Confessions of a 43-Year-Old Gamer

I have been playing video games since Pong. I learned some rudiments of BASIC on the Commodore 2000 just to program incredibly rudimentary "games." I was video-game-obsessed. It was my main hobby. My father once barked at me "THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN PAC-MAN." (I said something very similar to my son on the streets of Seoul and could hear my father laughing in my head.) I enjoyed video games to the detriment of studies and social relationships.

But . . .

Now I am 43 and married with kids and a job and a mortgage and pick-ups at soccer practice every weeknight and soccer games every weekend and errands and making a gesture towards helping around the house and so forth.

Leaving aside games like Civilization V which I can "finish" by virtue of winning a scenario, I can't remember the last video game I "finished."

Now that time is a much rarer commodity than money, I buy games and barely start them, let alone finish them.

I frequently plan to take a serious shot at a game, only to drift off into idly surfing the internet, or watching Netflix.

Where I used to be intimately familiar with the leading games in my chosen genre (rpgs and Civ-style turn-based strategy), I haven't played most of the "big" games for years.

Increasingly when I look for games, I am looking less for graphics or gameplay, but for a feeling — the feeling games used to give me. That's why I often get the most pleasure not from big-budget heavily-promoted releases, but from obscure indies with 25-year-old graphics.

But my quest may be fruitless. There are many beautiful and innovative and genuinely artistic games coming out, some with improvements on classic gameplay. But it will never again be 1983. I will never again be playing Ultima III on my Apple IIe, windows open to let in a summer breeze smelling of honeysuckle and suntan oil, without a care or responsibility in the world, gasping as I found my way into the treasure trove in Devil's Gulch.

u3chestsScreenshot courtesy of the fabulous CRPG Addict.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. JWH says

    Interesting. I find myself going in a different direction. As I've gotten older, I find that I demand more of my games. Once, I was all about "kill the alien" or "rescue the princess." Now I find that I want more engrossing story and characters. What did the alien do to me? Why am I rescuing the princess?

    When I was a teen, the cut scenes were mainly these things I had to deal with in between shooting down alien spacecraft. Now, the alien spacecraft are things I have to shoot at in between cutscenes.

  2. JWH says

    PS. GOG is fantastic, and pulling golden oldies from Steam is fun. Like you, I don't necessarily finish the Good Old Games I download, but I have a blast revisting old memories of the Spemin, the ghost pirate LeChuck, and Silmaria.

  3. jb says

    I'm 43 as well. Starflight was the game of my childhood. And it was awesome. And then, while I was in college, came the game of games, the one ring of video games that would dominate the world for generations. Doom.

    It was a good time to be a video game player.

    I was able to spend a day playing Bioshock Infinite – the trick is that my sons (15, 12) sat with me and we experienced it together. That was pretty great.

    FTL is a fun little game – a little frustrating, but has some of that old-skool appeal.

    Then there's Gratuitous Space Battles – also inexpensive, and fun, although it gets old fairly quickly.

    Aren't you the one who introduced me (via blog post) to Just Cause 2?

  4. says

    Ugh Ken, I was just having this same attack of nostalgia. Same game too (that and Ultima 4/5). I've tried going back to those and it just doesn't work. Sigh.

  5. says

    It's sad, I'm 29, with my first baby on the way and I'm already finding myself in your shoes >_< There's just not enough time in the day, or sometimes it's that the game doesn't hold my attention for as long as they used to… I still play a lot of games, but I do more "game hopping" than actual playing these days.

    Sometimes I'll find a really great game that pulls me back, time-after-time, Minecraft being the best example lately. There's something about a rudimentary game that's full of subtle complexities that brings me back, also, probably the fact that, as a sandbox, the game is whatever I want it to be, sometimes when I'm playing, in my mind I'm a space explorer who's stranded on a strange planet, sometimes it's something else entirely. It also doesn't hurt that my wife is entirely addicted to the game as well, and most of my friends and co-workers :P

  6. Narad says

    Hmph, the previous comment doesn't seem to have gone through. Let's try that again.

    I will never again be playing Ultima III on my Apple IIe

    Emulators, man, emulators.

  7. Zeeblebrox says

    I'm an indie casual game designer, and my day job is basically trying to encapsulate everything you said into iphone app sized morsels of nostalgia.

    1983 may be a waning memory, but don't lose hope! There are some of us left out there fighting the good fight, and you may just find yourself having another Devil's Gulch moment, perhaps during a night out at one of the (in?)famous Popehat nights at Max's Taphouse…

  8. Doug says

    Commodore Vic-20. So there. I use to play Harpoon on my old 386-20 for hours without a care in the world. Not anymore.

  9. dupednontraditional says

    Preach on, Brothers. I have fond memories of the Ultima III and Starflight days as well.

    The newer stuff certainly has its appeal, but it's hard to find that old-school feel. Plus, the interaction factor is lacking, even in games like WoW. Me and some of the other dads have been going back to good old-fashioned gaming around the table.

  10. Another Dan says

    I find my self in similar shoes, I did make some time between masters and a 16 month old to play Ni no Kuni, its the only game that has made me feel the same way I felt when I first played final fantasy III.

  11. says

    I still get engrossed, but usually at the expense of something more important. I prefer third-person RPGs, top-down dungeon crawlers the best, but I did like Kingdom Hearts II which is also about as complicated as I'm willing to go. If I have to take a course at the community college on how to control my character I'll just skip that game, lol. And I'm terrible at FPSs; once I died three times before I even started the first mission.

  12. Skruff says

    I don't have any kids, but I'm in the same boat as you… I have a huge stash of never-touched/barely touched games that I want to play, but real world commitments (spouse, pets, work, social activities, charity work) have all but eliminated my gaming time in the last ten years.

    Like you, though, I find myself caring less and less about the big action, which is why games like Call of Duty, Halo, etc. have always had limited appeal to me. If I'm going to play a shooter, I want there to be a heck of an interesting story, or at least a story with a good hook, to back it up (Half-Life, Bioshock, etc.).

