Voices: Help: I’m about to turn 30 – and I’ve fallen in love with the new Call of Duty

Voices: Help: I’m about to turn 30 – and I’ve fallen in love with the new Call of Duty

What did you do last weekend? Me, I played countless hours of the new Call of Duty. I’m soon to turn 30, yet on Friday night alone I played about five hours in a row on my Xbox. I’ve become 16 again.

This behaviour was normal for me in my teens. I grew up in what people my age nostalgically see as the golden era of gaming, the time of the Xbox 360 and PS3. I would rush home from school just to switch on the Xbox and play Halo 3, Rainbow Six: Vegas and Call of Duty 4 with my friends. We’d enter into online parties (groups), headsets on, chat nonsense and compete. Hour after hour and I loved it. Then Mum would call up the stairs, I’d have dinner, then rush back up.

I don’t look back and think that was wasted time. Most critics of gaming have no concept of what it is. They don’t see the social aspect of it, the hours I spent with friends, real friends, from my real school. They don’t see the art in them, the stories, the graphics, the sounds, the music. They don’t see that video games are one of the biggest forms of media. Video games are so often poo-pooed by cultural critics as infantile, unworthy of serious thought.

But while we talk of the decline of cinemas, and streaming killing off music revenues, and the perpetual decline of the novel – few talk of the fact that good games make incredible money and are played by audiences that novels can only dream of. Just this past week, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II took $800m in three days. More than most movies take over their entire lifetime and more than Top Gun: Maverick made in its first four days ($156m).

But still, as I got older my love for games decreased – although I’ve never entirely stopped playing. I inevitably got to the age where dating and drinking was more important, I became obsessed with books and writing, I discovered pretentious literature and moved on.

Yet here I am again, 29 and putting in copious amounts of hours into a new Call of Duty game like I haven’t done since my teens. What’s happened? Let’s track back.

Well, I bought a new Xbox Series S because my 38-year-old brother got a Series X and we were curious about the new Halo game. For “curious”, perhaps read “nostalgic”. My brother and I have always been close and used to play Halo 3 together regularly. So, we started playing the new one online and were a lot worse than we used to be, now older, less serious about it, and competing with pro-level players. But we were chatting with each other more regularly and laughing and having fun. It became a weekly thing, sometimes more often. A nice break.

Then I saw there was a new Call of Duty coming out and that nostalgic pang hit me again. All those hours I spent with friends online came back to me in something I am sure is quite similar to Proust’s madeleine moment and definitely just as profound – maybe I’ll write a tedious but beautiful book about it one day.

So I forked out the £70, installed it and haven’t really stopped since. I played all last weekend, I play in the evenings after work. Sometimes I even play first thing in the morning when I wake up.

Reader, it has gotten so bad that I once searched Call of Duty on Twitter and the algorithms gobbled me up. Now my Twitter feed is entirely CoD-related content. Videos, jokes, tips. Although this part is perhaps a welcome reprieve from the misery of my usual angry political feed.

Now I find myself watching others play the game on YouTube during my lunch break when and laughing to myself at little jokes only other players would understand. I’ve started looking up the best settings for the game and which attachments for my guns are best. I watched a 10-minute video by a guy called “XclusiveAce” answering a burning question I had about whether the guns are better with no attachments at all (I thought so, and it does seem so).

There’s also a whole new jargon. In the 2000s, we had “owned” as in “I owned you” meaning “I dominated you”. We also had “noob”, as in “you’re a noob”, suggesting you must be new to the game because you’re just so terrible at it. Those both still exist, but there are now others.

“Sweaty” lobbies are games where you’re massively out of your league against much better players who “slide cancel”, “jump shot” and “drop shot”. It took me a couple of hours of trawling Twitter and YouTube until I understood exactly what they’re talking about but now I’m fluent too.

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So, what happened? Well, if I’m honest, an incredible marketing campaign on the part of Activision and Infinity Ward which tapped into my nostalgia, and a fantastic game that harks back to the “good old days”. They’ve also made some changes to the movement system making the game more accessible to unserious players like me. I fell hook line and sinker and I’m sort of happy about it – it has rejuvenated my love of online play, but I’ve definitely fallen down a rabbit hole.

These days I’m just a casual player. I like to log on and play a few games to unwind, but I love this new Call of Duty, I feel I’m a teenager again. I’m not particularly good, although I feel god-like when I have an excellent game, only to be owned and called a noob by someone halfway across the planet in the next. And then I feel bad about myself and look in the mirror and think I’m stupid to enter back into that world, it’s not mine anymore and they’re all laughing at me.

Then I switch the Xbox back on.