Do gaming tastes grow up

Do Gaming Tastes Grow Up? Elena’s Story

“I can’t wait to retire,” thought 12-year-old me. “At 55, I’ll have all the time in the world to play.”

The next thought was a downer: “But when I’m old will I still want to play video games?”

Now past the halfway mark to 55, I’m still a gamer. Some things have changed, though. For starters, I spend more time holding a toddler than a controller. Also, my tastes in gaming have changed.

Cartoon Days

As a kid, I was happy to consume games from any genre, from scrolling shooters to 4X civilization-building. That’s the beauty of childhood: curiosity and openness. At that age, I found everything fun and worth playing.

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Tyrian (1995) was my first PC/MS-DOS game.
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Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (1992), one of LucasArts’ many brilliant adventure games.

But my fondest memories are of LucasArts adventures, like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and The Secret of Monkey Island. My oldest brother had a whole stack of these point-and-click games, most released in the early 90s.

Ah, Monkey Island. Who could forget the comedic adventures of Guybrush Threepwood, hapless wannabe pirate? He tries to impress Governor Elaine Marley, out-of-his-league love interest, and makes an enemy of ghost pirate LeChuck. Conceptually, the Monkey Island games sound like a kiddy Saturday cartoon. But rewatching them now on YouTube, I find them as witty and entertaining as ever.

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Secret of Monkey Island 2 (1991). The Monkey Island games are the funniest point-and-clicks I’ve ever played.
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Curse of Monkey Island (1997). Who doesn’t love pirates?

LucasArts adventures were cleverly written. But eventually I found something more compelling. In point-and-clicks, you may be enjoying a good story but it’s often a linear one. What about directing my own story, making my own character?

Tween Fantasies

At camp one day when I was 11, a friend pulled out paper, pen, and dice. Entranced, I watched him draw a beautiful forested map on one sheet. On another sheet, he kept an “inventory” of our possessions—daggers, gold, potions, staves, etc. It was called an RPG, and I loved it.

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Baldur’s Gate (1998)’s world map. Image credit: MobyGames, Depeche Mike.

So how could I not fall in love with Baldur’s Gate too, a landmark RPG that hit the PC soon after? I have nostalgic memories of fleeing Candlekeep: the first forest, the first companions, the maiden battle with wild wolves . . . Maybe you can relate: “first” experiences impress themselves so deeply on us, don’t they?

This was 1998. The Baldur’s Gate series and other RPGs from the BioWare-Black Isle collaboration brought Dungeons & Dragons’ fantasy to life in an unprecedented way.

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The first forest you encounter in Baldur’s Gate. Image credit: MobyGames, Depeche Mike.
LadiesGamers Baldur's Gate 1
This inventory screen hits me with a rush of nostalgia like nothing else.

These D&D epics were not only beautiful and compelling, but also role-playing at its height. The freedom to experiment with different character builds—or rather, different identities—was exciting. What race did you want to be? What class, gender, moral alignment? It was your story to write and live out.

RPGs weren’t all dwarfs and dragons. They came in other flavors too. Fallout 2, also released in 1998, was set on future Earth. Fallout was post-apocalyptic, dreary, and above my age-grade. But super cool in its own grimy-looking, techy way. The same year, Final Fantasy VII crossed the seas to North America and Europe. It put magic and tech together, served up explosive drama and an unparalleled soundtrack.

1998 was a good year.

All The Consoles

That was all on the PC. I didn’t get into console gaming until college.

First, though, I stopped playing games entirely. Just for a few years. There was a brief period with Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town on emulator. So addictive it almost ruined my life. Then, I didn’t return to PC gaming for a whole decade.

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My own, my precious.

At 19, I was introduced to handheld gaming by a dude. It started with the Nintendo DS. Then came the 3DS, PSP, and PS Vita. Somewhere in between I married the dude. (Those stories can be found here, here, and here.)

After we married, buying consoles became a joint financial decision. That is, he spent months persuading me to buy the latest shiny thing. I was always saying no because we already had, like, four other devices. What decadence!

When I gave in to PS4, my first “big” console, gaming took a new direction.

I had mostly played alone before, but the PS4 made it easy to play co-op party games. When we could find friends to play with, it was Overcooked and Towerfall. When we couldn’t, we took turns at the controller to play the Uncharted action series. My diet was social gaming for a while, but the PS4 soon took me back to RPGs.

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Towerfall Ascension (2014). Nothing like a good shoot-em-up with friends in the same room.
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Uncharted 4 (2016).

By then, almost 15 years had passed since my teen RPG days. Imagine how much graphics had improved! “Improved” is an understatement. I was totally floored by BioWare’s latest title, Dragon Age: Inquisition. And thanks to Sony’s new powerhouse, I explored beyond my usual genre, wow-ed by the stunning landscapes of Uncharted 4 and Horizon Zero Dawn.