    I can't imagine dumping 100+ hours into a JRPG anymore… the thought of that is just overwhelming, because it could be the only game I played for 6 months. At this point, I have no interest in the next generation XBox or Playstation (and I've finally grown tired of Nintendo's nostalgia-mining), because I probably have enough games now to last me another 2-3 years.

  13. says

    I'm a real dinosaur. I wasted uncountable hours on Breakout (Atari 2600) and pinball machines.

    Then there was Adventure and Zork.

    And Tetris.

    I swore off games for a long time, until I was introduced to Lemmings. Fortunately that faded quickly, and I returned to being productive at work.

    Now I spend every spare moment reading blogs like Popehat.

  14. JR says

    I still have the cloth map that came with my copy of Ultima 4. My brothers and I each had our own 5.25 for saves.

  15. princessartemis says

    I remember moments like that. Except it was Rogue on the Atari ST. The Amulet of Yendor was returned to the surface one day in 1985. I remember competing with my best friend down the street on who would make it first. Good times.

  16. Dave says

    34 year old gamer here, and I find myself spending most of my gaming time in the wonderful world of emulation. I think being able to whip out my phone and play a bit of Panzer General, Pirates Gold, or Monkey Island in idle moments is one of my favorite perks of living in the world of tomorrow like we do.

  17. says

    Ken: there are a ton of entirely new video game genres. Between digital distribution (Steam) and the mobile explosion, it's an amazing time for new types of video games, since indie developers can actually survive now with good product.

    I'm 41, been playing video games forever (Vic-20 first as well), and I have some unique perspective on what parts of a video game are "fun" versus what parts are not, from the Glider/WoW thing.

    The mobile gaming angle in particular has led to many more games that are small, don't eat a lot of time at once, and are simply FUN (that is the feeling you're describing), period. Even on PC's. The old-school fun feeling is what makes GoG so popular, but many newer games have that.

    Check out Orcs Must Die 2, an insanely fungame on Steam. The game mechanics are very simple to understand and play, it has short levels, and the complexity builds layer-by-layer into an incredibly well-designed effort.

    Pretty modest hardware requirements, too, since it's not a big studio game.

  18. Ken Mencher says

    41, and with a 7 mo. old daughter, gaming time is precious to me…

    If I play a game, it'd better be good…

    Unfortunately, I have a half-dozen (or more) games sitting on a shelf, still unopened…(I actually just opened my pre-ordered copy of Fallout New Vegas and started playing)….

    I just hope that someday my daughter has as much enjoyment from games as I did…

    (and hope that someday I'll actually finish a book or a game)

    However, I refuse to stop playing…I will never grow old…I may "grow up", but I'm going to keep at least some part of me young…and games still give me that feeling (some of them, at least)…

    And, hey, Ken, Civ V has a new expansion coming out…

  19. Thomas Reed says

    I would suggest you try FTL: faster than light. 10$ to download, Near unlimited replay (randomly generated maps/quests/encounters each time) and the average game can take between 30 – 45 minutes to play. You will lose a lot, but that makes the few victories sweeter.

  20. Dan Weber says

    I have to recommend GOG, too. Before Christmas they had a sale and I got the entire Ultima series for about 15 bucks.

    It's fun to play with emulators and third-party add-ons, too.

    I've more than gotten my money's worth, and I still haven't gotten past Ultima III on that. I never played beyond Ultima V (my favorite), and the anticipation of getting through those later chapters is awesome.

    When I was growing up, I literally took apart the assembly in Ultima III when learning how computers work. I know exactly what Ken is talking about with the breeze blowing through. Never have I felt so much accomplishment from incrementing a counter.

    I'll also pimp xu4, an open-source rewrite of Ultima IV, based on the data files in the original, where I'm a contributor.

  21. TomB says

    Just turned 50, and I actually did something recently I hadn't done in a while, finish a game. Skyrim. It was a truly engrossing game with myriad options, but the thing that made it "finishable" for me was something pretty simple, the save game feature. I'm trying to play Bioshock Infinite right now and I'm just about done screwing around one part of the game (fairly early on) that I can't get by, and then I'm set WAAAAY back to fight the same baddies and talk the same dialogue, only to die and have to do it all over again.

    Why can't I save when I want? (I know, its a port)

  22. Kat says

    I'm the same boat re: finishing games. I did finish Mass Effect 2 & 3, sort of (didn't do a whole lot of side stuff, which is a big point of those games). But, that's it. And ME2/3 were definitely the exceptions that proved the rule.

  23. Joe Schmoe says

    FWIW, I am about the same age as you Ken. Anyway, all I play is hearts of iron 3, and I play it A LOT.

  24. says

    @John Amon:
    I'm 26, my first is a year in June, and I too am in that position.
    I am obsessed with Legend of Zelda, and my husband gave me Skyward Sword when it came out. I don't think I'm even halfway through the game yet. The only way I know what happens is that while pregnant (and not feeling like playing myself) I watched my husband play through it.
    I'm also still trying to play through Kingdom Hearts 1 (which was given to me as something to keep me busy in the last 2 months of my pregnancy when I had finished school, quit my job, and was essentially on bed rest).
    I'm a stay at home mom, and even when I have the opportunity to play one of those games for a bit, I find myself more inclined to take a nap or play Candy Crush than to turn on the console.
    However, there have been a few magical times where my son Elliot has sat and "played" with me or my husband using an unconnected controller. (
    Like you, I do a lot of game hopping, because sometimes I don't have the mental or emotional ability to be invested in a game the way I used to be. Being a parent is exhausting. But I'm looking forward to Elliot being a little older, so we can sit and play Mario together.

  25. Pat says

    @Ken Mencher: "Civ V has a new expansion coming out…"

    The more intriguing thing to me is the indie project from Jon Shafer, the lead designer of Civ V. Jon seems to have learned from a lot of the mistakes he made in Civ V and his new project sounds like it's right in the wheelhouse for the crowd that's less interested in fancy graphics and more focused on the game itself – a crowd that (like myself) was sorely disappointed with Civ V.

