Vague Patch Notes: MMO players don’t talk about aging

See no anything.

I turned 40 this year. It’s not something that I announced with any particular fanfare, due in no small part to the fact that I was sick on my birthday. (It’s happened before, but it’s never fun.) But it’s true, I’m 40 now, which is kind of amazing to me when I consider that I started writing about MMOs for the original Massively back when I was 26. I have been doing this for 14 years now, and sure, that’s impressive in terms of length, but it also means that a lot has changed for me over the years.

Now, without going into details, I’d admit that 40 has kind of sucked for me so far. It has not been fun or pleasant. (Thankfully, not because of unexpected health issues.) But one thing that I definitely have not had to deal with are things like hearing loss or even notably degraded reflexes. I still feel as quick as I did when I was in my 20s and 30s, so I’ve been fortunate there. But I also… you know. Just turned 40.

We don’t talk about aging in MMO genre or the video game industry.

There’s a general sentiment in both the industry and among people in general that video games are a young person’s field. Video games are made primarily to appeal to a demographic that is assumed to be younger. There’s a general sense that younger people are more likely to have the reflexes necessary to play faster video games that rely more upon tests of your reflexes. And there’s definitely some sense that people in their late teens to early 30s are most likely to have the disposable income necessary to play video games while also having the open schedules necessary. You all know that, and I do too.

But we don’t really talk about it, collectively. I have been playing video games basically since I was first exposed to the NES when I was six. Just as with robots that turn into cars, LEGO™ brand construction bricks, dinosaurs, and cats, as soon as I was exposed to these things my brain immediately decided that they were awesome and that I wanted them in my life as much as possible. I don’t imagine that I’m necessarily in the minority here. There are people older than me who were playing the NES as teenagers and are now staring down the barrel of 50.

Sure, some people have fallen off from video games. But not all of them. Not everyone who thought “this rules” decided that they were done when they hit age 35. I would argue not even the majority. And therein lies a complex problem because, well… as I just said. We don’t talk about aging.


In some ways, MMORPGs originally came out of a period when people literally did not know what you could do with the internet. Yes, I am aware that the internet existed before the mid-’90s, but that was still the point when it suddenly exploded into the mainstream awareness and people with a computer-savvy family could expect to have the internet be a thing. The idea that you could make a video game that didn’t exist only when you powered it on was new and exciting, and games like MUDs and MUSHes explored the idea before the same concepts broke into graphical games.

There were a few Transformers MUSHes I always wanted to play but never got to. Part of me is still a little sad about that, but it’s 2023.

My point here is not to lament that there are no new MMORPGs coming out or the ones that are coming out all suck. That’s not who I am and not how I’ve ever done things, and if you’ve read me for a while you know that. Heck, a few weeks back I wrote a whole column here about looking forward to one. But in some ways this is definitely a genre that has started to cede its ground to The Olds. Most of the people who I meet in MMORPGs are in my general age bracket.

That doesn’t mean that the genre is dying or there’s nothing interesting being done or even that younger people don’t care. One of my friends loves MMORPGs and she’s 20. It just means that the demographic skews older at this point. Some genres just do in every field. Certain movies skew older, certain books skew older, even certain toys skew older. (There was a long period of time when Star Wars toys sold more to collectors than actual kids.) And, well…

We don’t talk about aging.

We don’t talk about the fact that a lot of the people playing these games have different expectations than they did when they first started playing them back in their 20s. We don’t talk about how these games are frequently straining under the simple challenge of dealing with code that was never meant to last this long, up to 26 years old at this point. We don’t talk about how a lot of the people who are playing these games have kids now.

And we don’t talk about how on some level, lots of us who are still playing these games are doing so because they were magical to us when we were younger. We’re still chasing that. Just like you still listen to the songs that turned your world on its edge when you were a teenager and think that some of them still sound amazing, you find yourself going back to these games chasing some of that feeling.

Some of us find it. Some of us find something better than what we remembered or what we always hoped it would be. Some of us don’t find it, or worse yet, we find ourselves chasing something that was a unique alchemy of time, place, and situation that cannot be replicated. But there’s something there, and it’s disingenuous to pretend that we are not in part looking for something we did experience once.

Because the things we experience shape us, and they don’t always shape us in ways we understand on an instinctive level. Our stated values and goals may not align with our actual behaviors because we may believe we value something we… well, don’t. Or we demonstrate otherwise. Or, heck, we just make mistakes because that’s human nature.

And we don’t talk about this. If someone says “you want this because it was a formative memory for you,” the knee-jerk response is to get angry at someone dismissing your experiences as mere nostalgia. As if there was anything mere about having an urge to return to something that meant a lot to you. Yes, there’s a lot of nostalgia in me for, say, trips I took to Chicago to meet a pretty girl I cared about very much (and not in how that relationship decayed and went badly). It’s important to recognize that time is never coming back again. But it’s not mere nostalgia. It’s not just wanting something that’s gone. It’s a nexus of complex emotions and memories.

We don’t talk about how MMOs have to increasingly appeal to an audience that is looking for something that is no longer there, and how that can affect our lives. We don’t talk about the simple mechanical needs to account for older players. We don’t talk about how the games themselves are getting older, and at a certain point no matter how much you may love a game you get bored playing it if you keep playing it all the time. Much less for more than a decade.

We don’t talk about how these are all real, inevitable, constant things. That they cannot be dealt with cleanly. That if you have a social group in your game of choice that has calcified over the years, you are not playing the experience of players who are just as experienced but don’t have that benefit. That not everything even is a function of age.

Because we don’t talk about aging.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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