Seniors and Gaming

Seniors and Gaming
Lisa Cini

Growing up I played Pong then Pac Man… then Space Invaders.  I am the generation of the electronic arcade.  As a girl, I was a minority in this as most of the kids with their eyes glued to the screen and their hands on the joysticks were boys.  The great thing about playing electronic games when I grew up was that it was a social thing.  You had to go to an arcade and all your friends and competitors surrounded you in real life cheering you on.

My parents on the other hand grew up in the 50’s.  Their teens more of about movies, cars and dances.  Games were typically cards or board games like scrabble.   Boomers on the other hand played twister, board games based on TV shows and the etch a sketch. Foosball was the precursor to the gaming arcade; it was a social game and you needed to go to a bar or pool hall to play.

I’ve been obsessed with gaming and aging for several years.  Almost 70% of Americans play games online and you would think that a larger number of seniors would be part of this.  They are, but mostly playing casual single player games on phones and tablets like Candy Crush or Angry Birds.

I’ve seen the very popular Silver Snipers out of Finland with an average age 67 silver snipers and the Grey Gunners but it’s difficult to find first person shooter online gamers over 60.  I searched all my groups and reached out but unfortunately could not find anyone.  It may be that this type of game is too far removed from what boomers and my parents grew up with.  In my age group (just a hair younger than a boomer) I found several friends that play first person shooter games.  A lot of them play to connect with their kids, especially if they travel.

You may be wondering why seniors play online games? I have to say I don’t even like the word “senior” and apparently my “senior” friends don’t either…I received several comments that they missed my post “calling all senior gamers” because they don’t think of themselves as seniors.  My conversation with Marilyn Saad age 74 solidified this sentiment.  Marilyn has moved to a walking neighborhood to be closer to her son and grandchildren.  When I spoke to her on the phone, I had to have her verify her age because she sounded so young, she laughed saying people always said that.  There was vibrancy in her voice, energy, happiness.  Sad to say but these are not the qualities I think of when I think of a senior… she is purposeful about her age, not only in maintaining her mind but her body as well.  This seemed to be a common theme with the gamers I interviewed.  Just as my prejudice of seniors was that their voice would not sound like Marilyn’s, I was also prejudice thinking that gamers would lack fitness and outdoor activities.  I could not have been more wrong on both fronts.

Saad plays Candy Crush, Words with Friends and Word Crossy, mostly to keep her mind active.  I asked her if she had a history of memory loss that had her concerned for her memory and she said no.  “My dad lived to 94 with the normal signs of aging.”  She stated that for her Candy Crush was a no brainer game and she was at level 800. Words with Friends and Wood Crossy were more challenging for her to get her brain working.  “I was a schoolteacher and I know how important it is to keep the brain engaged, they even state on the ad for the game, that playing 2x a day will keep your mind active.”

Marilyn also works out 3 times a week on the elliptical and treadmill.  “I walk everywhere, I hang out with such a younger crowd and I really don’t feel my age.”

Keeping fit in mind and body seems to be the trend as we age, and gaming is a large part of that.  When the movie Ready Player One came out it speaks to how when you are an avatar inside of a game (your identity while you are playing the game), you can be any age, race, sex or thing you want to be.  You are not limited by your chronological age or physical restrictions.  You compete on your own merit and no one knows that your wearing bifocals or that your hair needs colored.  It’s liberating.  What is needed is more games with less killing and that appear more to the more seasoned crowd.  There are some out there but way too few.  Most are more discover games like Apollo II, the Blu, Rapid Fire: a Brief History of Flight and Tilt Brush.

Terri Maurer age 70 see’s gaming as a way to avoid losing her memory.  In her interview Terri stated “I don’t always play video/digital games every day, but when I do, it’s a couple of hours late at night.  Why?  I have a non-stop brain that doesn’t seem to have an ON/OFF switch.  Whether that is a blessing or a curse, I’m not sure.  But it is what I am used to and hope to remain that way to the end.  I reached the ripe ‘old age’ of 70 several months ago and the brain is still going constantly.  My mother and hers both lived into their 90s.  My mother lived with us for a year in her late 80s.  That close contact allowed us to realize she had begun to enter into some level of dementia that none of us recognized before.  My gaming is more a hope and effort that I can push back that situation, or entirely eliminate it for myself.

I myself play Solitaire and Angry Birds. I have experimented with Tilt Brush and shooter games but find that it’s difficult for me to get decent at them because I am not consistently playing each week.  I do notice that my eye hand coordination is better when I play, and I feel more energized.  I know the future has us all playing virtual reality games, even if it’s for learning.  Mind training to keep the blood flowing and stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s may become prescriptive but for now, I will have to stick with solitaire.