  26. says

    @Tali – I keep telling my wife that I want to just skip to the point where our child can play games with me, then I'll be sold on the whole "parenthood" thing :P

  27. Josh C says

    Try Spiderweb Software's Exile series, go something ultima-like.
    Also, Penny-Arcade's games are pretty good.

  28. Shawn says

    The miserable paradox of being a gamer. When I was young with all the free time in the world, I had no money with which to buy games. Now that I'm an adult with a job and disposable income, I can purchase all the games I wish, but never have time to play them.

    But when I do play, I tend to be a video game "tourist". I put it on easy mode, and try to cruise through and see the sights. I don't have much patience for games that repeatedly kill me and force me to replay stuff I've already experienced. Games like that tend to get abandoned pretty quickly. I want to constantly be exploring new areas, doing new things, moving through the content. I'll visit every nook and cranny in your game world, as long as you don't keep making me backtrack over something I've already seen a dozen times.

  29. says

    I'll echo all the sentiment about FTL and

    I'm also highly anticipating the starship sim "Star Command". Looks like a fun game, and the graphics are deliciously retro!

  30. Dan Weber says

    I'd like to play games with my kids, and I do, but I worry that they might play too many video games already.

    Yes, I am turning into my father.

  31. Dan Weber says

    Oh, I've come to hate PC gaming. I'm don't like spending lots of money on a "gaming rig," and I don't like the way PC games install a bunch of stuff to take over your computer, whether as anti-cheat or anti-piracy.

    I fully understand why they have to put in those things — their target audience has the moral compass of a bunch of 15 year-old boys, because they are a bunch of 15 year-old boys.

    So handheld, console, browser, and DOS-BOX-able games really appeal to me.

  32. a_random_guy says

    As they say: you either have time or money, never both. I've tried GoG, but it isn't the old games but the free time, and perhaps the mentality of being 20-something. I'm playing less and less, moving on to other things…

    Now I spend every spare moment reading blogs like Popehat.

    For example. Curse you, Ken!

  33. Dave Ruddell says

    Looking at the character names in that screenshot make me think someone is a BioWare fan…

  34. Katie says

    36yo mom of 3. I homeschool. All games need to last 5 minutes and be easily paused/saved.

    Ok ok ok, I play Halo 4 and Skyrim sometimes. :D

  35. says

    @Dan Weber – I think you might have a skewed view of modern PC gaming. I don't have a "gaming rig" by any stretch of the imagination, it's most likely a middle of the road computer as far as specs go and I can play most modern games pretty well. I haven't felt limited by my hardware for a few years now.

  36. Ken Mencher says

    @Pat – not another game link….I don't need another game sitting around unplayed….

    *goes off to follow link, credit card in hand*

  37. JR says

    @Dan Weber
    I'm not sure if it is a genre you enjoy, but if you have an hour or two free, Sins of a Solar Empire is a very well built galactic civ-type. The graphics are smooth, the gameplay is challenging, and there's no copy protection included.

  38. Merissa says

    After 17 years of very devoted gaming, I find myself generally unenthused by new releases and comparing them unfavorably to the older games I've loved. The best recent example is the Dead Space franchise, which is an obvious, lame ripoff of System Shock 2. I think games now are frequently judged more on graphics than on gameplay or storyline, to the point that the story has become a joke. Hence, I keep playing BW, SS2, UT GOTYE, etc. Nothing newer has gotten me excited or interested since ME. Don't even get me started on the insult to my intelligence that was Bioshock.

  39. Merissa says

    Oh, and I adored the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise, although this was because it's a distant relation to my favorite sci-fi movie, not the literally-headache-inducingly clunky gameplay.

  40. princessartemis says

    Nephews are pretty good for getting some game time with. I play Diablo 3 sometimes with my middle nephew and we bond over Elder Scrolls; used to play Pokemons of various sorts with the oldest and the middle; the oldest made his grandpa play Legend of Zelda:OoT until he could win it with his eyes closed.

    Aaaaand of course they play too much. *shiftyeyes*

  41. Clownius says

    @Dan Webber

    A surprising number of gamers do not have the moral compass of a 15 year old boy. That drives me insane. Making excuses for that crap.

    Those 15 year old boys go straight through all that garbage. Its usually cracked in a day or two. Its the legit gamers like myself that suffer.

    Im not sure about others but i got all giddy about Diablo3 being a real blast from my gaming past. DRM killed it for me. I played hard for a few weeks when it would actually let me. But it became so much trouble and had so much downtime i quit it and Gaming in general.

    These days i occasionally pull out my copy of Empire: Total War that doesn’t have all that garbage. But the always on DRM have destroyed gaming for me.

    It drives me insane knowing in most cases only legit customers suffer not the pirates.

  42. Clownius says

    I will mention my "gaming rig" Is currently over 4 years old. I did throw some more RAM in the other day and have replaced the graphics card at some point.

    Not many games are too much for it. And a reasonable graphics card would solve its problems with the very newest of games. Thankfully gaming rigs can last a long time now :)

  43. perlhaqr says

    But it will never again be 1983. I will never again be playing Ultima III on my Apple IIe, windows open to let in a summer breeze smelling of honeysuckle and suntan oil, without a care or responsibility in the world, gasping as I found my way into the treasure trove in Devil's Gulch.


    Pardon me, I have to go weep for my youth now.

    And put my X360 on ebay. I should probably dust it first, though…

  44. Liddy Gator says

    To my knowledge, the only game series to ever feature the single most destructive unit in a strategy based game, "The Lawyer":

    And I quote "an unconventional unit that can bring an enemy city's production to a grinding halt by filing an injunction against the target." "An effective tactic is to build a small army of lawyers and have them canvass enemy territory, bringing the entire production of units to a halt while you lead an offensive attack"

    When unit occupies a marsh tile, +2 salt production, +2 governance

  45. Ron says

    I'm 49. I used to love FPS. When Doom came out, it was nirvana. I have yet to find a game that was as fun as Duke Dukem in multiplayer deathmatch mode.

    Now I play little easy games on my iPad, in what little time I can grab.

