Soldier: 76 Is My Avatar

I'm not a young man anymore

Soldier: 76 Is My Avatar
Source: Wallpapercave.

I still don’t quite know why I first gravitated to Soldier: 76. Overwatch provides all sorts of colorful options – hamsters operating mechs, cyborg ninjas, vampiric wraiths. Characters can fly, teleport, project force fields, deploy automated turrets, and heal their allies. 76 is just a guy with a gun who can run very fast.

And yet, for all the things he seems to lack, I just can’t quit him. Game after game, gimme that 76. I even get irrationally angry when someone beats me to the punch, and I’m certain they won’t play him as effectively as I could. They don’t know him like I do.

And in a very real way, that’s probably true.

I’m 42 years old. My first console was the Intellivision, which used a controller that looked like a cross between a calculator and a telephone. The first FPS I ever played was GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64 (which only had one analog stick; what is it with older systems and funky controllers?). Before the advent of Xbox Live, I used a Gamespy client running on my PC to trick my Xbox into thinking I was using system link, all so I could teabag some unfortunate soul in Halo.

I’ve fought on countless battlefields in endless wars. So when Soldier: 76 wearily says “The war goes on” after yet another respawn, I empathize. Buddy, I’m tired too.

The triumph and tragedy of online gaming is that it is entirely static. Matches are snack-sized bits of empty calories that goose our dopamine receptors and tickle our adrenaline triggers to keep us coming back. But after yet another night spent running around the same levels, shooting up the same foes, it can all start to feel a bit samey, like a version of Groundhog’s Day where everyone is bloodthirsty and packing heat. And, sometimes, you question whether this is a good use of your time.

You start asking such questions more often the older you get. Probably because you have less time to squander.

I’m not looking to leave the hobby. Even after all these years, gaming satisfies in a way few other things can. But of late I’ve noticed that my reaction to gaming has changed.

I’ve fought on countless battlefields in endless wars. So when Soldier: 76 wearily says “The war goes on” after yet another respawn, I empathize. Buddy, I’m tired too.

I couldn’t tell you the last single-player game I’ve played. Halo 5, I guess, though that was mostly an excuse to play co-op with my son; I barely paid attention to the story. I almost beat Spider-Man. To my great shame, Red Dead Redemption 2 sits about 40% complete. The first RDR is my favorite game of all-time, and I stayed up until 3 AM playing the sequel the first night. But I just can’t bring myself to start it up again.

It isn’t a matter of an ever-growing to-be-played pile or even 2020 fatigue. Games I’ve previously let languish were abandoned because I wanted to play some shiny new game. Death Stranding remains encased in cellophane in favor of games that came out a few years ago.

The older I get, the more aware I become of the simple satisfaction of the familiar. Any music I listen to now is probably 10 years old (at least). Most days I’d rather rewatch a favorite movie than roll the dice on something new. I have shelves of different tabletop RPGs but only ever play D&D.

Source: Blizzard Entertainment.

At some point, learning new stuff becomes hard. It’s not that you can’t – you just don’t want to. Laziness and apathy often win the day. So you stick with what you know. With what’s comfortable.

I tried Fortnite but I didn’t get it. I could move around and shoot just fine – it was the allure I didn’t understand. The graphics were shoddy and the controls were clumsy. I played a few rounds, thought “that’s it?” and uninstalled.

(I’d chock this up as a generational thing, and proof positive that soon I’ll be railing about kids disrespecting the territorial integrity of my lawn, but my teenage son hates it too.)

Apex Legends was better but it wasn’t long for my hard drive either.

I started playing Halo multiplayer again. The Master Chief Collection is basically an unending nostalgia trip of earlier days that were somehow brighter and therefore better. I can only play so long before I get a little sad; like Master Chief, I am the last of my kind. My friends drifted from online gaming and never returned.

So I mostly stick with Overwatch, which has no ghosts yet with which to haunt me.

The Overwatch tutorial first introduced me to Soldier: 76. I ditched him for the real matches, preferring Ashe and McCree or, eventually, Torbjorn, Lucio, or Reinhardt. But somehow I found my way back to him and discovered comfort in the simplicity of a guy who’s just got a gun and can run like the wind. At the core, that’s all FPS games are anyway: running and gunning.

At some point, learning new stuff becomes hard. It’s not that you can’t — you just don’t want to.

We’re a potent team. Though my reflexes and eyesight aren’t what they once were and I’m likely playing against people half my age, I hold my own in competitive play. I’m still good enough that my son asks to join me.

“Not dead yet,” Soldier: 76 says as he is reborn, phoenix-like, from the digital ashes of his previous life.

Me neither, bro. Me neither. Now let’s move this payload.


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