Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Middle-Aged Gamers

Mark J. Kline | 19 Sep 2011 12:00
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Dear Dr Mark,

I know you've written at length about teenagers and young adults, but my wife wishes you would address the issues of middle-aged gamers. Do many older adults video game and if so, what games do they tend to play? Are there problems and issues unique to this group?

As I ponder this question, I am on an airplane cruising along at 472 mph, 38,000 feet above the state of Wyoming (thanks JetBlue for my favorite TV channel, LiveMap). Looking around, I realize I'm the only person using a laptop. Seated nearby is a family with two small children. The kids are watching TV, and mom is reading a book. Dad is very helpful across the way, but he has spent the entire flight playing games on what looks like an iPad. Strolling along the aisle, I see tablet devices in virtually every row, many in the hands of other adults. Some are gaming, others are reading books or watching movies or TV shows. I realize I must have missed the airplane/tablet revolution.

There are plenty of middle-aged gamers on this plane, and apparently elsewhere. According to the Entertainment Software Association's 2011 "Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry", the average age of game players today is 37. While I know of teenagers who run into trouble with gaming, do older adults have similar issues, or do they manage it better?

I'd love to cite a good study with lots of data to answer this question. Some of you may be better acquainted with the literature, but my brief search did not yield much. Based on my personal and professional experiences, it seems that gaming has found many enthusiasts among middle aged adults.

Those who get involved face different challenges than the average teen gamer. Some of us feel an inherent discomfort with the technology--we didn't grow up with computers, many of us don't really understand the internet, and some of us have tried hard to avoid it. That said, many middle aged adults ultimately make accommodations to function in the workplace and communicate with others. Having achieved this, its only a short sidestep to figure out games and the devices associated with them.

Middle-agers may find the gamer culture more alien and confusing, but that doesn't mean we can't learn how to operate within it. This may involve learning some lingo and the social conventions of online game worlds. When I played WoW, it took me awhile (and some embarrassing mistakes) to sort all this out, but once I did, I was often able to pass for a younger person. Some of us have slower reflexes and fewer "actions per minute," a harder problem to remediate, but always a good excuse for screw-ups. We may also lack familiarity with the dynamics of game play because we didn't grow up with the medium. While you can learn to ride a bicycle at 50, it may be much harder than doing so at 5. I do believe older adults who put in the time can become very competent gamers in spite of all this.

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