    I downloaded one last week that I really enjoy. It is called "Where's my Perry". It is very clever. It presents a series of puzzles. Perfect for simple downtime.

  46. Niall says

    45 here, and 1983 is when I first touched a computer – TRS-80 Model III in high school. Oh, but for one day ever playing another game of Outhouse

    I seem to have gone a different route as I discovered arcades, and only friends-of-siblings had consoles (neighbour had Pong, that was my first video game). When I finally got a computer, it was always with older parts (cheaper) and could only play older games (also cheaper). King's Quest, Ultima, Wing Commander didn't need much power.

    I'm still single, and have a growing pile of games bought but unplayed, plus all those unfinished – usually because a computer and OS replaced another and the save file wouldn't be recognised (stupid FF VII). Do I have the time today? Maybe, but I have less interest. (There is an end to Tie Fighter, but I think I've played a fairly representative portion of it.)

    So I tend to go for games that offer short incremental bursts to progress, very much like arcade game levels. I haven't forsaken the arcade, as rare a beast as it is today (Santa Cruz has it so good, sigh), and I admit it's fun to school kids at games they don't expect an icky adult to be able to play. (Music games like DDR and Guitar Hero especially.)

    I also freely admit a number of free browser games I've enjoyed had a retro feel – but very retro (Atari/Coleco/Intellivision), not the "Nintendo stupid-hard ultrahumanly-fast reflexes needing perfect memory recall" like the currently-popular Bit Trip Runner. I skipped that whole type of game because I was never good at it, even the few times I could try them. (Sonic 2-player mode can bite my behind.)

  47. Feb says

    I always had games around, from Atari 2600 (actually, Sears Tele-Games) onward… but only really got into games as a release valve from the demands of grad school. Mass Effect may have saved my sanity, my grades, and therefore my professional life.

    I played the sequel with my tiny months-old daughter sleeping in my arms. Had to play the third one after she went to bed. Ken, the new Tomb Raider is quite good, and should be something you can pick at an hour or two at a time over a couple weeks. More in your genre, check out Monaco, which just came out on Steam and is headed to XBox Live soon. It's a fast-paced strategic museum heist sim, so it even has crime!

  48. says

    Gaming made a programmer out of me. First on the Timex Sinclair 1000 where I ran out of RAM trying to create my own version of Global Thermonuclear War – WOPR it wasn't. Then I graduated to the Sinclair 2068 with a cassette drive.

    The Commodore 64 actually brought my programming career to a grinding halt. I could get all of the games I wanted from my friends at school so why bother writing them myself? It was another twenty years before I wrote another line of code.

  49. says

    I used to be pretty hardcore about gaming. Now I rarely play anything other than Solitaire, and I only do that when I've hit a spot where I need a break from writing. I'd list the most recent book I have a short story in, but hey, that would be boasting.

    Besides, I figure most of you know how to find Amazon.


  50. Todd S. says

    I'm 41, and I can still find time to play games regularly (the wife and kids are generally in bed by 9:30 PM or so). I do tend to obsess over one game at a time, and my current addiction is Diablo 3. I even met a fellow D3 gamer here at Popehat and we've had several great gaming sessions together. Thanks, Ken!

  51. Matt B says

    What?! No spoiler tag? And I have totally been planning to play Ultima III.

    Thanks, Ken…


  52. tthoro says

    Loads of good memories come back seeing all these beloved titles. I am past 50 and have always been a gamer, so Ive seen quite a few of them. But the last few years I have kept to only one game; Warcraft. For me it gives it all: a coherent universe, loads of mature players (30+, even quite a few 50+), being social and playing with my sons (who lives elsewhere), enormous content you'll never run out of, working economics in-game, challenges on all levels, can take a break anytime and play as short or long as I want. Yes I am probably an addict :p

  53. says

    Cor, talk about evoking memories of yore! I was completely hooked on Pac-Man AND Asteroids. ZX Spectrum, the LONG wait for games to load onto the Commodore 64, used to have a Commodore 2000 at work. Ahhh, the memories! ;)

  54. OngChotwI says

    I spent a year's income on an Apple ][+ in '81. I'd already taken classes at the local community college in Basic and Fortran. I noticed my characters in certain games tended to die repeatedly and that it'd take too much of my valuable time to build up my team to the point they'd survive. I read through the manuals, learned 6502 assembler, managed to scan the floppy disk for my character's name. Then, pulling out the sector editor, I found the fields for each of my stats.. making the characters instantly skip the hundred of monotonous hours of grinding exp. And with games like Knights of Diamonds and the Bard's Tale series.. quickly moving to what I found fun.. mapping the dungeons & solving the puzzles.
    There was more than one way to enjoy those single player games.. Then they encrypted the data and made it more of a challenge to figure out. And succeeding felt more rewarding than the endless monotonous tasks in WoW that were listed as "achievements"..

  55. Orville says

    Almost 45 here and experience the same thing with both video games and RPGs. There are too many other demands on my time for me to fully immerse myself the way I used to.

    I will say there is hope. I have found a few online games that offer decent play for people with only small amounts of play time. I have also found GOG – which started me back down the Fallout series.

    Nothing is as forgiving as a turn based game when you have to leave the computer unexpectedly.

  56. mcinsand says


    By ‘Amulet of Yendor,’ do you mean Hack (later Nethack)? I still have my 3½” floppy from when I played it in 1987, and I’ve been playing on and off since. My brother and I got bored with Rogue on the XT, and then he had to bring in Hack. To be honest, I really didn’t like it for the first few months, but it has enough complexity to still be playable after decades. It’s still available for free from for any platform, and GooglePlay has it for smartphones.

    Diablo I and I½ (Hellfire expansion pack) have always been my favorite go-to games for killing some time. When my younger brother, the one that brought Hack into the lab, gave me a copy, I was up until 3 or 4 at night all that week, despite needing to be at work before 8 every day. I can’t put my finger on it, but something was lost in Diablo II. Maybe it was the lack of scantily-clad witches. Diablo III has been a bit more fun for me.

