Generation game: How London’s Legends of Gaming event left me feeling like an old man

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A YOUNG boy runs into a timetable signboard in excitement, slapping his palm onto the part that says 'Call of Duty: Ali-A versus Syndicate', sending the entire board crashing to the floor.

"Ryan WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" bellows a furious-looking father, hurriedly picking up the sign in frustration and embarrassment, as his face flushes red and all nearby eyes turn to the cause of the noise.

As the boy gets back on his feet as if nothing happened, I wonder if that child is a culprit of COD rage (Call of Duty rage) - the act of losing your temper while playing online - or if it's his dad that's worse.

I'm at Legends of Gaming in London's Alexandra Palace - an event featuring live video game matches between popular YouTube video bloggers.

I'm at the show with Adam, a close friend of mine. We've been gamers for almost as long as we can remember, and are both approaching 30. I'll be honest, we're here largely because we were offered free tickets - and as a debut event I thought it'd be interesting to see what it has to offer. We've been to tons of gaming events over the years, so we feel pretty comfortable here too - but there's something making us feel a little out of our depth.

We turn the corner and see hundreds of children and parents in a long queue.

I glance to the front of the line and expect to see some booths featuring an unreleased game, or a game developer, or even some people dressed in cosplay. Instead, I see a very normal-looking teenager standing up and signing autographs.

"Who's that guy?" I ask my friend.

"I don't know."

We walk around the edge of the queue to get a closer look. One boy at the front - he must be 13 or 14 years old - throws off his T-shirt before proudly displaying his bare belly. He says something to the guy with the marker pen, who proceeds to autograph his chest.

My friend and I exchange bemused glances at each other, before heading into the main hall.

ABOVE: Introducing the "legends"

As we arrive, two presenters (I'm sure they used to be on Hollyoaks) are welcoming another man onto the stage, who is met by a chorus of whoops and cheers. It looks like Arsenal footballer Aaron Ramsey with pink hair, but I soon discover it is in fact popular YouTuber Syndicate.

He's clearly nervous, but after pulling a silly face into the camera and taking an awkward interview, he settles down and gets into his stride as he prepares to face another YouTuber - Ali-A - in a game of Call of Duty.

It's a traditional deathmatch but paintball mode is switched on - and as I look around, I start to realise why. There is an army of tweens surrounding the stage, with the occasional parent or guardian dotted about. Most of the audience watching the 18-certificate first-person shooter game are not old enough to buy it, but it's okay because the YouTubers are using paintball bullets. And knives. And... was that a splatter of blood on the corner of the screen? No, it must have been some red paint.

legends-gaming-syndicate-aaron-ramseyAaron Ramsey (left) and Project Syndicate (right)

Anyway, the Hollyoaks guys are trying to sound excited by what's going on, but end up talking over one another, so all I can hear is a cacophony of half-shouted words as I try to figure out what on Earth is happening. To make matters worse, there's some bad dubstep music playing in the background.

I shift uncomfortably, waiting for something interesting to happen. The kids in the crowd, however, are already cheering and enjoying themselves.

I suddenly feel very old and out of touch. To my friends and family, I'm supposed to be a fountain of gaming knowledge. But here, I feel redundant, like a broken NES controller marooned in a sea of next-gen consoles.

 

Gaming is changing. It's cool now. It's fun and generally easy and everyone can do it. That's not a bad thing, but there's something I miss about the good old days.

 

I'm trying but failing to see the appeal of what's happening on stage. Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against popular YouTubers (I occasionally watch the odd video by Markiplier or TotalBiscuit). Many of these content creators work bloody hard and it's fair to say their success is well deserved. But some of these YouTube youngsters aren't doing it for me - dare I say it some of them just aren't that great at gaming. I'd rather watch a live professional eSports match any day of the week.

To clarify how excited I am about what's happening on stage, it's not as bad as watching paint dry, but it is probably as thrilling as the act of painting itself.

However, there is something delightful about watching a pair of former Hollyoaks actors try to commentate on a game of Call of Duty and appear enthused at the same time - I'm not sure they know entirely what's going on themselves.

As Ali-A and Syndicate start the next match, paintball mode is turned off so they're using real - well, virtual - guns this time. Hmm, so much for censoring the violence for the kids (wow, I really am starting to sound old)!

legends-gaming-main-stageParents and children watch live Call of Duty matches on the main stage

I've decided these YouTubers are not legends of gaming. Not yet at least. They're good at what they do and are obviously all the rage with the gaming youth of today, but they're younger than me for heaven's sake. How can they be a legend?

Muhammad Ali is a legend. So is Thierry Henry. They're aged 73 and 38 respectively. They've had time to develop fulfilling careers, break records and truly earn their status of legend. Even 87-year-old Bruce Forsyth is a bit of a TV legend, no one can deny that. YouTuber Calfreezy? He's 19, and doesn't even have his own unreliable Wikipedia page for me to check his age. Nah, sorry, I'm not having it.
Dismayed by the use of the word "legend" in this way, my friend and I decide to play our own little game: Find the real legends of gaming here today.

