It would be two or three o’clock in the morning, sometimes even on a college night. The room would be dark, save for the dim glimmer of my television screen, flickering as I paced from map to map on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I was firmly in the zone: Turtle Beach on, hands layered thinly with the sweat accumulated over hours of gaming. The best part of all this? I wasn’t alone.
I’ll admit, I was a late bloomer – I got into Xbox 360 at the ripe age of sixteen, when I was in my first year of college. Until then, I’d been firmly satiated by my PlayStation 2. However, when I feverishly unwrapped the box containing the Xbox 360 Elite one Christmas, I had no idea I was at the same time opening a realm of unlimited potential. In the following years, I made dozens of friends online, after college and at weekends or on holidays, playing games such as Call of Duty, Battlefield or Grand Theft Auto (ignore those age ratings!).
I’m proud to say that at one point I ran a blossoming gaming team. We’d play scrims all the time and jump on platforms such as GameBattles and Dexerto to test our mettle against like-minded players. We were international; we had a brand. Life was good – I could come online at any time of the day or night and be instantly invited to a party to chat or to play.
These days, the notifications are silent. My online-gaming boom was almost a decade ago, and although I still snatch the odd game on Battlefield V, they’re played in a solitary manner, running silently from flag to flag. I have a few friends that I’m still connected with on PS4, Xbox One or PC but it’s a common sight to see “Last Online 2 Months Ago”, or to hear the ever-present claims of “I can’t mate, I’m working” or “Sorry, we’re doing wedding stuff today,” when attempting to get something going.
Of course, I’m not blameless in this – I’m often the one planning the wedding or working. That’s the correlation in the life of a gamer: as we get older, our opportunities to game become fewer and fewer.
I won’t say games are at fault. There has been a host of superb multiplayer or co-op titles released over the last few years that I could have dived into, but it’s the time and – dare I say it – reluctance to do so. As my involvement in online gaming receded, so too did my tolerance of people online. I play Grand Theft Auto Online in solo lobbies. I didn’t play Red Dead online. I haven’t played Call of Duty multiplayer in years. I refrained from playing Fallout 76 for almost seven months out of the fear of coming across people in-game. I can carry this list on for eons.
I firmly doubt I will ever play games as I once did, unless I reignite my love when I’m retired. I make do with the snatches of single-player gaming that I’m exposed to from time to time to satiate my thirst. If I could, I would certainly have some mega-reunion of all my gaming buddies in some central e-location: Los Santos, West Virginia, Blackwater… even the rolling hills of MineCraft! I’ll end this lament with a line I used in a recent article: don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.