    Before that, there was… oh, what was that space game on the TI-99? Parsec! Before that, though, was the yellow-cased Pong game that my grandfather bought us.

    Kingdom of Loathing was fun for years, until I permed all of the clan skills. If you haven’t tried it for a graphics-free daily dose of silliness, you might just like it. It also contains video/computer game parodies going way back. The Dungeons of Doom portion has Hack/Nethack monsters that I haven’t seen since the 1980’s Hack. If you don’t have much time, KoL is also good because of the limited turns/day. The last time I checked in, though, that wasn’t much of a problem; my character has enough prime skills for better food and booze, to greatly boost playing time.

    Minecraft has been a favorite game lately, if you can really call it a game. In fact, it is anything but impressive until you kill a few minutes with it. It’s a lot of fun, and my sons and I enjoy building, seeing what each other has built, and then going out to gather raw materials to build more stuff. Seeing the difference in building styles is also fun. My youngest son builds with wood and glass, I build with stone, iron and glass, and the middle son builds with nether materials. As for the oldest son, he has no interest in it, since there’s no plot. About that…

    As for games with a lot of storyline and character development, people are different. I can’t explain it, but I’m not a psychologist, anyway. My oldest son might follow the JWH mode, and he won’t touch a game when he doesn’t know why he is trying to . Although I get that, KOTOR drove me nuts. The game seemed minute or two segments of play between watching videos. My youngest son is more of my mold; we want to jump in and play, without a lot of interruptions The middle son enjoys both types.

    As a parent, I am truly thankful for a healthy video game selection. As much as my children and I love books, they are still not interactive. Video games, especially good ones, make you think. You have to plan for an objective, manage resources to get there, and solve issues on the way. Anytime an old fart like me starts complaining about how kids need to get away from video games and read more, I can’t resist using the classic Southern phrase, ‘bless your heart.’

  57. Nobody says

    Everybody has mentioned a lot of awesome games here. I second the recommendations for getting old goodies from GOG, roguelikes like Nethack and FTL and the wonder that is emulation if you still have copies from ages back. I'm sad that nobody has mentioned Terraria or Minecraft yet, though. They both allow you to make all kinds of cool stuff to make your world your own.

    And there's one more game in that vein coming out soon: Starbound. I have it on preorder, myself:

  58. whheydt says

    Well… I'm relatively new to reading, let alone commenting on, Popehat, but I spot you a legal adult in age, Ken. I'm 64.

    I cut my teeth on tabletop games like D&D and Villains & Vigilantes. (And now I help run an annual tabletop gaming convention that had over 1700 people this year.)

    On the computer front, I learned FORTRAN IID and SPS IID on an IBM 1620 Mod. I in 1964, which led to 40 years of programming for a living. I played occasional bits of games from spacewar (early DEC PDP system) to Zork (on unix systems). More "serious" games came when a friend of mine got some for his Apple II.

    When I eventually broke down and finally built a PC a lot of what went on it (in the way of games) was the Wizardry series and some of the Civ games.

    The major move into computer games came with Asheron's Call from Turbine after it launched in late 1998, then AC2 from beta to shutdown and on into Lord of the Rings Online, starting with the beta test and now 6 years into live.

    As for your nostalgia, I'd like to suggest that you look into the Raspberry Pi ( single board computer. Between MAME ports and DOSBox for it, you can play those 1980s games without spending much on hardware (a Model B Pi sells for $35)…and when you're not gaming on it, your kids can learn a lot more about computers than how use Word and Excel.

  59. Todd E. says

    I don't have a system that will run heavy graphics. My son and I have connected over Magic: The Gathering, which makes me sad that I gave away all of my cards.

    The video game I'm currently playing is High Grounds ( which is sort of like magic, you build a deck based on units vs another player. It's been fairly addictive so far, and it's FTP, though it allows for things you can buy as an option, but it's all short matches.

  60. ZarroTsu says

    I've made a note that when I finish the fire-emblem inspired PC turn-based-strategy that I'll throw it your way, Ken. Actually if you like Civ you could probably snoop out other TBS's new and old and play them at your own pace – the newest Fire Emblem has bookmarks in the middle of a chapter mission so you can get back to it later without hassle. (Or you can just play 'normal' (aka easy) difficulty, which lets you save at any time. Difference between saving and bookmarking being that Fire Emblem innately doesn't let you save in the middle of a mission, because losing your units is permanent. Get used to rage-quiting the instance someone dies if you play classic mode)

  61. ZarroTsu says

    that I'm working on* @ first sentence

    It's like my brain is spaghetti or something.

  62. says

    I'm a 49 year-old gamer, but I'm also a 49 year-old skinflint.

    I've been itching to play Skyrim, but I'm holding out for the cheap version of the game that has all the add-ons. Did the same with Red Dead Redemption, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas.

    My all-time favorites, Doom and Doom II, are available for download on XBox 360. The port of Doom II is great (comes with bonus 9-level map collection), but regular Doom… not so good. Maybe I was doing something wrong, but I couldn't access the first secret level.

    I almost shelled out the 60 bucks or so to get Sim City on release. I'm glad I didn't. The more I think about it, the more I want to jump on the "Boycott EA" bandwagon.

  63. princessartemis says

    @mcinsand, It was Rogue, the one published by Epyx. It directly inspired Hack and Nethack…and I only recently discovered Nethack this year, after nearly three decades of feeling nostalgic for Rogue! The pathetic thing about that is I'd heard of Nethack long before but it just didn't click that they were so closely related until recently. Unfortunately I'm finding it dificult to play on the PC because I have trouble using my left hand and it requires so many key presses. I did find a port for the iPad which works though. It's a good bit more involved than Rogue ever was, that's for sure.

  64. wgering says

    Glad to see the love for FTL. I absolutely adore that game.

    I've dumped more hours than I'm comfortable admitting into Dwarf Fortress over the years. If you like impenetrable UIs and using minecarts full of adamantium sawblades to kill dragons, it might be your thing.

    Desktop Dungeons has been occupying a lot of my time recently. Each run only takes ~15 mins, so it's easy to squeeze in a game here and there between (and occasionally during) class.

