first realised this at the tender age of 8 while playing on my first home console, the Atari 2600. I could spend hours on games like Space Invaders or Bezerk before the pixelated horrors they contained managed to beat me. Not so, my father; in a rare instance of magnanimity I handed him the controller in a game of Space Invaders and the poor, frail old man was dead in seconds. Believing the balance of power in our house had changed somewhat, I informed him he was rubbish and snatched my controller away. Re-establishing the balance of power, my dad asked me if I’d like him to return the Atari console to the shop he’d bought it in.
It’s not just MW2 that’s made me question whether I may be losing whatever preternatural video game prowess I used to possess. I recently downloaded Sega’s arcade classic Shinobi and to my shame I have to admit I have yet to defeat the end boss yet. This, by the way, is a game I used to clock on one coin in the arcades in my youth. Now I can’t even get further than the fourth level boss, with five continues and five lives!! My younger self would be absolutely disgusted.
Perhaps the biggest indication that I’m past it in playing video games happened last week when I finally unboxed my limited edition arcade stick in order to prove my mettle on Super Street Fighter IV and was taken to pieces by a succession of opponents. On my tenth encounter, after being soundly beaten without landing a punch on my opponent, I decided I’d had enough. I stood up, left the game running and walked into my kitchen to make a cup of tea. When I came back, I found to my surprise, that my opponent hadn’t even attacked me and was waiting for me to make a move. His high-pitched (read: young) voice popped out of the TV’s speakers.
“Dude! You there?”
I plugged in my headphones.
“Yeah,” I replied, “I went to get a drink. I’m useless, obviously.”
“We all have start somewhere,” chirped my young opponent. He then destroyed me in four moves.