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How do video games appeal to older gamers?

Remember when your parents said that video games were bad for you? Remember when you were constantly shamed for just enjoying a day of video games and just escaping to something different? You probably got the raw deal from your parents, or maybe other old people in your life that constantly policed everything you enjoy. It’s rough growing up with strict adults weaving in and out of your life, giving you a hard time because you enjoy something that exists outside reality for a bit.

Things have definitely changed over the years, however, as we’ve become much more connected and able to comprehend the digital space as time has gone on. Everyone knows what a smartphone is, or a computer and they definitely know what video games are. We’ve arrived at a point in society where a crossroads has been presented to us in regards to our consumption of digital media.

Do we become more accepting of this new generation of older gamers? Or do we shun and make fun of Grandpa Joe for playing Valorant? I think the answer is obvious.

Scott Willoughby from Brainium and I had a lengthy conversation about this topic, as he is well versed in games that tend to be popular with older audiences. Brainium is a game company whose expertise lies in classic games like Solitaire, Sudoku, and Blackjack. Suffice it to say, Branium’s catalog of games definitely appeals to the older audiences that could be put off by more kinetic games.

As far as your experiences go, what sort of games are older audiences drawn to?

I started doing casual games with Pop Cap, and casual games again with Brainum, and I find that those games seem to have a lot of appeals. We see like, largely female, largely older audiences in casual mobile games. I think there were a few things that have appeal. One, a lot of games, like the ones we make at Brainium, like Solitaire, for instance, are games that older folks are very familiar with.

From even playing on paper or early the mousing exercises on Windows. So there’s a familiarity there and an understanding. Other genres that can appeal to older generations are the classic casino or slot games, things like that. They’re games that are easy to understand, easy to play, endlessly repeatable, and they’re well understood, there’s not a huge learning curve to them but there’s sort of like an endless content high point.

The other thing is that they can be short session-wise. You can play them for thirty seconds, five minutes, or hours if you want to. But you’re not sitting down and committing to an afternoon to something like a AAA game or an MMO.

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Can we expect older audiences to try AAA games someday in the future? “Skyrim Grandma” exists so can we expect “DOOM Grandpa” to be a thing sometime?

Shirly Curry, one of the original “Older Gamers” known then as “Skyrim Grandma.”
Credit: L’ Obervatoire Des Seniors

Absolutely, there could be a DOOM Grandpa today, right? So someone who was in their early 20’s then is 50 now! They could be a grandpa by now, at least a fairly young one. As gen z and older millennials are getting to the age where they’re having kids, the generations that grew up with gaming and continue to play them are getting older and older. Parents are introducing their kids to classic games that they grew up with and enjoying them with them. Even beyond the demographic shift of people who grew up with games getting older, I do think older folks even boomers and gen Xers will start looking at console games.

There’s been a lot of research done around the benefits to cognition and recall, and mental acuity in video games for older audiences. And, while that’s absolutely true for 2d games, card puzzle games, or other mobile games, the benefits are even better for 3d games. Get your grandma a Switch, that could be a whole ad campaign! They can get a kind of novel experience, especially for folks who are more homebound, they can’t experience that much in the real world. So sometimes substituting that with video games can be really beneficial as people age as memory issues and even dementia can set in.

What sort of accessibility features could we then maybe consider for older gamers or people who aren’t as able?

One thing for developers to think about when developing games and considering an older audience, one thing we see very much size and legibility of elements on the screen. For us, it’s making sure our card suits are very easy and clear to read by zooming things in and making them look a little larger. There are a lot of accessibility options for disabled individuals or sight-impaired individuals that are things you can do but when it comes to older gamers, it really is having elements on screen that are easy to read, easy to find, elements you want to interact are easy to tap. And that’s where I think going into console gaming is gonna be an interesting challenge. It makes me think about as consoles have become more advanced, how many sticks and buttons on a controller are going to require more coordination for some more advanced games?

The Switch is an interesting example of this. It’s going back to old-school Nintendo controls. Very simple interactions. So, are there games where a more simple, easy to interact with a control layout that requires less manual dexterity be more beneficial for older gamers?

Could communities arise for older audiences, adding a more social aspect to their game time?

