Reflections of an Aging Gamer

Truth be told, I’m not an avid gamer, at least not compared to my thirty-something son, Nathan. Over the last decade I’ve played perhaps 20 different games. Furthermore, I’m very particular about the games that I choose. They cannot be too long, too difficult, too silly, or too violent. I pick games with a strong story and emotive experience. So, as I approach 70, here’s why I think playing games and being a senior citizen are not mutually exclusive.

According to the Newzoo Global Games Market report for 2019, the average gamer is 34 years old, owns a house, and has a family. Fifteen percent of gamers are over 51 years of age. There’s not a lot of us but at least we’re represented.

My gaming experience started in the 90’s when Nathan introduced me to Myst. I loved it. Then came a significant gap in my game-playing until he told me about Dear Ester in 2012 or 2013. I fell in love with this new genre of game, the walking simulator. I’ve found other games in this genre such as Gone Home, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and What Remains of Edith Finch to be simply brilliant. I still rely on Nathan for new titles, but I feel I’m finally old and mature enough to be allowed to select a few on my own.

In my view, a video game is the grand unification of many aspects of the creative process. In fact, Chris Melissinos declared in Time magazine in 2015 that video games are one of the most important art forms in history. Not only do many games blend first rate musical scores, artwork, and narrative, but offer the one thing other forms of art can not – player agency. It is this remarkable sense of participation and control that makes games so powerful. A well-designed game is an immersive experience, becoming an instrument for personal transformation… seriously. This is one reason for my continued interest in games. Let me explain.

The main purpose of most games is, of course, to be entertaining. But that doesn’t mean that they cannot also have some lasting effect on the player that persists beyond the game. This is transformative, and is what the United Nations discusses in their 2019 report, Playing for the Planet – How video games can deliver for people and the environment. The report shows that all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development goals are represented in hundreds of video games. Yes, games can be transformative, for individuals and even societies. A few examples: mental health – SuperBetter, Mindlight and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice;  empathy – Homestay and That Dragon Cancer; history – Valiant Hearts and the Assassin’s Creed Discovery Tour series. A final example – every game on the Science Game Center website is transformative in that each seeks to make the process of learning science a fun and memorable experience.

I’ve also written video games, taught a couple of continuing ed courses on games, and published an article on games to promote an appreciation of plants. Ok, looks like I’m into video games more than I initially let on. One of my motivational influences was the publication of Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal in 2011. I devoured the book. It made me realize that games could really help change the world. So, having a strong science background, I decided to do just that – make games to promote scientific literacy. A couple of those games, Solarium and Tales of the Tardigrade, are in fact listed on the Science Game Center website. When it comes to introducing scientific concepts to players, I believe in the stealth approach. One review of Solarium stated “they tricked me into learning”. That’s the best compliment my game could ever receive.

And so I continue the process, making games with Nathan as my intrepid collaborator. It’s tremendous fun being on both ends of the gaming spectrum. As a retired senior, I guess that’s a bit unusual, but all the more special. Besides, numerous studies show that gaming for seniors is a great way to keep the mind agile (not sure if it’s working). So if you’re in my demographic, why not level up and enjoy the benefits of gaming?

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