I will be 40 next year, and I am in the midst of a mid-life crisis. How do I know this? It's not because my idea of a party is staying in with a good Merlot and my complimentary copy of Waitrose Weekend. It's not because I sometimes put Radio 6 Music on extra loud, in the hope my cool young neighbours will think I'm still a hep cat. And it's not because I have multiple sexual fantasies about being trapped in a lift with the tall one out of the Making A Murderer lawyers. Although all these things are true.
No, my friends, it's much worse than that. The other day, I bought a Pokémon Go T-shirt.
In my defence, it's not just any Pokémon Go T-shirt. It's an amusing parody of the label for Sriracha chilli sauce, featuring popular bipedal reptilian Charmander. Or as he's named here, Sriracharmander. Do you see?
Oh God. That's no defence at all, is it? Guilty as charged. I might as well have hired the tall one from Making A Murderer to get me off. Ahem.
It's not even like I spotted the T-shirt in a shop and snapped it up on a whim. I saw a photo of it on Twitter, and searched until I found the relevant website, and filled out my credit card details, and paid for it to be sent over from America. Truly, this is the middle-aged games journalist's equivalent of buying a yellow sports car and using Grecian 2000 to dye your pubes.
At the time, it seemed like a great idea. I love Pokémon Go, and I thought the design was cool. But I've yet to wear it out in public. I worry about what it looks like I'm trying to say - "Hey, everyone! I may be nearly 40, but I love video games designed for children! Also, sauce that burns my mouth."
If I'm honest, there's still a bit of me that's ashamed of liking video games. Which is ludicrous, obviously. For starters, I've made a whole career out of liking them. Plus, loads of people play games these days, and billions of them play Pokémon Go. For evidence of this, you have only to look at the internet, which is now entirely comprised of players' guides and alarmist articles about people accidentally stabbing their eyes out with scissors while trying to catch a Dewgong.
What's more, I know for a fact that at least some of the people playing Pokémon Go are cool. On my way home from the pub the other night, while pausing to nab my 9847th Pidgey, I was approached by a very handsome and dapper young dude.
"Hey," he said. "There's a Growler up there."
"YOU ARE NOT BARBARA WINDSOR, YOU ARE NOT BARBARA WINDSOR," I repeatedly shouted in my head. "ALSO, HE KNOWS YOU ARE NEARLY 40. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ATTEMPT TO OBSCURE THIS BY INCLUDING IN YOUR REPLY THE WORD 'FAM'."
"Great, thanks very much," I said.
Still, I can't shake the feeling that loving games is something to be kept quiet. I think it goes back to my time at secondary school. Like every other video games journalist, stand-up comedian, and glasses wearer I have ever met, I was badly bullied. Not beaten up at the bus stop or waterboarded in the toilet. Just, you know, systematically humiliated, ridiculed, and excluded in a million subtle and agonising ways, etc.
To put it in context, all the girls in my class were into the Just Seventeen problem page, Dewberry lip balm, and whether or not Ben Rilletts from the school up the road really did only have one bollock.
Meanwhile, I had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. My best friend was a secondhand Amstrad CPC 464. I didn't just watch Knightmare, I read all the books, and did the choose-your-own-adventure bits at the back multiple times, to get all the different endings. And I went to an all-girls comprehensive in South-East London. What chance did I have?
I was reminded of this recently when I was a guest on Checkpoints, the excellent video games podcast hosted by Declan Dineen. He asked about any times in my life when games have healed me, and I scoffed at him for being a daft hippy.
But then I remembered that time when the bullying was really bad, and my Mum took me to the Bromley Glades, "for a treat." I came home with an Amstrad CPC 464 copy of New Zealand Story. It was a game I had spent many happy hours with on my friend Rosalind's Amiga, back when I was still at primary school, and still had friends.
For the rest of that weekend, I forgot all about the horrors waiting for me on Monday morning, lost in the blissful reverie of pretending to be a tiny chick fighting a giant walrus on a hot air balloon just outside Christchurch.
In fact, video games have seen me through many dark times, from bullying and breakups to being unemployed and three-hour breastfeeding sessions in the middle of the night. Maybe now Pokémon Go is seeing me through my mid-life crisis, and I should just embrace that.
So I shall don my Sriracharmander T-shirt with pride and walk the streets of South-East London, where I still live due to financial constraints. Perhaps I will bump into one of those bullies from school, and perhaps they will laugh at me.
"Laugh away," I will say. "For video games made me who I am today. Specifically, a content, well-rounded individual, Britain's fourth-most relevant female games journalist, and the co-star of a television show currently broadcasting on Dave every Monday night at 10pm.
"By the way," I will add, "There's a Growler up there."
I will walk away, smiling, knowing I just sent them in the wrong direction. And then spaff 25 quid on an Angry Birds bra to celebrate.
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