    I also recently bought a joystick just so I could play Privateer properly. I love me some space sim.

    As for recent "AAA" games, I'm balls-deep in Farcry 3. The extent to which I enjoy that game would probably be troubling to a mental health professional.

    And for turn-based strategy, the most recent XCOM game was a barrel of fun. Seeing my top sniper splatter an alien with his buddy's brains from across the map never gets old.

    Bastion gets an honorable mention for its narration and soundtrack.

    To the Moon is absolutely beautiful and heartfelt and warm and fuzzy, although I would call it closer to an interactive story than a game.

    Finally, SteamBirds is a fun little turn-based strategy browser game about steampunk air combat.

  65. Marm says

    So much nostalgia here, I love it!

    @mcinsand You mentioned the Nethack-reference-heavy Kingdom of Loathing. For you, and anyone else interested in the game or former players, I'd like to point out that even at ten years old, it's still getting regular updates, so it's worth coming back to again and again. It's still my favorite game, ever.

  66. Delvan says

    Just hit 30 this year. I find I don't have as much free time as I used to, but the majority of the free time I have still goes into games. Its hard for me to just sit and watch something passively unless I'm doing so socially, even when I do watch something its usually while I'm playing a game at the same time.

    I enjoy everything from the better submissions that pop up on Kongregate to indie ventures to the larger titles. I still enjoy games with a serious learning curve and NES-style difficulty, but I don't play that sort exclusively. I'd wager my enjoyment of those derives from how much time I spend playing them, and that most of the AAA titles feel more like "Play through this movie with the illusion of control" instead of really having a possibility of death. I'm sure they don't feel the same way when you might only play 15-20 minutes of them a week, and that general shift away from the NES-style difficulty has been a big part (I think) of gaming becoming more main-stream than it once was.

    I don't generally care about the Bro-style titles: what amount of Call of Duty or Halo gameplay I've been through was derived from social groups playing the same than really being interested myself. Don't really play any sports titles either. MMOs have to put in a lot of gimmicks to cover up the grind, and at best I'm not sure I've stayed with any of them longer than 6 months.

    I grew up on very little income. As a result, my fond childhood and teenage video game memories are associated more with the previous generation's systems than my own. When my folks replaced the family Apple ][c with a Commodore 64, it meant I got all the Oregon Trail I wanted, and had free access to a BASIC platform where I cut my teeth on coding. Similarly, my coding dropped to a minimum when I started being able to get time on the C64, we had a crap-ton of games for it, whereas on the Apple most of the games I played were from books of game code I borrowed from the library and painstakingly typed in by hand to play. Had an Atari 2600, which for me was basically a Pitfall machine that just happened to be able to play other games I didn't really care about :). Worked my way up the console ladder as a kid once a given console was old enough to start showing up for cheap at yard sales.

    From a non-PC gamer perspective, my home machine is now pretty kickass. But as John Ammon pointed out, the minimum bar of entry for PC titles hasn't continued to climb as rapidly as it once did. With a few exceptions (Crysis engine games, I'm looking at you. Sternly.), a PC that's several years old can handle most of the games that come out these days. I play very few console games lately…with Steam and the Xbox wired controllers getting identified automatically, I can do those on my PC now.

  67. vb_techie says

    I can't recall the number of times "just one more turn" in Civ II ended up with me going to work the next day on 4 hours sleep. I still play that on a regular basis. I have Civ V as well, but Civ II holds a special place in my heart.

    GoldenEye 007 on the N64 was my introduction to multiplayer FPS, and it was epically awesome at the time. Piloting an X-Wing (or the Falcon) in Rogue Squadron was like reliving childhood dreams. Re-introduced to PC gaming at a tech training facility by getting schooled in multiplayer Half-Life, and I haven't been able to play FPS on a console since. W/O a keyboard and mouse to move and shoot, I feel like either one of these guys.

    The Steam holiday sale gets me every time. I have about 20 games I haven't even installed yet, purchased because I wanted to play them and they were outrageously inexpensive, but I'll probably never end up playing 1/2 of them.

  68. OngChotwI says

    When Wing Commander came out, I made the mistake of accepting a client's invitation to come over and see the game. Got the game. Next, got a joystick. Next got the Roland cm32-l sound system. I remember closing my eyes at night… and seeing moving star fields until I fell asleep. Noticed that they now have a Privateer like app called Vega Strike that might help former WC addicts.

  69. tehuber says

    47 year old gamer here. Still have a 2600 and Intellivision which I occasionally hook up for the nostalgia and to see the look on my kids faces. One of my best friends passed away a little over a month ago and being a die-hard gamer like myself, I became the "executor" for his games (as his widow isn't a gamer but appreciates that they had value to him and friends), to find the nerd part of his estate homes amongst our friends. These are mostly old war games and rpgs, but amongst the boxes was a pristine copy of Ultima III for the Atari ST. Diskette missing but all books and the cloth map in beautiful condition. Didn't even know he was an Ultima fan, but smiled when I realized we had yet another thing in common.

  70. Narad says

    Before that, there was… oh, what was that space game on the TI-99? Parsec!

    When I was a boy, we had to play Lunar Lander on a TI SR-52 from a magnetic card. And it was good.

  71. princessartemis says

    Mikhael, that's what GOG is for. Much of this goodness can still be enjoyed!

    Narad, oh man. I can't remember what TI my best friend had, but I remember Lunar Lander. And Hunt the Wumpas played off a tape. Sweet memories :)

  72. Ted K. says

    Re : Commodore 2000
    The earlier nitpick is due to the full phrase being "Commodore's Amiga 2000" (entry from

    Re : BASIC and text gaming
    Back around 1977 I had a version of Hamurabi in BASIC on my college's mainframe. Good fun even though the admins would boot me off the system at certain times in the semester.

  73. zaq.hack says

    I wish I had seen this post, earlier. I am also 43 and also grew up with games in this exact way. As a hardcore Batman fan, it is to my shame that I have yet to finish the original game of Arkham Asylum.

