Computer Gaming for Older Adults

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This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2447, 2006-11-24, as a feature article, in both their print edition (on pages 17-18) and their website.

As more tech savvy people enter their golden years, and as more "already golden" people become tech savvy, there is naturally a growing number of mature computer users. Yet is the same trend true of computer gamers? Or is the older crowd generally limiting their computer use to less entertaining purposes — staid spreadsheets and boring business documents?

When they hear the expression "computer gamer", many people immediately visualize a teenager hunkered down over a video game console or computer keyboard, spending lost time blasting imaginary creatures (instead of studying real creatures in their biology textbooks), and staring at a computer, video, or TV screen with an intensity and concentration rarely seen by their teachers. At the same time, the teen's parents are reading the newspaper, knitting a sweater, and grumbling about Junior rotting his brain.

Actually, this stereotype may be going the way of the dodo bird, and the newspaper. Nowadays, it is often the case that the members of the household who bring home the bacon, are the same ones going online and fragging the most monster bacon.

Experienced at Winning

It is sad but true that far too many people assume that a majority of gamers are youngsters. This belief is not only false, but makes no sense, when one considers all of those people who have enjoyed computer gaming throughout the past few decades: Video games were invented in the late 1950s, and arcade games got started in the early 1970s. Pong became a huge hit in 1975, when released by Atari Computers.

The first teenagers who played Pong, would now be in their mid-40s. Since that time, they likely continued to enjoy computer games of all varieties, and also discovered promising new titles as they were released. It would be foolish to presume that they all lost interest in such gaming, and instead switched to more "serious" entertainment.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, "The average game player is 33 years old and has been playing games for 12 years. The average age of the most frequent game buyer is 40 years old. In 2006, 93 percent of computer game buyers and 83 percent of console game buyers were over the age of 18."

These numbers should be quite impressive to many so-called gaming experts — though one would not guess that, given the relatively low amount of interest there is within the industry towards addressing this massive shift in the age, maturity, and interests of their consumers.

The substantial growth in the number of older gamers, is not limited to those who are middle-aged. In fact, the ESA notes that "In 2005, 25 percent of Americans over the age of 50 played video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999." This enormous segment of the US population comprises not only people who began gaming during their middle years and stayed with it, but also much older players who are becoming increasingly comfortable using computers and video game consoles.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of senior gamers, first got involved only because they wanted to join in with their grandchildren as they played their favorite games, and show the doubting youngsters that "Grandma can still wield a mean joystick!"

Youth Will Be Served

The few statistics provided by the gaming industry make it clear that older participants form the fastest-growing segment of the people who butter their bread through purchasing games and paying subscription fees to games sites and networks. But are the industry players themselves actually keeping up with this "graying" of their target audience?

Many critics of the gaming industry believe that it is losing its bearings, trying to make too many changes to quickly, and losing touch with its user base — especially the older crowd. They argue that the computer and video game manufacturers and distributors need to refocus their efforts, and cease neglecting a huge portion of their purchasing and subscriber base.

Because the majority of gamers in the United States are over the age of 25, they oftentimes have more life responsibilities than the younger gamers, such as full-time jobs, spouses, children, mortgages, and stacks of bills to pay. They typically do not have a full afternoon to work their way through multiple steps required to begin playing a complex game. Such gamers simply want to jump right into the fun, if only for half an hour.

Moreover, social gaming is a force that should not be underestimated. Older gamers have a stronger inclination to connect with others through their gaming. After all, a teenage gamer may spend the bulk of a weekday interacting with his or her chosen friends at school, and then spend part of the evening hanging out with them some more, and possibly playing games head-to-head. But their parents do not have that luxury.

To the older gaming crowd, there is a stronger interest in being part of a community of their peers, who enjoy the same games that they do, and are also at the same stages in their lives, and dealing with the same challenges. Teenagers and younger children can spend huge blocks of time absorbed in a game that involves no interaction with other humans. However, that type of gameplay does not appeal to the typical adult.

Ignored but Not Ignorant

Given the immense and growing number of older gamers, one would think that there would be many resources available to this demographic. But searching the Internet for relevant resources is apt to prove disappointing. One can find a plethora of websites devoted to older games, but not the actual people who used those games when they first came out, and thus even made the gaming industry possible with their purchasing dollars.

That's not to say that older gamers are stuck in the past, limiting themselves to vintage games. Rather, they typically will add to their list of favorite games, as newer ones are released — oftentimes built upon the same proven concepts of the better pioneering games.

However, one place to start is 2old2play which bills itself as a "community designed for gamers 25 and older who want to meet, play, compete, and discuss games with their own peers."

For those gamers and industry pundits who have somehow convinced themselves that they can dismiss any gamer over the age of 30, they should never forget that "Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill"!

Copyright © 2006 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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