I’ll be 72 in a couple months.  Retired from 50 years working (except for the 4 years military service ’67 – ’71) Related to online gaming, I first had contact with computers in 1966 while pursuing an engineering degree where I took several programming courses which was interrupted by the police action in SE Asia.  On my return, a nephew approached me with a Dungeons and Dragons GM guide asking me if I was interested in this form of gaming.  After looking through the rather massive (for a game) book I told him, yes, I was very interested as the role-playing aspects combined with the dice generated random results for combat appealed to me.  But it looked too time intensive with all the necessary pencil and paper record keeping.  I told him at the time to come back to me when someone developed software to track all that stuff.  He never got back to me on that, but I did start playing games on an Apple II about 10 years later.  Games that used D&D rules for combat and character development.  At that time, I was in construction of residential log homes as a general-purpose carpenter (Journeyman) in the Northwest. Several years later, internet connectivity in our rural area became available and I was able to connect to online text-based D&D rule games based in a programming environment called PennMUSH.  These games were mostly hosted on university servers and used incidentally as research tools for the university students to conduct social interactions of people from diverse backgrounds coming together to role play.  My favorite at the time was a MUSH (multiple user shared hallucination) called Elendor, a Tolkien-based roleplaying and combat game.  The fascinating part of the game was the ability of the players to expand the game with programming, eventually encompassing the entire Lord of the Rings world and developing our own turn-based combat system.  I played Gimli there for about 4 years.  Not long after that my workload decreased due to my advancement in the construction field to foreman and because of my experience with computers and prior skills in drafting a breakthrough into CAD where I was tasked with designing log homes and overseeing the construction.  At that time graphical MMO’s caught my notice and I started playing a game called Warhammer.  The roleplaying aspect took a back seat to the PvP (player versus player) and PvE (player versus environment) aspects of gaming and social interactions with players became more important due to the use of VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). The game failed the player base at that time by refusing to balance the combat abilities of the toons and the coalition of guilds I belonged to decided to move on to a game just coming out called Rift which offered a very flexible character abilities system that opened up possibilities for the gamer to fine tune a character to one’s heart’s desire.  In Rift I was attracted to a guild called Old Farts (obviously, ‘cuz OLD) and soon became guild leader.  A small to medium sized guild, it developed into a tight community of players from very diverse backgrounds and locales.  Generally, we were mature non-drama types that enjoyed getting together on Ventrillo and eventually (now) Discord for dungeon crawling and 10 to 20 man raids.  Our active player base has eroded recently due to the parent company making poor financial decisions and failing to keep up the necessary infusion of new content to keep interest in their game.  The most attractive, to me, thing about this game and gaming in general is the time spent talking to fellow gamers about general life stuff.  Not only are we diverse in age (30 – 75) but also geographical affiliation, having members from locales as far away as Australia, UK, and Canada (lol).  We are, generally, people who have the time and willingness to look at various aspects of the game, develop character builds, and organize raids and other community events through the week.  I would guess that the average age of those I interact with is around 45, trash talking teens just bore me.

Now, in direct answer to your email:

I’ll be 72 soon.  I’ve been retired for roughly 10 years now.  Why do I game?  Because I can and I have time to.  As long as I can afford the high-powered computers necessary, I will probably continue to do so.  As you probably know, MMORPG’s are designed to be somewhat addictive (at least successful ones are) and there is no denying that fact.  My online time in the game has decreased in the past several months due to the lack of new content noted above.  That said, I can reliably say that I spend an average of 5 to 6 hours a day in game even now.  Been looking around for a new game that equals or exceeds Rift’s appeal to me but so far no luck.  A couple have caught my attention, but they are still in development and release in the near future not likely.

On a note of gender in gaming, my experience has been roughly 40%+ are women and not surprising (to me at least) they make the best raid leaders and are the most reliable for min/max’ing their characters for game event interactions (dungeons, raids, pvp, zone events, etc.), although I will admit our current raid leader is male and has an impressive history of making the best class guides on the forums and recently took our core raiding group through the first boss in the highest tier raid with a North American 3rd best time to kill.  At this point I need to emphasize that the focus of my guild is more along the lines of character advancement than reputation as a raiding guild although the advancement has started to flatline as the guild as a whole has advanced to the point where individual character ability increases have become minimal due to the aforementioned lack of content.

Lisa Cini ASID, IIDA, is an award-winning, internationally recognized designer with more than 25 years’ experience developing interiors that improve quality of life for seniors. She has advice for both designers and for those seniors seeking the right kind of independent living facilities for them. Lisa is the author of BOOM: The Baby Boomers Guide to Leveraging Technology, so that you can Preserve Your Independent Lifestyle & Thrive, Hive: The Simple Guide to Multigenerational Living, and The Future is Here: Senior Living Reimagined.