Saturday morning. Playing the video games on my Wii U. My two year old son by my side barking out instructions.
This is what passes for my gaming habits these days.
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But I enjoy it. I don't mind all that much. I'd much rather be playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain or SOMA, but I don't mind finally trying to finish off Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze or messing around with Super Mario Maker. That is also fun.
My Saturday's often look like this. My son and I wake up early, we play games together while my wife gets a lie in. I play whatever my son asks me to play. He has opinions on these matters.
"WANT TO PLAY MAHREEOH."
That means Super Mario Maker or Super Mario 3D World.
"WANT MONKEY GAME."
That means Donkey Kong Country.
That's Splatoon. It's been a while since he asked for that one. But on Saturday morning, for the first time in a while, my son asked me to play Splatoon.
I used to play Splatoon. By the standards of a man with a toddler, a full-time job and time-intensive hobbies, I played Splatoon a lot. I love Splatoon.
I love Splatoon and I was actually pretty good at it. But the great thing about Splatoon was that I didn't have to be. Splatoon, back when I was playing regularly, really felt like the perfect shooter for someone like me. Someone who didn't have the time to play intensively, didn't have the time to 'GIT GUD'. Mainly because of the way the game rewarded its players: it was about covering ground in paint, not shooting enemies. It was about strategy, not twitch shooting. I even wrote an article about this. That article was called 'Multiplayer Games Where It's Okay To Suck'.
So I wandered jauntily into the Splatoon lobby with a smile on my face and hope in my heart. "It's been a while," I thought, "what a great suggestion son."
30 minutes later I wandered out a lost, shivering wreck. Tear-stained, vice-like grip on the Wii U GamePad. A stuttering series of words from my voice box:
"Sorry son. Daddy doesn't want to play Splatoon anymore."
Let me put this in simple terms: the Splatoon I remember and the Splatoon I played on Saturday morning? They almost felt like different games. The level of play, the techniques I was using, my strategies — everything — were completely, hilariously obsolete. I played five games and I was completely annihilated in every single one.
It was demoralising. It was brutal. "Multiplayer Games Where It's Okay To Suck". I remembered that headline. I don't think I've ever been more wrong about anything.
I asked myself: what chance did I have? What chance did I ever have. My Splatoon character is sitting at around level 10. I don't think I was ever matched against a single player under 30. What those players were doing, how they were shooting, their knowledge of the maps, everything — it was light years ahead. Light years ahead of what was actually quite effective when I was playing just a couple of months ago.
This is a Nintendo game. This is a game that's supposed to be friendly to newcomers. Compared to most video games Splatoon is friendly to newcomers.
I couldn't even do the 'noob' stuff without getting destroyed. You know — just covering the home base, taking it easy. That strategy was useful while I found my feet when the game was first released. Now I'm getting jump-shot-smashed by people wielding the Splatoon-equivalent of the shotgun. RKO outta nowhere. Jesus wept.
Then I had another thought: if I can't play Splatoon online, what game can I play? Maybe we have a problem here.
We've known it for a while now: online-focused multiplayer experiences can be tough on 'casual' players. I use the term 'casual' and I wish I was dead, but by 'casual' I actually mean gamers who play other video games. I play a lot of video games. I know how shooters work.
And this is Splatoon for God's sake! It's not Counter-Strike! It's not League of Legends. I don't see Splatoon making it on the MLG circuit any time soon but today, four months after the game's release, I'm ludicrously behind even the lowest level Splatoon players. I can't imagine what it must be like for new players.
I made a joke to a friend this morning: all online games need a playlist for parents. Like a playlist that's for people who aren't playing this one video game to ridiculous lengths. The more I think about it the more I want this 'joke' to become a reality.
I think about our audience, the people who read Kotaku. I think about my own friends and their baby-drenched Facebook feeds. I think about the life stage I'm at — I know I'm not alone. There is a whole generation of gamers. They are parents. They have full-time jobs and they live busy, busy lives. They love to play video games, they love games like Splatoon, Rocket League, League of Legends but they don't have the time to keep pace. How could they?
I don't know what I'm trying to say here. But I'll try to sum it up in a sentence or two: developers need to make it easier for busy people to play their games. There's a great Penny Arcade comic strip that jokes about offering a 'grown-ups' playlist. I wish Splatoon had that.
I'm 34 years old. I still love online shooters. Halo 5 is coming out and I'm so excited about playing online multiplayer. But if I can't play Splatoon without getting #rekt three months after release, what hope do I have with Halo 5?
It's funny, I had this conversation with Alex Walker and Hayley Williams — our younger, childless Kotaku Australia writers. They said something interesting. They said: "you need to reset your expectations".
What did they mean by that? Well, I think they were suggesting I can't expect to just drop in and out of online video games and expect to be competitive. I need to deal with the fact that I might suck if I don't put in the time. I think that's fair. Probably. But is it so wrong to want to compete on an even keel with a group of like-minded individuals? Both Tennis and Golf have a 'Senior's Tour'.
It's embarrassing but it's true: at 34 years of age I totally need a 'Senior's Tour' for video games. At the very least I want a playlist exclusively for old people. Like me.