The Age Game
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Without concrete data, I can only speculate based on my personal experiences. Right now, we’re seeing a resurgence in “aging franchises” that appeal to older gamers but are built with the latest technology. Wasteland 2, The Bards Tale, Elite: Dangerous, Shadowrun Returns, and others are some of the more recent games that have their roots in my childhood, but are being revived with new, modern entries. These games can appeal to any age, but a lot of the marketing (and Kickstarter promotion) seems to rely on that “nostalgia” angle that only older gamers would appreciate. Looking at that list, I notice that these games are less action-packed, and are more thoughtful and strategic.
Contrast that to the rising tide of esports, possibly the “next great frontier”* for gaming for several reasons. First, it “legitimizes” gaming, taking it from a nerdy past-time to something that’s challenging stereotypes. Second, it’s a wide open marketplace that has the potential to grow sponsorship for participants, and exposure for the games they play. Combine that with the age of Internet celebrity, and esports seems to have no option but to grow in scope and adoption. But as a 41 year old gamer, I know that I don’t have the reflexes or the focus to play these games; my chance at being a “cyber-athlete” has long since passed. Look at how many MOBAs we have on the market, though, and if we accept the notion that younger players have reflexes better suited to these click-fest style games than older gamers do, if companies pump out a greater number of these action-based games than they do thoughtful strategy games, then the industry is signaling that they’re putting their eggs into the younger demographic basket.
Again, it’s all conjecture, and when you step back and look at things, it seems less about who is being targeted, and more about how they’re being targeted. Really, there’s no hard and fast rule that says “MOBAs are for younger players, simulations are for older players”. What the industry does is follow market trends, craft PR campaigns that appeal to a community that unabashedly likes sci-fi and fantasy, and puts their products on (virtual) shelves. As consumers, we trend towards what we like and what we feel we can deal with, be it mentally or physically. For younger players, that might be games with a high adrenaline quotient or that offers intense fantasy immersion, while older players gravitate towards nostalgia and games that challenge them mentally or allow them to unwind after a day at the office.
Gaming, like books and, increasingly, movies, are becoming “age agnostic”. You might have recently heard about the dust-up over comments by Simon Pegg when he was quoted as saying this:
… Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema but part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously. [Click here to read his clarification.]
I don’t know if I disagree with this assessment, but back when my parents were growing up, there was a strict demarcation between the activities of children and the activities of adults that took effect when a person was expected to “grow up” and “put childish things aside” in order to to get on with their new set of responsibilities like work, buying a house, and raising a family. The 21st century has been shaping up to show that we don’t have to give up one interest to replace it with another; we’ve got the bandwidth for both. As the arbitrary walls around our societal expectations continue to fall — be they gender-oriented, race-oriented, or here, age-oriented — we don’t have to stop being interested in things we’re interested in simply because society expects us to conform to a mold based on artificial boundaries of what’s appropriate and what needs to be abandoned or ignored.
The same really goes for age restrictions on the kinds of games we play. There’ll eventually be a time in our lives when we simply cannot pick up a controller, or when our eyesight fails us to the point where we can’t see what’s on the monitor, but until that time I don’t think it really matters whether or not the industry is making games for a specific age since there’s nothing stopping us from playing what we like.
* I don’t want to get into the whole “esports is not a sport” debate. Sports takes many forms — chess is considered a sport, like it or not — and I think that esports is a good thing for gaming, regardless of what it’s being called.