As an antidote to the truly appalling weather the UK has been experiencing this week I have, for the first time in several years, been listening to a lot of Jamaican Dancehall music. It's pretty out-there kind of stuff, and a dream ticket for bassheads: someone singing or rapping over an accompanying track which consists of very little other than pounding, ear-splitting bass. It's also notable for it's rude, crude lyrics. Aside from cheering me up immensely, it's also left me stunned by how effectively as a music style it sums up what it should be all about to be young, free and single: full of driving energy, enthusiasm and a sexual firepower that you barely understand.
What's this got to do with games? Well, I found it an interesting counterpoint to reflect back on the days of my youth when I had endless spare time to fill with my life at the moment which consists of virtually zero free time once the demands of full-time employment, looking after a household and caring for two kids (one of them still a baby). Obviously, like a lot of middle-aged gamers who are in similar situations I bemoan the fact that I don't have more time in which to see my friends and play some games. And if you listen to a lot of the people who make this complaint, they often make the same counterpoint I just did about their lives now and their lives as students or young professionals. Unlike me they remember - or just fantasise - about filling that spare time with games. My little dancehall trip suddenly made me realise what a horrific mistake that actually is.
I first started playing hobby games at the very early age of about 9 or 10. I was still playing them when I got to 16 and started experimenting with drink, drugs and girls. I play them now as a middle-aged man but there was a long period in my life in between where I didn't play many games at all, except for a bit of Risk and some Magic. The reason for this was that I was having too much fun: drinking unhealthy amount of alcohol, learning how to use my body for pleasure and how to abuse it with narcotics, travelling, meeting people, being sociable. These are all things that most people get out of their system somewhere between the ages of 18-30 before they settle down a bit and swap all those joys for the quieter but no less satisfactory joys of loving relationships, children and appreciating good wine, good food and good company. As it happens, that latter set of joys is also the one that's far more compatible with playing games: it's hard to maintain a decent collection of geek material when your life is devoted to hedonism and you're not sure whose house you might be living in next week, let alone next year.
I don't regret taking all those years out of gaming to live it up at all - they were tremendous fun and I came out of them a more fully rounded, wiser and less geeky person than when I went in. Wishing them away as time to play games is rather pathetic, actually having spent them playing games is just tragic. We all want to bring our kids up to enjoy the same games that we love but for Pete's sake, that's one lesson about the geek lifestyle that we really, really shouldn't be passing on.