    If you gamed on an Apple and/or in Basic, I'm sure you ran across "Lemonade Stand." Curse that road construction!!!

    As a teen, a friend and I easily paid for an arcade's VS. RBI Baseball machine. I think I dumped half of my fast-food paycheck into that thing every weekend.

  74. Matt says

    "Now that time is a much rarer commodity than money, I buy games and barely start them, let alone finish them.

    I frequently plan to take a serious shot at a game, only to drift off into idly surfing the internet, or watching Netflix."

    Yup. Just about describes my gaming habits (or lack thereof) perfectly. (Add a little more regular TV viewing over Netflix, but even so.)

  75. Jesse Weinstein says

    Sorry for the OT, but I thought it worth dropping a link to another example of fools getting hit with the Streisand effect. CipherCloud tried to take down a StackExchange post examining their (implausible) marketing claims. The obvious ensued.

  76. Niall says

    Neil, thank you for that link to the CoCo simulator. I got to play, well, their weird port of Outhouse, with actual graphics and stuff. It was nice, but it's.. not the same, the itch isn't scratched. I need full-on green screen and very pixellated shapes swarming around on a big enough screen view… sigh.

    Another game I was hooked on while on the university mainframe (1987-1989) was some form of play-by-email war game; you were assigned a certain hex territory and could print it, and you explored by moving troops until a hex showed another player's troops, then you attacked. Each turn took a few days or a week, I forget, and you had to think, email the movement, and wait. Or maybe it wasn't email but sent directly to a server, I forget Bitnet's peculiarities. Not a single soul I've talked to has ever heard of this…

  77. koko_lopez says

    road war 2000
    ultima 4 (3 was ok too, I thought 5 was too futuristic)
    the original castle wolfenstein (where you were the little stick figure guy)
    and maybe autoduel

    I still have a little free time on my hands, and I still play video games (way too much), but nothing will ever compare to my old Apple IIgs games in the mid-80s. Your post pretty much summed my feelings exactly. Thanks!

  78. Narad says

    I will take the risk of noting that there is a five-hour video illustrating all the levels of game play of the very last such machine I fed quarters into before properly returning to my pinball roots, "I, Robot."

  79. Nobody says

    @wgering: I should apologize to the Toady One for having forgotten to mention him. I, too, love the joys of draining the ocean to fill lead cages with whales, putting them into lead minecarts, then accelerating them down to hell in order to kill demons after a quick magma dip to set them on fire (I know it won't really do more damage, it's purely for awesome).

    Not many games have players willing to empirically determine the proper density for Saguaro wood after finding other sources of information lacking (430 kg/cm^3, if you were wondering).

  80. Dave says

    38 year old gamer here. I too find my time to game is more limited than I like. Since we're heading down memory lane, my fondest gaming memories had to do with both Starflight and Starflight 2. I would ignore the main plot of the games and just explore.

  81. Jon says

    If you're looking for that nostalgic feel, I'd recommend Evoland. It's like playing a dozen of the old games you wish you had time for.

  82. anonymous says

    49 y.o. here. Just popped a HD 7980 video card in my system and grabbed Bioshock Infinite and Crysis 3. Bioshock is one of the better games I've played in a while. Still learning my way around Crysis. I do miss the days of my youth and my Apple though. I was pretty involved in the whole phone phreaking and bluebox movement of the day. Good times.

  83. ~A says


    As yet another gamer that spent inordinate amount of time in front of the blue screen shooting random things and building little tanks when I was younger and had a lot of free time, I do not have the luxury of playing any games all day, so I have to choose something truly great – here's a list of my last few time-wasters that I enjoyed very much (and have not finished yet, although these are games that can't be really "finished" in a sense, and get more rewarding the more you play) I have developed somewhat of a taste, so if you like one of these, you will probably like others as well!

    X series, preferably X3 Golden pack. I strongly suggest if you are into space simulation – you can actually build your own empire and fleet of ships, fly anything from a little fighter to massive station building ships. It will take around a week just to get the ropes, but once you do, it's an amazing experience. Sandbox style, conquer the universe by hunting pirates, building your space stations, trading, doing missions and then running all the logistics of your empire. At a whim, jump back into your pimped out spaceship (Did I mention you can manufacture weapons that you can manually outfit to all ships too?) and blow some stuff up.

    Mount and Blade – Golly, if you are into medieval, this is what you want. Think Heroes, only in realtime, and you control only your character. You start out as a simple peasant (or, whatever you choose, from former slave to a noble son), buy/loot/craft yourself a sword or a bow or whatever weapon of choice, gather a band of soldiers (most likely peasants with rakes at first. But they gain experience, and get better equipment with time) do some odd jobs, hunt some bandits. Then join a kingdom as a vassal, advance in ranks, siege castles and towns until you get some assigned to you (yeah, you need to do some convincing and politics with the king and other vassals that, through your actions, can become either friends or foes. Or fathers-in-law.). Once you had enough, you break off the kingdom, declare yourself a king, recruit your own vassals that do your biding with their armies, send emissaries… Everything you ever wanted in a medieval simulation. Oh, and did I mention real time battles with thousands of soldiers running behind you as you chop onto enemy horde in first or third person?

    Starfarer/Starsector – indie, is only halfway finished, however, has all the battle mechanics sorted out and it's only missing the campaign at this point. Top down 2D sandbox space game. Start with a little scurvy ship that you can outfit yourself, and go space hunting. Board other ships, or buy yourself a new one, make sure to outfit it. Your old spaceship? why, put some crew in, and have it come along in battles, order it around to take points of interest or draw fire or head onto enemies. Get yourself a whole fleet that you can outfit yourself, level up, put some skills to use… The AI is amazing, and boy, I can't wait for every new release.

    Terraria – got this only recently. Think, uh, minecraft in 2d? Never tried Minecraft, but this I like. A sidescroller where you start off with a few tools, build yourself a little shack, mine some ore, forge yourself some weapons, build few more houses… nah, build your town or palace or whatever you want, and go hunting, either alone or with friends that can join your server! Boss fights, building farms, making potions, crafting.. so much freedom!

