Youthful reaction to older PC gamers typically ranges from shock to disbelief. But if you imagine the gaming world as a big pie chart, the number of gamers under the age of 18 is only a slice of that pie, leaving the rest, representing gamers over 18, the exact shape of Pac-Man. Young gamers might know what Pac-Man is, but a large and dedicated group of gamers were already in their thirties by the time Pac-Man was released, and are just as active now as they were at the dawn of videogame history. Gamers in their fifties not only bring a unique perspective to the pastime, but are levelling the playing field for gamers of all ages.
"I started with board games, then pinball, videogames, home videogames, PC-based games and back..." says Kevin O'Hare, a fifty-three-year-old Program Manager for Hewlett-Packard, and California resident. Primarily a fan of online strategy games including Myth, Warcraft and Civilization, O'Hare has developed an appreciation for role-playing games such as EverQuest and Neverwinter Nights. He finds that kids could learn a few things about manners. "My overall attitude is that learning to play games is important, but learning to act appropriately is more so... One of my best friends has a son named John who is 7 1/2 now... Every time I come by, I have to make sure I bring a game to play with John... He's learned that as long as he plays nicely, we have a great time together. That's what I wish could happen for the younger online crowd."
Fellow Californian "Airhead", 50 years old, pilots fighter planes in the online air combat simulation Aces High. "My sim relies more on the knowledge of how to set up an enemy for a kill as opposed to a yank-and-bank arcade style sim, so we tend to attract an older crowd interested in authentic flight dynamics." For Airhead, attitude and age go hand in hand. "The younger the gamer, the ruder the gamer..." he says, contrasting gamers 36 and older as "the guys who study plane performance, tactics, plan missions and generally kick ass in my sim. These guys are at the top of the food chain." Airhead isn't shy about sharing his age, but gets "freaked out" when he realizes he's been carrying on a conversation with someone younger than his child.
Aces High gamer "Weav" is among those mature gamers who refuse to let age get in the way of their hobby. Weav, 54, has every confidence his gaming career still has more than a few years remaining. "I know an elderly gentleman (79) who served in Naval Aviation when he was younger. His delayed reaction times would probably affect his ability to do well in Aces High dogfights, but he does spend quite a bit of time with MS Flight Simulator 2002. Another gamer in Aces High I know of is 65 years old, and he does quite well. My squadron commander is 58 years old, and he is much better than I am." Weav, a line supervisor for an American aerospace company, promises to stop gaming "ten minutes into the ride to the coroner's table."
Scott Richards, a fifty-two-year-old Interior Design Mechanic, grew up a short drive from rocket-laden Cape Canaveral, and as a result developed an appreciation for technology early in life. "Growing up, I remember black-and-white TV. In a relatively short time, historically-speaking, I could control an avatar on the screen that could chaingun another avatar into oblivion -- especially if the guy was in Australia with really bad lag." After the events of September 11, 2001, Richards lost interest in first-person shooters like Wolfenstein 3D and Quake 3 Arena. "I think it was the image of real people falling through the air on fire that dulled my appetite for mayhem," says Richards. Now this self-dubbed "Quixotic Racer" is hooked on Motor City Online, where he races against players of all ages. "I play with gamers that range from twelve-year-olds who act 30 to thirty-year-olds who act 12. I tend to enjoy both types." Richards' peers might make fun of his real-world golfing chops, but recognize the skill required to beat eighteen-year-olds at their own game. "I tell the kids I'm old and the reactions range from disbelief to the shame of old reflexes and cunning winning over youth and enthusiasm."
"Younger folks have the idea that 'older' people just don't play online games. From people in my generation, there is even more lack of understanding," says Martha McDermott, a fifty-two-year-old mother of two and former psychologist. While she encourages her son's online gaming, her estranged husband's family regards the behaviour as "aberrant and unhealthy," severely limiting the youth's time online. McDermott, who considers her gaming interests "in the closet," goes online to break down generational barriers. A fan of RPG and adventure games, McDermott has been playing multiplayer Neverwinter Nights since its release. "My ten-year-old daughter actually takes some of my created characters online to some of the Persistent Worlds I belong to. And let me tell you she can be far better behaved than people far older than she is... Hanging around her Mom, she has learned proper in-game etiquette."
From the first console to the first online PC game and beyond, the landscape of videogames is always changing. So too is the population of this landscape. Senior gamers aren't afraid to share wisdom and maturity with younger players, showing them not only that patience and experience are as valuable as reflexes and enthusiasm, but that a vibrant gaming experience is possible at any age. "No one is ever too old to play, whether it is computer games or other kinds of games," says Martha McDermott. "Whatever your chronological age, if you stop playing you are old in every sense of the word."
Originally printed in Shift.com, Mark Moyes, editor.