The simplified Discord Logo
Credit: Discord

Absolutely, I think so. One of the things that draw younger people to gaming and communities like Discord or Twitch is if they feel socially isolated. That’s a place they can meet people, have a sense of community, and build confidence or connect more with people that are like them. I think there’s a real parallel there for a lot of aging seniors who might live alone or might be isolated and not be closer to their families and not have close-knit people around them to interact with. So, introducing them to that possibility of interacting and building community digitally through some of these same venues and the same tools that younger people are using could be great.

Do you think from a cultural standpoint that video games could be accepted by older people?

Yeah, you know, I think that is entirely possible. there is a certain amount of social stigma around them but why wouldn’t an older person see something like a Cuphead and be like, “Oh my god this looks like Walt Disney cartoons, this is crazy!” Now, will your mom appreciate the dark humor of something like Super Meat Boy? Maybe not, but you look at- we keep going back to Nintendo, but one of the great things about their IP is that it’s super accessible with everybody. Like, no one finds Mario offensive (maybe the Italian market from time to time) but apart from that, any family-friendly is not going to be super offensive.

But that’s another area. As older generations get into gaming, what does that mean in terms of content and storylines there? What do you do to make games interesting and attractive and engaging to older gamers? And so that may be more retro kinds of themes or looking at things that are more interesting and appealing to different groups. This is the challenge for developers all over the place, how do you make original content that speaks to not just a wide variety of people but to a core audience that’s gonna love it and is gonna want to spend time with it.

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How could escapism “hit” with older gamers?

I think it could be incredibly valuable in the sense of being able to experience novel stimuli and enjoy different experiences in different worlds. I do think that one of the interesting hurdles there is that games that become immersive experiences you’re usually spending a lot of time in. And I remember in the past when I’ve done market research on attitudes towards gaming and for casual mobile games between younger and older audiences, I saw that there’s this interesting delineation where younger audiences will say “I’m playing because I deserve this,” whereas older audiences will say, “I play because I’ve earned it.” So, older audiences tend to view game time – leisure time – as a reward for doing a lot of work: taking care of the kids, and going to the office, and taking care of errands.

“This is my me time, I’m gonna sit down and relax for a second”

So, I think there’s a little bit of making that switch to being like, “Ok, spending two hours, three hours playing a video game and really getting into the experience is no different than watching three hours of TV.” And see it’s no different because it’s the same kind of reward. But there’s the sort of leaning forward and “leaning back” aspect of gaming to consider. Is playing a game that’s really immersive that does require some physical acuity and some action, and some decision making, relaxing? That sort of mental acuity and interaction might be tiring or stressful.

Will developers make new genres and new modes for earlier audiences? That might be part of it. One of the projects I previously worked on was Bejeweled and it would have this Zen mode that was just like calming music, and no timer, like an endless runner in this serene environment. and older audiences loved it! Because they saw it as a relaxing activity, not a stressful one. I figure that’s part of it. When you have that mentality of ” this is my reward for getting through a stressful day” the last thing you’d want to do is spend those last hours of downtime stressed out. So creating content that’s viewed as engaging but also relaxing, will be interesting. And I think some indie developers have created content in that vein but not all of it has gotten all that huge success. It would need to be exposed to an audience that would appreciate it more.

Some new halcyon days

An older man and a child playing video games. An example of what older gamers look like.
This is the future gamers want. Bodying children in a game of Street Fighter.
Credit: Lifeline24

In closing, Scott and I wrapped up the discussion by agreeing that gaming will have a newer audience of older gamers that will appreciate everything that the medium has to offer. As time goes on, we will more than likely see a radical change in how the gaming space will change to accommodate older gamers, as many of them will be some of us here at The Click in twenty years or so.

I’d like to cap off this article with one final comment from Scott that he mentioned at the end of our interview. Because I think it rings true for what we can expect for older gamers in the future.

I really do think there’s going to be a point in the not too distant future where it all kind of clicks and the social stigma of what it means to be a gamer for older generations will melt away and will open a whole new area of creativity for developers and console manufacturers in the future.

As someone who grew up in the era of video games drawing derision from older people, I’d love to see older gamers become more of a thing as time goes on.

Maybe older folks just need to sit down and play some DOOM to blow off some steam.

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