For almost a decade, I wrote a column for Macworld magazine called "The Game Room," gently reminding our readers that Macs could be used to play games, and great games at that. Games have always been a central part of what I've used computers for. Over the years, I've found myself growing increasingly distant from gamer culture.
I've played computer and console games since I was a kid in the 1970s. I saw first-hand the rise of the home video game console market, and was part of the early hobbyist personal computer trend. Back in the old days, when we trudged uphill in snow to program BASIC on command lines to play Tic Tac Toe (get off my lawn).
Through many generations of game consoles, I'd be among those who would take time off from work to wait in the wee hours for the first day of sales; I remember doing so for my Sega Dreamcast; I remember excitedly opening my Xbox and my PlayStation 3 the same way. I bred that love for games in my kids, too, and we often used gaming as an excuse to play together, the same way other generations played (and still play) board and card games.
Now I'm in my mid-40s. As I've gotten older, my priorities have changed. I don't have the leisure time I used to, and I don't have the disposable income I used to. Those two things alone have dramatically affected my ability to get and enjoy games.
The other thing that's changed is me. I no longer identify myself as a "gamer," especially compared to my two boys — 19 and 14 respectively. (My daughter, in between the two boys, hasn't really spent much time gaming.) As I recounted a few weeks ago, the 14 year old actually had me help him build a gaming PC, and the 19 year old spends most of his leisure time playing games with his friends online. Both of them are part of a culture I really don't identify with anymore, partly because of age, partly because of shifting priorities.
Last year's "GamerGate" controversy solidified that I wasn't part of the "hardcore" gaming culture anymore. The violent reaction of a contingent of gamers against others looking for less marginalization struck me as a particularly immature, unacceptable reaction that I wanted no part of.
But mostly it's about time. More specifically, it's about how I spend my free time. The funny thing is that I probably spend as much, if not more time playing games now than I did when I was younger. But the way I spend that time is different.
Rather than grabbing hours during nights and weekends to master hardcore action games, in-depth strategy titles and adventure games that take hours to explore, I spend minutes here and there. That lends itself to a lot more play of casual titles, which usually sit on my iPhone or my iPad, rather than the computer.
There's no question that as the smartphone market has exploded, so has the casual game market. And casual game makers are finding new and innovative ways to grab our attention all the time.
Some of the games I play most frequently are, by the measure of most "serious" gamers, utterly banal: Games like Hay Day, the Farmville-style task management game from the people who make Clash of Clans. But it's a game I can get in and out of easily while waiting for an appointment to start. Trivia Crack has proven itself to be fun for the same reason: Easy to spend a minute on here or there, collaborative, but not overly demanding of time or resources. Even runners like Yak Dash have found their way onto my phone; fun time-wasters that I can spend a minute or two with here and there, then get out of and not think about again until I'm ready to play.
I still love well-crafted, involved and detailed games, especially ones that make it to the Mac. And I still plan to examine them critically and report on the business, because it's still of enormous interest to me (and to my readers as well, I presume). But I no longer identify as a gamer the same way I used to. I've moved on. And I'm not sure that being a "gamer" even matters anymore, in the scheme of things. Games have become so interwoven into most of our daily experience, aren't most of us gamers these days?