Settle in for any multiplayer session of Halo online and you’re going to hear the war cries of the hundreds of players laying virtual waste to each other. But on this battlefront it’s not just about the gameplay; the conflict goes deeper. I’ve heard many a precocious thirteen-year-old declare a player twice his age a “n00b” because he got killed too quickly or caused some friendly fire. He’s talking to players I’ve known that have made a steady career of playing video games twice as long as that punk has been alive. That aside, let me be the first to throw in my power glove to the Millennial vs. Generation X war.
I’m from the generation that grew up with Halo, Half Life, and every new Xbox console. If I wanted, I could have never touched a Nintendo system and still beat people twice my age on PlayStation. I don’t appreciate getting dumped on for my lack of 8Bit knowledge by the Old Guard, just as much as they don’t like getting pwned by kids they used to babysit. In an effort to understand my adversary, I’m going to break down the differences in gaming habits between Millennials and Gen-Xers.
In the age of instant feedback on Facebook and Twitter, it’s safe to say Millennials display some impatient behavior. They don’t want to spend time plodding through a story-rich game where the “journey is the destination”. They want to solve some puzzles, collect some swag, and move on! Gen-Xers come from a time when text based games were big. Games like Lords of Midnight, where you played a prince who defeated Lord Doom Dark and destroyed a magic ring (your name was not Aragorn). There were no fancy graphics for the orc hordes or the wizards spells, just good old-fashioned choose-your-own-adventure gameplay through text, with a few images to induce seizures here and there.
Those games slowly evolved into more sophisticated MMORPGs like EverQuest (and arguably the greatest series of all time, the Legend of Zelda). But who has time for 18 minute respawns on EverQuest? Gen-Xers had to put up with that crap, but respawning now takes seconds and you’re back to fragging. When Millennials believe that life can be less stimulating than gaming, game designers construct excitement/reward cycles to keep that adrenaline going. That’s why World of Warcraft has to have so many expansions, and hours of gameplay spent earning items becomes useless when newer and better versions come out on a monthly basis. But Azeroth wasn’t built in a day, and we owe a lot to Generation X for its birth.
Though arguably both Generation X and the Millennials grew up with console games, Gen-Xers had much more familiarity with computer games. After the Almighty Pong on their television sets turned that around, they made the leap. And whereas their proficiency in both mediums is high, Millennials are using their computers to download games off Steam with much more frequency. Or watching walk throughs on YouTube, which was something Gen-Xers just couldn’t do. It was either waiting every month for a subscription to a gaming magazine for cheat codes or calling a hint hotline (talk about lag time). Or holding up in their local comic book shop or arcade to pool their resources.
Millennials have a lot more free time than Gen-Xers. They’ve pushed back buying houses, buying cars, and starting families. Their lives can be structured around gaming, especially since there’s much less of a stigma for them to do so. But at a certain point life, career, family, and partners get in the way. No more time can be spent saving the princess or defeating the hordes. All the free time permitted by summer jobs, part-time jobs, or a school schedule gets eaten up. Leveling up doesn’t seem as important anymore as reaching the milestones in the real world. Gen-Xers are at an age when they just can’t devote the same sort of time to gaming they once could, and the variety of games and systems flooding the marketing takes effort to master.
In the Battle of the Gaming Generations, I find Gen-Xers to be a worthy opponent. Based on where you’ve led us, join us as we take you further than you imagined. Millennials are reshaping the industry by improving on all the things that got you hooked on video games to begin with. You want story-rich games with sprawling environments? We give you Skyrim. You want to know cheat codes, hacks, and hints? We’ve got a dozen monthly magazines, gaming blogs, walkthroughs, and you can even watch demos of the game months before it gets released. And even if you think you don’t have time to game, make a Steam account and find the game that helps you unlock your next life achievement.
Generation X, you lived your lives to an 8-bit soundtrack. The mantle of solving the political issues of the day was taken up by kids playing games about hockey, where the Cold War could end if they could just beat Russia. By now, you have the careers that pay for the industry to keep going (if you don’t have careers in the industry itself), and you have paved the way for me to be able to get all the gaming I want for as low as $4.99. In the words of my generation, in the hashtag nomenclature of my people, let me be the first to say “#epicwin!” and I will join you on the battlefield of your choosing any day.