The advent of any birthday in a man's life is a time for reflection and appraisal. You scrutinise your features in the mirror and after much deliberation announce yourself satisfied with what lies in front of you, physically you may not be the sleek, toned whippersnapper of a few years ago but for someone in their early thirties you're in good nick and for that you must be grateful. Having assessed your mortal being you move onto matters of a more spiritual nature and find that although you harbour an ever burgeoning miserable side and an unerring tendency to daydream about being a ninja you are in actual fact blossoming into something resembling an adult which is a source of cautious pride to you.
However despite all of this self congratulation you still in a lot of ways feel, and behave, like that 15 year old self who spent his days mired in a state of aroused confusion. Football is still one of the most important things in your life and defeat for your team of choice will find you descending into the depths of despair despite your earlier proclamation that 'there's more important things in life than football nowadays'. You still watch television shows solely for the purpose of perving on a much lusted after harlot (yes Countdown) and secretly wish for the return of Gladiators: The Milf Edition starring Jet and Lightning. All of these things can be excused as boys just being boys and we mask our guilt by telling women that 'they just don't understand', however one pastime which many have partaken in since childhood and continue to do so is something which some might be a tad embarrassed to admit and others hide it from not only lady friends but also their peers. This of course gaming, or to give it it's correct title videogaming.
Like many children who grew up in the eighties I took to the relatively new phenomenon of home videogaming as if it were my birthright and cut my teeth on the Commodore 64, immediately instilling in me a fascination with bright colours and rapidly moving objects which remains to this day. Whether I realised it or not the seed had been sown and those early dalliances with the likes of Dizzy and Paperboy were just the beginning of a pastime which would continue to enthrall and enrage me right through to the present day and will most likely do so for a good few years yet.
Even the arrival of adolescence and the twin temptations of girls and alcohol failed to douse my passion for gaming and whilst the cool kids were clumsily fumbling in each other's pants and quaffing cheap vodka I was to be found indoors pondering why the Shinobi were so intent on revenge. When I did finally get my act together and realised that booze, mind bending drugs and the company of women with no morals combined to make for a terrific night's entertainment gaming still maintained it's position of importance. Whether it was challenging similarly disengaged individuals to games of FIFA 98 RTWC at late night parties or stumbling home as the sun came up and deciding that the Playstation was going on and Sephiroth was going to cower before me in fear and awe gaming was still as important to me as ever and the superior hardware on offer only strengthened my resolve.
It was around this time that I first became aware of the fact that sitting indoors with a joypad in your hand was not exactly the ideal way to impress members of the opposite sex. Suddenly this pastime which had offered me solace and joy throughout my life was now a source of shame, I recoiled in horror at the mere thought of being labelled a nerd and lowered my tone when discussing games in public for fear of being outed. Where once gaming had been the innocent pastime of a blissfully unaware child it was now an activity likely to see me branded with any number of less than flattering adjectives. But still I carried on, entering my twenties with as much enthusiasm and gusto as before and sneering at those who questioned my decision to fork out the equivalent of a third world country's debt to get my hands on a Playstation 2. I had by now unwittingly become an adult gamer and with it had entered an entirely new demographic, instead of being viewed with derision and pity it was now considered quirky and almost endearing to be gaming at my age.
However despite revelling in my new role as an endearing, quirky twentysomething gaming was threatening to sabotage much more important aspects of my life than my mere social status. Whilst my peers were busy attaining degrees and building for the future my only concern was building my Master League team in PES...........
One morning whilst driving to work in his Prius a particularly annoying executive at Nintendo had a moment of inspiration, as this idea took shape in his mind he turned up the volume on his car stereo so that The Eagle's greatest hits could be heard by all those in the mid morning rush hour traffic, nothing got his juices flowing like Don Henley's dulcet tones. Arriving at Nintendo's HQ he bounded up the stairs two at a time and rushed to the office of his much feared and usually avoided boss, upon entering the room and seeing his superior engaged in a clearly important phone call he stood as patiently as he could until he could bear it no more and ripped the receiver from the hands of the startled and soon to be incandescent CEO. But before great vengeance rained upon this gutsy interloper he began a spiel which would save him from the most severe of tongue lashings and change the face of videogaming forever, “So imagine right, Mommy, Daddy, Auntie, Grandparents and the kids all gaming together. How it works is we make these little nunchuks which you have to wave around and...........................
So now all of a sudden it was okay to game? Could this be right? But I didn't want to game with my Mother, or any of my Aunts for that matter, so what would become of me? From being the hobby of the friendless and the socially inept gaming had now, finally, reached the masses and boy was it annoying. Every second advert displayed bumbling middle aged men jousting with demented silver haired pensioners as the clearly joyous kids whooped and hollered in the background, this was just not on. Now when you told the matronly lady in HR that your hobbies included gaming she shrieked with delight and proceeded to bore you with tales of epic Wii Tennis encounters between her and her ever so dull family. You attempted to correct her and explain that you played 'proper games' and not 'that Wii Sports shite' but in the end just walked away as she detailed her serving motion right there in the middle of the office. What do I do now I pondered? I certainly didn't want to be grouped with this cretin when classing myself as a gamer but luckily for me salvation was at hand and a new moniker was to be acquired almost as quickly as all those Wii's began gathering dust.
I'd never really considered myself hardcore at anything and the mention of that phrase brought nothing but sordid images involving chains and screaming nuns to my mind. But now it appeared that I was finally hardcore at something as those of us who eschewed the option to jump around our living rooms like buffoons were classed as 'hardcore gamers'. Gaming had achieved a public acceptance that perhaps most of us secretly wished it never had, we somehow enjoyed our status as being slightly odd and took sadistic pleasure in the looks we received from loved ones when telling them 'yes I will be buying that new console and I'm getting it on launch day too'.
In spite of the ever expanding gaming market and this newly found acceptance I sometimes find myself wondering if it's healthy to be thirty two years old and spend hours designing the shorts of my eponymous boxer in Fight Night Champion. A quick look at those that consider themselves 'celebrity gamers' reveals that the likes of Vin Diesel, Seth Rogen and Cameron Diaz like to waste hours on end with their consoles so why can't I. In a strange juxtaposition I've reached a point in my life when I wonder whether I should be 'getting my act together' and 'making something of myself' precisely at the time when it's never been more acceptable to game. I will of course continue to play games with that same sense of wonder and awe still alive and well just as it was all of those years ago, but already I've noticed that where once gaming always took precedence it has now begun to slide ever further down in my list of priorities. No matter what happens I will always find time for this hobby I love but in a funny kind of way I can't help but yearn for those days when not a shining sun nor a willing wench could drag me away from my console and all that mattered was the virtual world in front of me whilst the real world was nothing but a distraction.