Ageism has been an ongoing issue in the gaming industry. The notion that video games and, to a wider extent, technology, are a young person's forte has become prevalent in the 21st century. Still, the common image of a clueless baby boomer who can't even open their email without wreaking havoc on their device is not only detrimental to older individuals but also widens the schism between them and advertisers, who may have dismissed them as a demographic.
Ageism is a double-edged sword for both parties involved. Certainly, older individuals may be dismissed in tech-heavy workplaces, but as many young people will attest, their own opinions are often disregarded due to their perceived lack of experience and wisdom. Young people seem to take solace and pride in their tech-savviness, which gives them an edge over their older counterparts in at least one professional field.
Older Individuals in the Gaming Spotlight
Kate Edwards, the former head of the International Game Developers Association, composed The Global Game Industry's "5o over 50" list as a means to celebrate older workers in the gaming industry and to put an end to misconceptions about these individuals. "I came up early in 2018 with this idea about doing a 50 over 50 list just on a whim. And I was like, 'Why can’t we celebrate age? Why can’t we celebrate wisdom and experience?'"
If one were to look closely, they can see that the gaming community is saturated with seniors who've picked up the controller. Among them are GrandpaGaming, who is most active on Twitch and Shirley Curry on Youtube. Curry, in particular, has a large following as she regularly entertains viewers, whom she affectionately refers to as her "grandchildren," with her Skyrim playthroughs and endearing personality.
Although a vast majority of older players simply play video games as a form of entertainment, video games have been extensively studied for their cognitive benefits. Researchers at UC San Francisco designed a game called NeuroRacer which was specifically made to improve cognitive control. The gist of the game is simple but requires extensive multitasking. Since the game grows increasingly harder as players progress, they find themselves using more sophisticated cognitive skills. Although many players initially faltered, the more they played the game, the more proficient they became and ultimately surpassed the control group comprised of individuals in their 20s.
Do We Need More "Mature" Games?
So what can be done about this problem? For starters, developers must acknowledge their older demographics. In the gaming world, there's a little something for everyone: there are games for children and wider demographics as well as more niche games that cater to a certain group. This raises the question: are developers creating enough content to engage an older audience? While it's clear that some older individuals take to games that are played by individuals outside their age group, older demographics are otherwise an untapped reservoir of potential and could present new opportunities to developers who are looking to expand their market.
As for the nature of these hypothetical games, that'll be a little bit more tricky to determine. A wide variety of games could appeal to a wide variety of people for various reasons. To this end, it's insinuated that developers simply aren't reaching out to older demographics in a way that may appeal to them. This could be due to the prevailing misconception that older individuals are technologically clueless and thus aren't worth the effort or energy to advertise to. Karina Tama, a Forbes contributor, acknowledges that older individuals may not be as technologically savvy than their younger counterparts, but they at least know the basics of navigating the Internet, thus making them equally accessible to the advertisements exposed to the rest of us. Communication with elders, according to her, should be done in a candid manner that validates them in some way.
Then just maybe the tired stereotype of a rigid, tech-fearing elder will finally be put to rest.