Here's our top 5 REAL legends of gaming from the show:

  1. The guy handing out tickets in the booth near the entrance. That little hut you had to work in looked proper grim and freezing, yet you managed to hold a smile.
  2. The old bald gent selling three game posters for £5. This man is the Del Boy of UK gaming shows - we saw him at i-series last week and boy does he know how to sell.
  3. The dude with glasses and the polite lady at the Metal Gear Solid V booth, who took the time to properly explain the controls to us, despite probably having told them 100 times already - and they laughed at my crap jokes too.
  4. The guy at the myminifactory.com 3D printed game weapons stand, who did an amazing job repairing a life-size The Legend of Zelda Master Sword after some kid swung it and broke the sword hilt in half. He looked tired from dealing with screaming children all day but obviously has the patience of a saint.
  5. The parents who put up with sh*t from their little urchins all day, going from game to game, while holding their food, paying for tat or catching that drink carton before it spilt. You're all heroes.

Can I just say that Alexandra Palace is definitely NOT a legend of gaming. It's ages away from the nearest tube station, has an awkward layout for an event like this and its entrance is hidden round the back, with no clear signs. Sadly, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have moaned about something like this five years ago.

Thankfully, Metal Gear Solid V had its own 18+ booth, and away from the noise and madness of the main hall, I manage to spend a good 15 minutes playing the game for a bit of peace and quiet.

Back in the main area, we queue up to play the upcoming Pro Evolution Soccer game. After two boys in front of us finish a match, one leaves but the other lingers by the controller, looking up at me boldly as if to say: "I know it's your turn, but I'm still here, I'm playing another game and there's nothing you can do about it."

My friend and I look at each other as we try to figure out what to do, but the boy just points at the free controller next to his. We try to explain we're queuing up to play a match together but he's having none of it, starts the game anyway and so I encourage my friend to play him.

legends-gaming-signing-autographsA real-life legend signing autographs

Halfway through the match, a loud man pushes past me and starts shouting in another language at the kid playing against my friend, waving a mobile phone at the boy. I'm guessing it's his dad, who might be telling him off for playing so long without letting him know what he was doing.

Despite the shouting, the boy continues to play, and I'm left standing awkwardly, waiting for the situation to pass. Luckily it's nearly the end of the match, and soon it's over, so we leave the happy family to themselves as we head over to the Rocket League area.

Now this IS something that's deserving of its surprisingly long queue. After a couple of fun matches, we check out the rest of the expo, including the MSI mini PC on Yoyotech's stand and various merch stalls including one selling loads of Weezy T-shirts (another YouTube thing). There is also Nintendo's booth, with the excellent Super Mario Maker and the not-so-excellent Star Fox Zero.

Sorry, but after spending ten minutes playing the new Star Fox, I'm shocked and surprised - for me it's not a patch on its more fun and challenging Nintendo 64 predecessor Lylat Wars. But again, I realise perhaps this is more a sign of my ageing brain and my worn, deluded expectation of modern games.

 

Here, I feel redundant, like a broken NES controller marooned in a sea of next-gen consoles.

 

Gaming is changing. It's cool now. It's fun and generally easy and everyone can do it. That's not a bad thing, but there's something I miss about the good old days, when I was a ten-year-old playing Super Mario World and trying to figure out all its secrets, hidden exits and bonus levels.

I wasn't swinging a Wii controller around with my family in the living room back then, or watching live tournaments - I didn't have many on-screen instructions from the game's developer and I certainly had no internet to help me solve a puzzle. I was playing for hours on end; I didn't really want the help of my dad (he was never any good at Mario anyway) - I wanted to figure it out all for myself. That was the challenge and part of the fun.

I grew up on Mega Man 2 - it was a bugger of a game, and five-year-old me never did complete it. But I got onto the last level and that was good enough for me. I used to love reading games magazines to learn about the newest titles or consoles (Adam and I even went head-to-head over a game of International Superstar Soccer in one issue of Official Nintendo Magazine), and that's what originally inspired me to pursue a career in journalism.

While I look back on these times with fondness, admittedly I am probably doing so wearing rose-tinted glasses. If I was a kid today, I would probably be a huge fan of YouTubers like Ali-A and games like Minecraft.

To young gamers today, perhaps YouTube is their gaming magazine. Only they don't have to wait a month for the next titbit of information. They don't have to gaze longingly at screenshots of titles that aren't out yet, or watch people argue on the old TV show GamesMaster - they can watch quality, live HD footage whenever they want. The lucky gits.

Well, that's enough people in Weezy T-shirts I've seen for one day. I head home and consider playing Pillars of Eternity's Trial of Iron mode, just to feel like doing something that surely none of these cool kids would be able to. Or maybe some Mega Man 2.

I'll admit it. I'm getting old - I'm almost 30 and maybe I just can't keep up with the new generation of gamers!

Oh, and a note to the organisers, at your next Legends of Gaming event, if there's no Shigeru Miyamoto, John Romero or Tim Schafer there, or any other real gaming legend, I'm putting my foot down like a kid with a tantrum, and telling you: I'm not coming.

legends-gaming-weezy-t-shirtsI've seen enough of these shirts to last a lifetime

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