I may soon be a little old lady, but I’m not the only one.
It’s my birthday month! While I won’t say how old I am, I will say I still remember the Christmas my parents bought the family an Atari 2600. The weekend my brother and I beat Space Invaders is a fading but fond memory. I grew up with games. When my brother bought a Nintendo, we spent HOURS playing Mario and The Legend of Zelda. One of the funnest games we played, however, was Gyromite. We didn’t play with the robot, R.O.B, though, we took turns “being the robot.” We would then try to kill one another in gruesome 8-bit glory…we may have been playing it wrong.
As I’ve aged, I’ve often wondered how much longer I can keep gaming. Will the arthritis grow too bad to hold a controller? Will my bifocals play nice with small text or blurry fonts? Will they make games I’ll still find fascinating? Then, a few years back, I learned about Grandma Shirley, the Gaming Grandma. She was 83 when I discovered her and a host of other older gamers, proving that gaming is a hobby for young and old and I need not worry.
In fact, recent statistics show that none of us should worry. As of 2020, nearly 40% of the world’s population plays video games, although the use of consoles exclusively lags behind those who play exclusively on smartphones or PCs. In the US, the average gamer is between 35 and 44 years old. The percentages show that young adult gamers outnumber middle-aged or teen gamers in the United States but that gamers over the age of 60 still spend at least 4 hours a week gaming. Another stat from that same report also caught my eye: most older gamers prefer to play alone.
That is how I discovered Grandma Shirley, playing Skyrim alone, for an audience of thousands. According to interviews done in 2019, Grandma Shirley started her gaming journey playing Civilization II for hours on end. In 2015, she was convinced by her few hundred YouTube subscribers to upload a video of herself playing Skyrim, a gem that can be found on her YouTube channel. Grandma Shirley’s love of and dedication to Skyrim and her adventures in gaming have paid off. She recently reached 1 million subscribers on YouTube, earning a gold play button trophy for her accomplishment, and Bethesda has announced that they will be creating a character in her honor in The Elder Scrolls VI. She once said that she’d prefer to be a follower so that we could all take her on our own adventures, rather than an NPC stuck behind a stall. This is a reality as well, for those who like to play with mods.
Grandma Shirley isn’t the only older gamer out there. Others over the age of 60 can be found on Twitch and YouTube, such as Grandpagaming, a retired veteran who plays FPS and hunting games, and Diehard Birdie, who became the oldest esports champion in 2019 playing Counter Strike: Global Offensive, at the age of 78. One of the oldest streamers, Hamako Mori, was named the oldest gamer on Twitch in 2020 at the age of 90 and was entered into the Guinness World Records. VODs of her gameplay can be found on YouTube as well under the handle Gamer Grandma.
Benefits of Gaming
A survey from earlier this year touted the joy and positive aspects gaming has for seniors. Fandomspot’s research found that there are 16 million senior gamers over the age of 65 in the United States. Their survey found that gaming helps with motivation and cognitive ability as well as providing an opportunity to bond with friends and family. This suggests that even if older gamers are playing alone, video games continue to be a social activity. Finally, a study from 2019, conducted by AARP, found that over 50 million older adults play video games. One surprising finding of this study was that 49% of women over 50 were gamers, while just 40 % of men were. Many of these gamers play daily.
While many of these studies focus on the United States, reports from Europe suggest similar numbers. Fifty percent of Europeans play video games. Of those, 31% are 44 to 64 in age. Although the report does not look at those over 64, there is no reason to think that, as people aged, they suddenly stopped playing games.
My research did turn up something interesting, though. Often, older gamers do not want to admit their age. They will masquerade as youngsters in order to avoid the stigma of being older. As a woman gamer who sometimes did not admit to being a woman, I get it. However, I hope the changing demographics highlighted in these recent studies and the very visible examples of Grandma Shirley, Diehard Birdie, and others, will convince them that there is no reason to avoid the age question. As for me? I’ll just keep playing! How about you?
Photo Credits: cottonbro: https://www.pexels.com/photo/elderly-man-sitting-on-a-rocking-chair-7118195/, VAZHNIK: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-playing-video-game-7864449/