Does getting older change the games we play or just the way we play them?
Older gamers are a growing demographic within the total gaming population. Because of that, marketers and other people who keep an eye on consumer trends are starting to compile and publish statistics about older gamers. They will tell you that 23% of all gamers are over 50. Of people over 50, half of us play video games. They will tell you that people over 65 play more mobile and tablet games and puzzle games than people under 30, but the numbers themselves cannot explain why. We are left with older gamers appearing to be a homogenous mass when in reality, a 45 year old may not share many gaming habits with a 75 year old and we are unable to tell whether the people who exclusively play puzzle games do that because of the channel and lifestage through which they first arrived at gaming or whether they do so because they were always gaming but started to like those formats and platforms as they grew older.
The problem with these types of reports is that they are mature gaming viewed from the outside. These statistics are usually collected and compiled by people who are younger than the population they are studying. And the problem with quantitative research is that it is a one-shot approach. If you don’t ask the right questions, you will not get back the most important information, no matter how many people try to help you by filling out your survey. There is hardly any qualitative research amongst older gamers – qualitative research is the kind where you have an informal conversation with someone and allow them to have a share in framing the questions and shaping the agenda. So the inside experience of being an older gamer remains largely unknown. We older gamers are a lucrative market, though. If developers and marketers knew more about us, we would get more games that we like. And what are those games? In the absence of good-quality existing information, I went to look for examples of older gamers talking about gaming in their own words, to find out what they are playing, what’s not fun any more and how gaming seems to change throughout our adult lives.
We start to love strategy games with more thinking time
A discussion on the Overwatch forums features a group of players of about 40. A player laments the decline of his mechanical skill, speed and accuracy and the effect of this on his Overwatch performance. The others are quick to console him with remarks about the advantages of age. ‘You have an edge the younger do not have and that’s tactical experience’, says one. Another player shares the view that people slow down in PVP gameplay as we age, not for biological reasons but because we are thinkers. Tactical experience leads a person to be able to see more than one path to solving a problem and that can make for an interesting mismatch of skills when we find ourselves in combat with someone who shoots first and thinks later.
We start to take on different roles, as tanks and healers
In multiplayer games, tank and healer roles require patience and level-headed determination. When younger players in a team want the excitement and glamour of DPS, ramping up their damage scores and kill/death ratios, we let them have those roles. They don’t make good tanks and healers, so we step in where we are needed and let them take the roles that they are suited for, not only in terms of speed but also disposition. Guilds and clans come to depend on us and we develop a reputation for being peacemakers, generous with loot, reliable and tolerant, low on drama.
We play single player and multi player games, including esports.
Single player RPGs often offer a good story and allow players who enjoy exploring and strategising a chance to do that without being hurried along by other parties. At the same time, we enjoy the social aspect of multi player games and will take opportunities to make in-game friends. The Silver Snipers are an esports team where every player is over 60. They play CounterStrike professionally and are sponsored by Lenovo. These veteran Swedes are irrefutable proof that gamers will game at every age and we aren’t all limiting ourselves to doing crosswords on Facebook, even though we may like those games as well. What’s more, it seems there are some games we will never give up. Anecdotal evidence suggests that if you love Call of Duty, you’ll probably continue to play Call of Duty, there are plenty of players in their 40s and 50s. What’s more, it’s not just that we’ve been playing CoD since it launched in 2003 and didn’t find any compelling reasons to stop. Perhaps surprisingly, lots of older gamers report that they entered gaming via other genres and came to FPS relatively late in their gaming careers. When you think about it, it makes sense – if you’ve just discovered CoD and still have all of its delights ahead of you, why would you exclude yourself just because of your chronological age? You have no memory of having performed better in CoD ten years ago so your current play is your peak performance, always a cheering situation when it comes to gaming.
We are choosy about how we invest our time
As mentioned, older gamers are not all the same. A player of 45 may have a demanding, full-time job and teenage kids living at home. That player has limited tiime for gaming which can have a couple of effects. For one thing, that person isn’t available for raiding for 12 hours a week and for another, if you don’t have time to play every day then it takes longer to immerse yourself in a huge game and you may think twice about taking on that kind of commitment. Meanwhile, a player of 75 may be well into retirement with few or no family commitments and is able to engage deeply with games, investing hours that even in their student days they could only dream of. For those of us who are still only in middle age, what looks to our kids like reluctance to engage with their new favourite AAA title may actually be the result of our realistic appraisal about how much time we have to sink into a new game when there are games that we already know how to play and can still enjoy. It’s not that we aren’t interested in RDR2, we just don’t want to wade through hours of narrative scene-setting and learning new controls when we haven’t finished slaughtering the competition in the games that we are already playing and can quickly dive into.
We don’t succumb to pressure about what sort of game we should be playing.
I looked up some of the famous older gamers of Twitch and YouTube, people whose advanced age is their USP. The first thing I notice about Shirley Curry and Tony Rsgloryandgold is that they are playing the games that they want to play. They are not slaves to fashion and they don’t heed advice to wannabe streamers about choosing a game that is new and yet has staying power, because of the built-in assumption that old games are boring and that audiences will turn away when a game is not fashionable any more. Shirley is playing Skyrim (2011) and Tony is playing Runescape, a game that I remember fondly from 2001. These esteemed broadcasters are the epitome of doing what you love and not worrying what anyone else thinks of it – and that’s why they have followers. Shirley’s YouTube channel has 476k subscribers and Tony’s Twitch channel has almost 286k followers. If you don’t know Shirley and Tony, check them out. Shirley is 82. She’s a well-spoken and thoughtful explorer. She’d make a great mountain guide and is nifty with a bow and arrow when the occasion calls for it. Tony is a magnificent greybeard with a bad attitude. He can often be found streaming while wearing a comedy hat such as Santa’s cap or a paper crown.
Older people like to collect things. Some of us have money and that’s why we buy collectors’ edition games.
Older gamers remember the days when every game used to come with a long, print-edition user manual. I actually had five manuals when I started playing World of Warcraft, including a beautiful, hardback atlas that I used every time I played. I still have that atlas and I’m hoping it will come back into use when Classic WoW launches soon. How we older gamers loved those manuals, reading them from cover to cover, For new games, the manuals were essential to learning the basic mechanics and understanding objectives. When those new games had been thoroughly played, the manuals retained their value as memoribilia of the games that shaped our gaming careers. We like game art, maps, in-game bonuses and feeling like we have the most complete version of the games we love.
Here’s what we’re playing. We’re playing all the games. We are older gamers and we are the future.
Are you a mature gamer? What are you playing and how has your gaming changed?