These “modern” games were not only breathtakingly beautiful. They also felt much easier to play because of quality-of-life features, like quest markers and Story-mode difficulty. I was getting used to more player-friendly systems.

The Game I Loved (and Hated)

But the game that really impacted me, maybe even altered my tastes permanently, was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I blogged at length about this M-rated game elsewhere, as LadiesGamers is a family-friendly site.

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Witcher 3 (2015). Story and writing-wise, probably the best RPG I’ve ever played.

In a nutshell, I felt few games could match up to Witcher 3‘s story-telling. I was less inclined to play new RPGs after this one.

Why was it so good? According to designer Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz (quoted in a book by Jason Schreier), the key was this: “Don’t make boring quests . . . Every quest, no matter how small it should be, should have something memorable in it, some little twist, something you might remember it by.” And besides the twists, there were deliciously tough moral choices to make.

For those reasons, I persisted with a game I would have avoided otherwise. Tons of gore, ugly monsters, generally dark, sometimes too dark. I hated those bits. Playing Witcher 3 didn’t de-sensitize me to gore and hideous creatures; rather, I vowed not to play another game like it. But I couldn’t put this one down.

It was so satisfying. Like a full hearty breakfast after which you say, “I don’t need lunch and dinner.” If I didn’t play another RPG in 5 years, I would be content.

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Ate my fill. I’m set for a good 5 years.

After playing a slew of Western RPGs, I developed a stronger preference for realism in art style and storytelling. Which meant I didn’t feel like returning to JRPGs. Anime styles and stereotypes put me off a bit. Also, some JRPG systems felt too dated and linear for my taste—or, conversely, too complex—though I would have loved them at a younger age.

(But never say never. A few years later, folks at LadiesGamers got me interested in some JRPGs again, just by their sheer enthusiasm!)


My husband likes to joke about how I didn’t want the PS4 but ended up hogging it. Well, the same thing happened with the Nintendo Switch.

The Switch changed my playing habits too. Most significantly, I got into indie games. Before, I paid little attention to anything that wasn’t a AAA title or household name.

SteamWorld Dig 2 (2017) got me enjoying platformers, a genre I don’t usually play.

LadiesGamers shone the spotlight on smaller games, even tiny ones. Writing reviews for the site made me more open and appreciative towards indie titles. In fact, I was very impressed by games like SteamWorld Dig 2 (puzzle-platformer), 80 Days (interactive fiction), and A Dark Room (adventure), to give a few examples.

Playing indie games also reminded me that, despite the PS4’s cinematic prowess, I still loved 2D pixel art best. I was so excited when Chucklefish released Wargroove, evoking the spirit of the GameBoy Advance’s Advance Wars! And now, the Switch has no end of games inspired by old pixel art. That makes me happy.

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Wargroove (2019) is a tribute to the past.

Card Collector

For the past two years, I’ve mostly played turn-based strategy games. It was an unexpected shift.

Into the Breach cemented my love for turn-based tactics, while acquainting me with the roguelike/roguelite genre. I like slowly pondering moves. It’s a great outlet for my micromanaging personality (better than over-managing things or people in real life)! Banner Saga and SteamWorld Heist scratched that itch too.

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Chess between mechs and aliens, Into the Breach (2018) is a mix of strategy and puzzle.

Being a card-game lover, my current favorite genre is roguelike deckbuilders. I’ve only beat two so far, though: Slay the Spire, of which I sing praises to anyone who will listen, and Griftlands. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into more!

It’s the thrill of card battles. Luck of the draw. The satisfaction of crafting your arsenal from unpredictable options. Adapting to the hand you’re dealt. The threat of losing a battle and restarting from scratch is, for me, exciting rather than stressful.

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Griftlands (2021) combines deckbuilding with a social-relationship system.

But any deckbuilder interests me—they don’t have to be roguelikes. One I enjoyed last year was Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales. It had great storytelling and tough narrative choices. But these days, I’m happy to play a game without much story (or even a lame one), if it has great gameplay and interesting mechanics. Bonus points if it has cards!

From Storytelling to Strategizing

Looking back on 25+ years of gaming, I see an enduring love for stories, especially in RPG form. But since the Switch came along, I’ve gravitated to turn-based strategy games, especially deckbuilders and other card games.

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Slay the Spire (2017). The roguelike deckbuilder is a rising subgenre.

Thanks to LadiesGamers, I was introduced to small indie games. They tend to be much shorter than AAA titles, which fits my current season of life. Raising a toddler makes it difficult to invest in long RPGs, especially JRPGs that don’t let you save just anywhere! Time has become a precious, limited commodity.

I once thought retirement would give me “all the time in the world.” Now, I think all that time lies not in the future, but back in my childhood!

I may have less time for gaming now. But I suspect you’ll still find me playing at 55. Who knows what it’ll be then?

LadiesGamers Stardew Valley
When I retire, I’ll live on a farm . . . in Stardew Valley, of course!




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