Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be one of THOSE articles. Being retired doesn’t make you more gullible than the next person and you don’t need yet another patronising journalist telling you that playing ‘brain training’ games slows down cognitive decline. As you are well aware, there’s no evidence that so-called brain training does anything of the sort and anyway there’s nothing wrong with your brain that puzzle games are going to make a difference to. So let’s try to be real about gaming and retirement, because nearly everything that’s written on the subject expresses stereotypes about older adults and not the point of view of older people themselves.
You’re still you … just with more time on your hands.
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One thing that marketers and the general public would do well to remember is that the person who started their retirement today was at work yesterday. There isn’t some cliff that you fall off when you leave the office for the last time, entailing a complete change in your personality and abilities. Instead, there’s a change of lifestyle and that is where gaming comes in. If you’ve been doing a demanding job for 40 years, there may not have been any time for hobbies. Maybe you raised a family as well. Maybe you were once a gamer and played arcade games in the 70s but then it fell by the wayside when other life commitments took over. And then suddenly retirement hits. It’s quite common for people who have had busy careers to feel shocked by the amount of free time on their hands. The first couple of weeks of retirement are all right, it’s like being on holiday. But then one day, there you are, sitting down and drinking coffee in the middle of the morning and you suddenly realise that you are expected to do this for the rest of your life, which could be 20 or more years. What’s more, there are suddenly fewer people around you. It’s true that you never actually liked John from Accounts, and Sally from HR set your teeth on edge, but on a day to day basis they passed for friends and they provided some kind of social interaction. This is why you need gaming back in your life.
But I don’t speak the language!
If you haven’t done any gaming for a long time, it’s natural to feel daunted. Gamers seem to speak their own language – K/D ratio, AFK, Leeroy Jenkins (who?), AoE, DPS, grinding, camping, FTW. Will you ever be able to make sense of it? Well, yes you will. But more importantly, you don’t need to know all this language to start playing. You will pick up the vocabulary you need as you go along and the bits you don’t need don’t matter. It’s also good for your confidence to realise that at least some of this language is game-specific, so if you don’t know what some terms mean then you have that in common with vast swathes of the gaming population that don’t play a particular title.
Games are for everyone.
One word that is good to know is ‘accessibility’. It means ‘is a game designed so that everyone who wants to play can understand it and get into it’. Well-designed games make themselves accessible in lots of ways.
- They are self-explanatory or have clear instructions. They have training modes or starting levels that make clear what you are supposed to do and give you a chance to practice.
- They have the option of adding closed captions for people who are hearing-impaired.
- They have lots of options for altering the display such as its contrast and brightness, to help people see better, according to their individual needs.
Accessibility is a useful word because it helps us to realise that if we can’t see or hear a game well enough to play it or we can’t understand what we are supposed to do, it’s not just us being hopeless. It’s because the designers didn’t make their game accessible to enough people. The other great thing about accessibility is that it helps everyone. If you’re a bit short-sighted or deaf in one ear, it doesn’t follow that you can’t play games because you are too old. Some level of disability affects 22% of the British population, that’s one in five people and they aren’t all retirement age. One in five people would benefit from games being more accessible, no matter what age they are. Other aspects of accessibility that are worth knowing about are the ability to adjust the sensitivity of game controls, adjust the game speed and avoiding the need to repeatedly mash buttons. One reason why the Nintendo Wii succeeded was because it had high levels of accessibility, allowing people who don’t normally consider themselves gamers to join in. If you’d like to know more about accessible games, check out Able Gamers (ablegamers.org), a site which includes lots of news, game recommendations and advice about how to make games fit your physical abilities.
OK, you convinced me. Where do I start?
If you haven’t played games for a long time or even at all, then it could be worth thinking about your personality because some games will suit you better than others. Nick Yee is a games researcher who has realised that there are 6 major factors that motivate gamers. While some gamers are all about mayhem and blowing things up, others love in-game achievements such as completing quests and sets of collectible items, some want to be creative, some love immersion in a story and still others are motivated by thoughtful strategy or even the experience of being sociable in a game. If that last one is you, there are plenty of games that will provide you with a ready-made network of friends and there are even in-game guilds and clans especially for mature gamers. Nick has a five minute survey, the Gamer Motivation Profile, on his website.
It will tell you what kind of gamer you are and the best part is that it will recommend games that you could be playing according to the forces that move you.