    Cortex command – a very unique indie game. Side scrollerish kind of, you and a gorup of corporations are battling for planet resources. By sending little brains down to planet surface, calling in reinforcements that you can assign AI tasks (boring stuff, like mine gold / guard an entrance to your cave/fort) or control directly (preferable, since you can shoot everyone Contra-style). Did I mention you can equip everything with everything manually (you buy body "reinforcements", and then you buy guns. Or loot the guns form your fallen foes. Or just get some turrets.) And, you get to invest in building your very own awesome fort on every area you control. And, you can play split-screen with other three friends. Cha-ching.

    And, you will waste too much time with these. You're welcome.

  84. angstela says

    My video game junkie tendencies are much like Kens. I'm 42; I got a Commodore way back in the day and would spend far too much time diligently tapping in BASIC and strings of digits just to see a new game, or a D&D character generator.

    The last game I played that really, really gave me that feel was Deus Ex: Invisible War. I honestly can't say why for that particular game, but there we have it. Probably something about my mental state at the time I played (and the fact that I got it free with a video card purchase but left it sit on a shelf for more than a year before trying it then couldn't believe I got such a decent game as an afterthought with a purchase).

  85. Niall says

    I still have a complete collection of King's Quest, Ultima and Wing Commander games bought 15 years ago (or more…) that I haven't played. May never do so… DOSBOX to the rescue!

    And I mentioned Santa Cruz – the arcade at the boardwalk is expansive, and has a Classics section that made me squee like a little boy – because I suddenly was 18 again. (Sadly, I was on vacation but not alone, and could not spend the ENTIRE DAY just in that section. Because I could have, and being gainfully employed, had no monetary problem doing so. But next time, I will. I will.)

  86. says

    Once my dissertation is sorted, I'll start flying online again, in Il2: Forgotten Battles. (I used to play Warbirds and Dawn of Aces.) Other ongoing favorites: Complete Carriers at War (DOSBOX to the rescue! as Niall aptly put it), Global Conflict: Blue (a nifty open-source modern naval sim written in Python with an active community), and Playmaker Football (a football sim in which the player must draw up all the team's plays and program the AI to make the desired calls based on time, score, down, and distance — I am the hapless coach of the hapless Detroit Dukes in the United Football League).

  87. Justin Kittredge says

    Thought I'd mention some gems which may fit into a more hectic lifestyle. But maybe not. They are definite gems and full of the magic that can make some simple games still quite awesome. For the most part you can pick them up and put them back down whenever.

    Anyway I think the gameplay clips mainly speak for themselves.
    First is:
    Portal , I have played it, its short, but cheap and a fun ride. A must experience. At some point your kids will also likely like it. video shows early gameplay, which gets trickier as it progresses

    Portal 2, I have not played. I hear only good things. video->

    Next is one you can play sitting next to family members at the same computer, you each make a team of Worms and battle against each other, funner then you would believe. You use the keyboard, then when your turn ends the next player uses the keyboard. Turn based mayhem/Fun in:
    Worms Armageddon these 2 clips are short, they give you the idea. You drive the flying sheep =P

    I thought I'd show gameplay of Worms Revolution as well, only because there used to be a deal where if you bought this you got Armageddon for free. Don't think that is still the case though. This is newest version but it does not really improve the original formula. Looks fresh if thats necessary to keep the kids interest.

    Next is another game you will not finish, but I think its worth a mention
    System Shock 2

    Now next one is another original, They are on the third iteration of it, but number 1 is probably still the best. Tho I have yet to play #3. Its utterly Mindless. Requires coordination skills.
    Serious Sam. The First Encounter.

    Lastly I'd like to mention that the Portal game comes bundled with a few other games for a low $20 in what is called The Orange Box. Which is a reference to Half-Life 2 's Orange logo. Half-Life 2 comes in this $20 box, and is one of the best single-player games ever made. The other games in the bundle are online competitive games and you may not be interested in them.
    No real time strategy games in my list. But they all have some outstanding qualities.

  88. Anony Mouse says

    I started with a C64, and one of the first games to really suck me in was Wasteland.

    And now, 25 years later, I find myself looking towards October, and the release of Wasteland 2.

    Also, yes, GOG. Once they get the SSI Gold Box games on there, everything will be perfect again.

  89. Kamron says

    Another shout-out for Dwarf Fortress- that and Hearts Of Iron III are the only games I've really loved since Civ II or so.
    Good news for DF on not finishing games- there's no ending, just a big sandbox full of idiot dwarves…
    Google "boatmurdered", it's totally worth it.

  90. says

    So, closing a browser tab amongst many, I came to this tab, but it was a bit scrolled down, I didn't look closely before reading, thought I was on a crazy extremist's blog that I'd also been reading.

    And I read this post and was happy, because here I was, finding in gaming something that could connect me with even the most alien of minds. And at the end, as a crowning glory, a tribute to the Ultimas, the pinnacle of all gaming ever (though, being five years younger, I prefer those Ultimas made five years later).

    And then I looked up at the address bar and was disappointed: "well, of course *he'd* be an Ultima fan. He has taste! Heck, he's probably a founding member of UDIC."

    Thank you for your good taste, but just for a brief moment of disappointment, darn you for not being a frothing alien extremist.

  91. tom rogers says

    I'm a retiree, and I am filthy rich in the one thing most do not have: time to game like a banshee. Since I have the time, I finally got serious about PC gaming, and have built a gaming rig to play anything I want.

    I have gone to the opposite extreme from the author; I love all the new graphics and, having plenty of time to watch for sales, I've built up a fairly large collection of gorgeously created games.

    For all that, I am stuck in Fallout 3. I just can't quit playing it, and I haven't finished it in two years of on and off play, though I've amassed hundreds of hours of gameplay. I took a sabbatical to enjoy the incredible sights in Skyrim, and various other diversions, such as Metro 2033 have pulled me in for a spell. But FO3 is my go-to game of all time, and I'm about to dive in yet again, shortly.